Arrive Kigali about 9PM – customs, meet our gracious hosts who transport us to the guesthouse.
Wednesday, January 9
A few hours sleep – what time is it anyway?
8AM and we’re off to meet up with a group of people who have come to give their testimonial of TFT. We are introduced to and greet the group about 30 people and start setting up for the interviews.
Diana and our interpreters work well together, and after the first two Interviews, I ask Diana if there might be some way to condense the interviews, as each one is taking about 30 minutes, which means it’ll take 15 hours to film everyone.
In the next interview, Diana asks the first question and the woman starts talking and doesn’t stop for a full 20 minutes. I see Prosper reaching his memory capacity – how does one retain the details of a story and then relate it back in another language? Amazing!
This woman was born in 1957 and tragedy started in her life two years later when her village was burned down – then family was killed, her children killed – on and on.
Stories you can only imagine are told and interpreted – stories of what we might consider deep, dark secrets. I am amazed and deeply touched by these people and their willingness to share.
“Do you have photos?
“Are you willing to share them?”
“Can we come to your home and film you there?”
But each story included a statement like; “I never smiled in my life until I was treated with TFT.”
These people all use TFT in their lives on a daily or weekly basis and almost all have been trained as TFT therapists, so they have the tools to help their family, friends and neighbors. What a gift!
We end the day exhausted and walk very uphill several blocks to a wonderful Indian food restaurant.
Up and packed and ready to leave at 7AM – just a quick bite of toast and coffee. Then we find that Father JMV has been delayed due to road repairs. That’s okay – we talk a bit and I try to connect to the Internet again – not much success since Los Angeles. No go.
Today is a trip by car to the northernmost region of Rwanda; we are told we are to meet Father Augustine’s family in their remote village. After a ride through some amazing countryside and a couple pit stops, we arrive at the village. We climb one of the thousand hills of Rwanda and Father JMV dons his priest robe just before we arrive – to a surprise!
Father Augustine was ordained last year, and each new priest is allowed to choose a day to return to their home village and perform a mass. This is that day – and we are his guests.
It was a wonderful ceremony. I was especially touched by the choir and their beautiful harmonies - pretty amazing for a group of about 10.
I was hesitant to record anything, as I did not know protocol and am sensitive to recording anyone without their permission. Plus, my camera was in the car – way down the hill. So, I partook and enjoyed, and after seeing quite a few local people shooting pictures, I broke out my iPhone and grabbed some video of a very fun dance.
Then – we eat!
All kinds of local grown vegetables, mostly potatoes, and bit of “running chicken,” as Prosper calls it – get the picture? I try a local beer, which is good, but tastes a bit like it came from a big brewery in the states, a la Bud Light. But then, I am spoiled by an occasional local brew on Maui.
We finish with a dessert or snack – boiled corn on the cob that has a texture of being in the field an extra month, which it was! Chewy, yes – and very tasty.
Here, men are expected to stand a say a small speech. It’s my turn. I’ve learned over the years that one cannot prepare properly for a toast or an impromptu talk. “A bit of humor is in order,” Prosper says.
I do my best to express that when I got Augustine’s invitation, I had no idea I would have to travel for three days to come to his party! I pause as Prosper translates. There is a little laughter. I wasn’t going for laughter, but to connect and let people understand that I honor their traditions. The rest is kind of a blur, as words from the heart don’t stay in the brain too long. I do remember choking up about halfway through, as I thanked everyone for their kindness and hospitality.
We went outside to take some photos and departed shortly after, heading for the Bishop’s compound, our home for the next several nights.
FATHER AUGUSTINE AND PROSPER
FATHER AUGUSTINE’S HOME VILLAGE
TEA FIELDS IN NORTHERN RWANDA
Friday, January 11
We spend the day filming interviews and some b-roll in yet another small village and school. One goal is to have TFT recognized as a valuable treatment for trauma by the ministry of health, and thus create funding to expand the programs here. A public official shares his experience within the community and the changes he has seen, He allows us to use his office for a couple interviews. Then we’re off to film a teacher at the school where she teaches and uses TFT with her students.
