Muraho! Which, I've learned is the best way to say hello here in Rwanda. I don't think I have ever been so busy. Busy is good, and we have a lot of things to report. The day started with a meeting that allowed us to visit Nsinda prison. A few hours of travel on well paved roads brought us to the prison gate. We turned in all our phones and waited for approval to pass the huge iron black double gates. After making our way to the brick administration office inside the prison we found that the Warden was not around so we were introduced to the person in charge of social services for the prisoners. Sophie was happy to meet us with a big smile. Arlene tends to take every opportunity to become friends with prison officials, a skill I have seen pay off in our favor on more than one occasion in the short time I've been here. Only minutes later we were led through the inner gates, penetrating the wall surrounding the prison population.
Mounds of dirt, a few concrete buildings, countless tan canvas tents line the prison walls as you walk in, and people. Everywhere you can imagine there are people. They don't seem cramped but they do seem to be everywhere. We marched quickly with our gear down a hill to a waiting crowd too big to count. I know because I tried a few times.
Alfred warms the crowd up with a couple of songs. I tried to play along on a Casio keyboard that happened to be plugged in to the speakers on the stage. Aaron, our driver, was quick to take over when a song I didn't know started.
Arlene and Alfred then begin their message. It begins with Arlene's testimony and each face I look at seems transfixed on every word from their mouth. This is followed by messages about forgiveness and reconciliation. An alter call and a show of hands from everyone who wishes to forgive wraps up our time, again almost too many to count. One of the prisoners who also works from within the prison as a spiritual leader gets up to speak. His pink prison scrubs seems out of place next to my suit jacket and tie. Then I realize I am the one out of place. Sophie, the prison official closes our time with the crowd by thanking God for us and affirming which parts of Arlene's words seemed to resonate with her the most. It seemed foreign at the time but it's only now that I realized that I don't think I would ever hear something like that said by a corrections officer to a group of male inmates back at home.
Rough hands are shaking my hand as I leave the stage. All the prisoner/pastors want to thank us for coming. You can see sincerity in their eyes as they say, "Thank you!" in English. Then, it's over and we are driving out the massive iron gate. We are leaving and they are all staying, but I know we have left something behind.
I have been hearing about Katilda for years from Arlene. She is an older lady who lives in poverty at the top of a hill near the prison we just left. Arlene has been checking on her for years to see how she is getting along. Each year seems she is worse for wear and the last visit Arlene found that she was unable to move. Nsinda prison was near her home so, as always, Arlene picks up some supplies of rice, oil, flower and other necessities to drop off on the way by. We crest the hill and near the single room building. Arlene voices the concern that we have all had on our minds. Maybe this year she won't see Katilda. Maybe she has already gone to be with the Lord.
|Tears of joy from two old friends
That none should be lost