Language. The thought of having to learn how to say poses in Kinyarwanda never occurred to me before I began this project. Now its seems to be the only way. “Down dog” is “jmbwa,” “mountain” is “umusozi,” cobra is “inzoka” and so on. I could just stick to Sanskrit but have been hesitant to add yet another language to the mix. Of course, I don’t really know that anybody would know the difference anyway, but for my own brain it seems a bit challenging. Explaining the “divine light within” and “expansion of the heart” with a translator has been difficult enough. Often times I can only guess at what is being relayed and hope for the best. I was truly impressed today when my translator (named, “Bennin”) balanced in half moon while translating the importance of having a “drishti” (focus point for the eyes) during the practice. Bennin is nothing short of remarkable. He helps me manage participants, negotiate with taxi drivers, gather receipts from each student who is relying on donations to provide their transportation, and participates fully in the whole class while translating. In addition to this yoga project, Bennin works, goes to school, and facilitates youth clubs throughout Kigali. His desire to bring people together in peace and reconciliation is unparalleled.
This morning I was able to catch a ride to the warehouse/yoga studio easily enough. I am getting really good at holding a stack of yoga mats, yoga books, and my purse while riding on the back of a motorbike (the best way to get anywhere around here.) In fact, squeezing the seat with my adductors since my hands are otherwise engaged is proving to be quite the core workout.
The students seemed increasingly focused and attentive today. I suspect that my interpreter has been telling them that in order to participate in the teacher training (next week) they must be demonstrating drive and commitment. I will only be training 10 teachers but was blown away when 17 out of the 21 participants expressed interest. At a moments pause during sun salutations, the driven eagerness of some of these students nearly moved me to tears. In just 3 days time, they are beginning to open up a bit, proudly demonstrating their newly learned poses. Bennin. hopes that those who are trained next week will then teach others and form yoga groups, possibly even having yoga competitions and that I could come back and do an “evaluation.” . . . . . Part of me wonders if any of the philosophy is getting through? But, on the other hand, whatever opens the door to yoga is great and how wonderful would it be to come back and see what they’ve come up with.
I must admit that I was a bit drained after this morning’s class and filled with doubt about my purpose here. I am confident that the students are engaged and eager to learn more, wonder about the usefulness of such a practice to the practicality of their every day lives. What is the point of giving them a skill that doesn’t improve their socio-economic condition? Am I providing false hope? Can a bit of meditation really improve the lives of those who’ve lost their families to AIDS and war? Perhaps tomorrows visit to the genocide orphan village will provide some insight? I was asked today if the are professional yogis in the sense that there are professional athletes and “are people paid to be in competitions in yoga?” For a moment I doubted that my whole point of this being a peacefulness project was lost. After explaining that the financial gains of yoga are few and in fact, not the point, I tried to relate a metaphorical story of nonattachment, but am unsure as to how exactly it was taken. We shall see. In spite of my doubts, I know that, at the end of class these students do share the same yoga after-glow many of us find so addictive so I will keep my hopes high.
What is most surprising is the bravery of several of the girls. Up till now my experience with Rwandan youth girls was that they were shy and soft spoken. When I asked for volunteers to demonstrate sun salutations and a variety of poses, one girl bolted up to the front of the room without even raising her hand. Maybe she’ll be the next Shiva Rea?
Did I mention the textile mill (now yoga studio) is Indian- owned? I’ve gotten quite a lot of interest from the mill workers and several of them have been borrowing CDs and Books from the small yoga library I’ve brought over. Who would have thought?
I’ve also been teaching at the Genocide Memorial here in Kigali. This has been some of the most rewarding work so far. They are all genocide survivors and split their time between international travel for genocide education and prevention conferences and guiding tours at the museum. They also share their personal experiences on a regular basis, so the need for a mindfulness practice to process and refresh their spirits is high. I’ve only taught a few classes there, but they want me to come back next week and the number of attendants is growing. I’ve only scratched the surface with using yoga nidra but am hopeful for next week.
I’m off to and ex-pat party and then a Kigali nightclub called “Cadillac” for some much needed dancing after a week of assimilation.