BOB AND KIDS (Photo courtesy of Diana Gross)
All goes well until we go outside to grab some b-roll footage. I don’t know if we were the first white people to visit that school, but I do know that I’ve never been mobbed by 200 children before today! All were anxious to see us and what we were doing with those tripods and cameras. We needed to get some footage so I tried hiding out inside the vacant room we used for an interview. That was pretty much fine, until I went outside again. Mob city – version Two!
We ended up leaving and traveling to the IZERE center where we filmed the scene of the teacher walking and talking with one of her students who had been having troubles. We finished with an interview of the student and headed back for lunch – at 6PM.
That’s how production goes.
FARMING THE THOUSAND HILLS
Saturday, January 12
Today was the community-gathering day where people come to the IZERE CENTER to be treated for their trauma with TFT and to also give their testimony. About a hundred people are already there when we arrive, as well as a dozen or so TFT practitioners – local folks who have been trained in TFT and give of their time to help heal their neighbors.
We gather footage of the TFT process in the field, literally, as people pair off and find a place in nature to process. We interviewed one woman who has come for treatment many times, seems to be doing okay, until she simply views the area across the mountains where her family used to live before the genocide.
We meet and interview Adrienne, who is the one full-time TFT coordinator for this area – the only one in Rwanda. She is very knowledgeable about the area and what’s happening there. We share a local lunch with the staff and as I prepare to grab some b-roll of the IZERE CENTER, it starts raining. I ducked inside just in time to miss one of the hardest downpours I’ve ever witnessed, which lasted 30-40 minutes. It definitely cleared the air, roads and vegetation from all dust!
AFTER THE RAIN
Sunday, January 13
Father JMV loaned us his car so that we could stop for b-roll and scenic footage on our way back to Kigali. The weather was lovely and the roadway wasn’t as busy as before because it was Sunday. People on the road were dressed a bit nicer, and we were surprised to run across a couple of huge marketplaces in full swing. We got some footage that represents the natural beauty of this hilly countryside.
Back in Kigali, we decide to visit the Genocide museum, which is very nicely designed outside and inside. I grabbed some footage of the grounds, graves, rose garden and memorial areas. There is a charge for filming inside, so I left my camera at the reception desk and went inside. There was nothing inside to include in our film; the pictures and images of the horrors that man has put upon man over the centuries is unspeakable. Our film is about healing from this and other traumas. It was a sad reminder to me about how much work, healing, and forgiving still needs to be done. When will we ever learn?
MINI MALL IN KIGALI
Kigali is an interesting mixture of modern and ancient – some areas reminded me of Century Boulevard in Los Angeles, perhaps areas of Beverly Hills, or any other well-to-do neighborhood. Just a few blocks away it wasn’t so modern. But I never got the feeling that there was poverty; poor, yes – poverty, no.
The people here always seem to be clean, well dressed and have an air of pride about them. They take care of their own; I didn’t see any starving children – everyone was nourished, but not fat. Mostly thin or stocky – because they walk everywhere and work hard; and outside the big city they grow their own food. And – they take care of their own.
Monday, January 14
Today is training day in Kigali for new and returning TFT therapists. Several of the people we interviewed last week returned for the training, but also with their photos, artwork and crafts they have created after healing their own trauma. The healing process seems to open up people’s creativity by clearing that which stands in the way.
DIANA, INTERVIEWEE, PROSPER
We also interviewed a woman who worked for the department of decommission. They deal with veterans who are retiring from military service. Here’s the interesting thing: they treat their own military members as well as those returning to the country after fighting against the military – the rebel forces. Talk about forgiveness.
Yes, some people objected, but the president said, “That’s how it is.” The overall attitude seems to be, “Let’s work together as one people – as Rwandans.”
I understand that the government here also has a zero-tolerance policy against corruption. If you give or take a bribe, same crime - you’re out!
After filming, we drive several people to their homes and Prosper helps me get a Wi-Fi stick so I can overcome my internet UN-connectivity.
Then, we walk to Heaven, an American food restaurant. The salad and broccoli soup were wonderful, as well as the squash risotto.
