Brian Crawford is a teacher and writer who holds a dual M.A. in French Literature and Modern German Culture from Indiana University. He speaks five languages, including basic conversational Kinyarwanda. He is the author of fourteen novels, including the multiple award-winning The Weaver’s Scar: For Our Rwanda (2013), the first young adult novel written in English dealing directly with the Rwandan genocide. Brian has travelled to Rwanda numerous times, where he has collaborated on educational partnerships between Rwandan and American secondary students. Beyond his own experience in the country, he interviewed many Rwandans and non-Rwandan expatriates to write this guide. He currently teaches secondary Language Arts in Seattle, WA, USA.
Understanding a different culture is like understanding a different language. You observe, learn the code, try the code out, make mistakes, and begin again. The key to travel and cultural exploration is to observe those around you. Do not judge. Instead, seek to understand. Try new things--things you cannot find at home. Then, perhaps you will come to a new understanding of your own cultural practices through the lens of a different culture. To speak the cultures of the world is to understand humanity.
I once trekked to the summit of Nyiragongo, a stratovolcano in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The hike is grueling: 11,400 feet up at a sharp angle, with no switchbacks to make the route easier. You slip and stumble over crumbling volcanic rock, all the while finding it harder and harder to advance due to the thinning air. At the higher altitudes, I had to stop every three or four steps to catch my breath. And even when I breathed lungfuls of air, I felt I was not getting enough oxygen. It was cold. I was lightheaded. But then, after seven hours of hiking, we reached the summit and peered over the crater's edge a thousand feet down into a roiling, sputtering lava lake--the largest in the world. Feeling the heat on my face even from that distance, I was entranced--hypnotized--by the ever-changing forms of raw, igneous beauty that splashed and steamed below. All hunger, thirst, and fatigue left me in that moment when I came face-to-face with the earth's raw power.