The local remedy for hiccups in Rwanda is to lick a piece of paper and stick it to the child’s forehead, like you can see on Tom’s forehead in the picture above. I have always found this practice interesting because all mothers do it, even the ones you would expect to not buy into the idea of a scrap of paper possessing healing abilities. For example Tom’s mother is perhaps the most progressive Rwandese woman I know yet she still abides by some cultural practices that seem to exist in conflict with more recent adjustments to the culture here . Rwanda is such an interesting country to live in because in some ways they are on the fast track in terms of progress and development but certain traditions are so ingrained in the culture that they have a strong presence in life today, even if common sense dictates they should have vanished long ago. The first time I saw this remedy applied to a child I was visiting Alice, the woman who teaches biology and chemistry at my school. It was at this time that I realized even educated professionals find comfort in certain cultural traditions that, to me, seem contradictory to logic. Every time her baby yawns Alice squeezes his cheeks together. This is another thing that all Rwandese mothers do. Finally I had to ask and the answer was surprising- they don’t want the babies to dislocate their jaws. This coming from a culture where you pick children up by one arm and swing them onto your back but no one ever contemplates dislocated shoulders. I asked Alice if she really believed this since she knows the anatomy of the face and jaw, and I even reassured her that babies in America yawn all the time without people immediately pinching their cheeks and they turn out just fine. She gave a noncommittal shrug and that was that. An American nurse also once told me that a mother’s solution to a baby choking in Rwanda is to blow on their face. Not to reposition the child in any way but to simply blow air on them. Not the most helpful remedy I have heard of.
The culture in this country is so universal that people are afraid to deviate from the norm. There is one way to wash clothing. One way to peel potatoes. One way to write notes in class. One way to bathe a child. Anything different is just not the Rwandese way. I think it will be very interesting to watch as this country continues to develop and grow because in many ways they are resistant to change, so the path to the “future Rwanda” that Kagame envisions will most likely be a difficult journey. It will be exciting to come back years after my service to see the continued progress and I look forward to seeing if the local remedies I have witnessed survive the road to development.