Friday, March 9, 2012

Africa does something to your body. Stepping off of the plane I immediately feel it: a top-to-toe release that is unlike anything you’d experience in London, barring perhaps the climactic final minutes of a top-notch Alexander Technique class.

Public transportation in Rwanda is not for pansies. After a quick nap to recover from my red-eye, I hail a moto-taxi into town to attend a screening of a friend’s movie. I fiddle with the strap on the purely aesthetic helmet while my host Emmanuel negotiates a non-Muzungu price with the driver. This helmet will spend the next fifteen minutes bobbing atop my head as haplessly as I bob atop the back of the speeding motorbike. But the headgear does have a soothing effect in that it places distance between me and the 60-mph Kigali air and the stark, open mountainside dotted with clusters of shacks in the dusty red distance. My feet are massaged into submission by the rumbling bike engine and the rest of my muscles follow suit, embracing this moment of pure mortality. I find it funny to consider how little stress and danger have to do with one another. Tech week on a recent puppet show had me tied up in knots. This death-defying motorcycle ride is what’s helping me unwind.

The movie, “Grey Matter” ends us being about (big surprise) trauma, and the central protagonist—a young Rwandan man who lost his family in the genocide—spends the majority of the movie wearing (bigger surprise) a bright red motorcycle helmet. He does everything in this helmet—showers, paints, hides in the attic. It’s an incredible image; I’m sure I would have appreciated it on its own merit, even without the serendipitous timing. But my ride into town has given me a special appreciation for the director’s choice to show a response to trauma that is so physical. Trauma, vulnerability, repression…these are physical words as much as they are emotional. Trauma is stored in the body. In fact, if this year has taught me anything, it’s that the fictitious boundaries between mind and body become impossible to maintain at the extreme edges of human experience. When our defenses are penetrated, we are wounded entirely: mind, body, soul.

Healing, then, has to similarly encompass the whole and integrated self. Somehow, this seems to happen more naturally in Rwanda than in any other place that I have been. It might be an audacious and unfounded thing to say, but something tells me that healing, as a process, happens faster here.

But maybe that’s just my sun-baked body talking.