By Chelsey H.
Of all the places I have been, Kigali definitely stands out as completely different. I don’t think it is so much the geography (although that is most certainly a striking comparison) or social structure differences as much as it is the people. At first, I thought the language barrier (people converse most comfortably in Kinyarwanda) would present difficulty. However, everyone also speaks French which has given me the opportunity to practice my language skills. I have truly been blessed to interact with the people here in Rwanda.
I must admit, arriving here in a foreign culture for my first legal job was a bit daunting. But I can easily say that Rwanda was most likely the best place for me to begin hands-on legal training. Not only have I had the chance to study a different legal system (Rwanda does not use the jury system!) but also I’ve gotten to converse with legal scholars and judges giving me a chance to get into their heads and attempt to understand their sense of morality, cultural history, and the meaning of life. I had a very interesting conversation with the Inspector General regarding the death penalty. Here in Rwanda, they do not impose the death penalty—the highest sentence is life imprisonment. I tried to explain why certain groups in the U.S. still believe the death penalty is a just sentence. It was fascinating to hear his philosophy of forgiveness and rehabilitation surface as he vehemently declared no one has the right to take human life but God. The people here have very strong value systems and to me, it appears they have very strong characters as well.
The best part of the day is when I walk to work in the morning and when I walk back to my apartment in the evening. The reason? My familiar route back takes me past all my friends in their various shops and stands. Rwandans are so very friendly and helpful. When I first arrived, I needed to print some papers for a project and wandered into a building I thought was a printing shop. Here I met my friend, Josephine, a kind older woman whose English was not the best so we conversed in French. Everyday, on my way to work Blshe never fails to shout out, “Ça va?”
No one is in too much of a hurry here. I don’t know how many times someone randomly begins a conversation with me while walking. Relationships run deeply here and great value is placed on investing time into conversation and just being in one another’s company. As my friend from Kenya always says when we part ways, “Nice time.” Interacting with the people here in addition to studying their legal system has most certainly been an informative and enjoyable experience—a nice time.