Tuesday, January 15
I get up early to clear out a bunch of emails and start sending updates. I try to upload the video of dancing from a few days ago, but YouTube rejects the video. I tried a couple other formats – no go. Then, the card runs out of time. . .
Our filming day was awesome. This was a day that we followed up on interviews from the day of training testimonials by going to people’s homes and have them share photos and deeper stories. “Deeper stories” is what we got! One woman shared that her husband came home from the TFT training and apologized for being such a “bad” husband – blaming her for his misfortunes. He owned his responsibility. Another woman shared that TFT had allowed her to meet the man – a house helper – that had killed her own father – and FORGIVE HIM. She said they often see each other on the street and he walks her from the bus stop to her home.
These are the stories that will be included in the film – stories of hope, healing and forgiveness. Something that many cultures around the world can learn from.
Wednesday, January 16
Today we spent time at orphanages, collecting more stories of incredible healing. It is truly amazing what people are doing for their own brothers and sisters. We have met such awesome beings on this journey – some have become friends because of their integrity and honesty. Others orbit in to share a spark of humanity and divinity before moving on to inspire and touch others on their never-ending journey.
Today is our last day in Kigali, a city which holds a million inhabitants – but every block feels like the neighborhood next door. Block building upon block of humans creating and sharing a better world. We in America and other “developed nations” can learn a lot from their example. And that is our task in this film – to share just that simple message through heartwarming examples. I hope that I am up to the task.
A small disaster strikes during our dusk interview with Father Celestine. Everything is going well when suddenly an avocado falls out the tree above us and strikes the camera square on the LCD viewfinder! The camera keeps rolling, the LCD is still working and we all share a laugh about it later. LATER later, I discover that it is a bit more serious and will need some major repair. I hope the insurance covers this act of nature.
We end the day at a wonderful restaurant - The Republick – that rivals the best intimate eatery found in Los Angeles. The décor is balanced, pleasing and relaxing. The clientele are a mixture of whites and blacks, and someone points out that “they might be an ambassador or someone in charge of some important program here.” The restaurant manager apologizes for our order taking so long and brings us complimentary appetizers and later offers a free drink as well. Our guest is a beautiful black woman (as most are here) who has an infectious laugh and skin that smells like dessert.
Back at the guesthouse, it’s 11PM. I check the camera’s timecode. We’ve collected over 20 hours of amazing footage, and at this rate we’ll have about 26 hours to choose from by the time we leave. I still have to transfer the footage to hard drives and charge the batteries for tomorrow’s 6:30 AM departure for Byumba, a process that will take most of the night. I’ll sleep between operations. Blessings to all.
Thursday, January 17
The drive north to Byumba is beautiful. It’s a sunny day and traffic is fairly light. We are welcomed once again at IZERE Center, where trainers and patients have gathered to give their testimony of healing with TFT. This is done in a community format – each standing up and sharing with the group. This goes on for several hours, and I capture as much footage as I can, which is challenging when listening to, and filming, a foreign language. Afterwards we eat lunch and are once again visited by a downpour of blessed rain.
Once it clears I go outside to capture b-roll footage of the center. Father Augustine joins us and gives us a tour of their extensive community programs; food farm, cloth weaving, cows and sheep, bee keeping, food co-op, housing for orphans, handicapped and women. They feed several hundred children lunch every day. And they treat all they can with TFT for the healing of trauma.
We travel to the Bishop’s compound and have dinner with – the Bishop. I don’t recall having dinner with a bishop so far in my life, so this is a first. There are formalities but the ceremony here in Rwanda feels very warm and neighborly. We have pupus (Hawaiian for appetizers) of cheese and “ground nuts” – similar to peanuts – and Cointreau, an orange liquer. Diana joins us after Skyping in to a family funeral. There is small talk and then laughter as Father Augustine empties the Cointreau bottle into my glass. It wasn’t that much, but it was the last bit.
Dinner was similar to other meals – potatoes, carrots and peas, rice, pasta, sauce, and a bit of meat that’s always a little challenging for the teeth and jaw. Dessert was delicious apple bananas similar to Hawaii, some sort of Japanese plum and strawberries that were harvested by the Bishop himself.
After the meal, we exit back to the reception room and the Bishop busies himself with a phone call and everyone is kinda wondering, “Do we just leave?” As everyone heads towards the door, I turn to see the Bishops fumbling with some keys at a door. I take a deep breath and approach him. “Thank you, Bishop, for your kindness and hospitality.” He looks up and smiles and shakes my hand – and then goes and greets the rest of the guests adieu.
We have quite a drive to where we spend the night and Diana arises to the task. I fall asleep during the bumpy ride – too much food and Cointreau, and lack of sleep.
We arrive at a seminary near a lake. We’ve heard about this place for several days from Suzanne, who spent time here in years past. We are led to our rooms, which are always clean and cozy. My bed has a pink cover. Along with the mosquito net, it looks like a bridal suite! I don’t care. I am tired. I put the batteries on to charge and passed out so quickly that I missed Lights Out, where they turn the power off.
Garden Statue at the Bishop's Compound
Friday, January 18
Up early to get those batteries charging, but where? The seminary runs on solar power and a generator. Over breakfast, Father Augustine tells us there was a problem with the power, but he has called an electrician.
The filming today is at the beach. Not a sandy beach, but down by the lake. We learn that the mountain ridge across from the lake is where Rwanda began - one hill range that was expanded by the kings to the next range and the next. Perhaps that is the origin of “Land of a thousand hills.”
Father Augustine gives us a stellar interview, as does Father JMV. These are the two men, very brilliant men, who have spearheaded the drive to heal their country, one person at a time. They have dedicated their lives to do so and on every level. They deeply understand that people need food, they need housing, they need emotional and mental stability in order to thrive. They have conceived and born a plan, one that is working and should be a role model for the rest of the world. Heal your people, heal your nation.
We experience another daily rainfall, just as lunch is served out by the lake. Today we have fish for lunch. The WHOLE fish! Talapia. We are told that it is a Rwandan custom to eat this fish with the hands and a server brings a basin with soap and pours warm water over our hands to rinse. The fish was awesome – fresh from the lake, grilled and spiced just right.
THE BEST FISH EVER
After lunch we film Prosper, our translator turned host. I kid him that he is wearing the microphone that Larry King wore a couple years ago on another production. He is thrilled to be the Rwandan Prosper King.
Prosper gives us his very moving story, Diana calls it “A wrap,” and I stay to capture the fleeting last light of sunset over the water.
YEP - THAT'S A WRAP (Photo courtesy of Diana Gross)
Saturday, January 19
Up at 5AM, as we will travel to Kigali to meet with the Ethics Committee. All film projects in Rwanda must be approved, as to meeting high quality standards.
As I take my last look at the lake, I reflect over the time we have had here. The faces of my new friends pass through my mind and I tear up at the thought of leaving. It’s my intention to return and capture more stories, perhaps for a screening when the film is complete, many months from now.
We have gathered 27 hours of footage, and the real work begins now; Transcribing, translating, reviewing and editing all the wonderful testimonials and stories. I always bear in mind a quote that I don’t know is accurate. Someone once asked Michelangelo how he carved the magnificent sculpture of David. He said, “I just carved away everything that wasn’t David.”
And so it is with a film. Especially challenging is the amount of quality content – paring that down to an hour for public television. It’s a far cry from where this project started – the hope of creating a half hour show from existing footage. Although the project has morphed into this amazing journey, I want to thank the countless others who came before us; the teachers, therapists, trainers, filmmakers and photographers that documented their journey here as part of the whole.
And especially I want to thank the fearless Rwandans who have taken upon themselves the task of healing their nation and their people. One people - putting aside and forgiving the past and those who transgressed them.
Sunday, January 20
It's always an experience traveling. Our biggest challenge today was the snowstorm in Brussels. Although it wasn't a heavy storm, apparently the airport has limited resources to keep the runway clear and to de-ice the planes.
We spent 5-6 hours on the tarmac in Brussels, putting us that far behind in our travels. The folks at JFK were helpful and United Airlines had postponed a flight to L.A. to accommodate the late arrivals. So, I'll still have a brief night in L.A. before the flight to Maui in the AM. Then a day to unpack and repack and head off to our film festival in Cambodia. ANGKOR WAT INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL