Friday, September 6, 2013
Rwanda with Clear Air
As we flew above the thousands hills on our way from Rwanda to Tanzania, we both breathed a slight sigh of relief. Our time in Rwanda was excellent: clean cities, superb food (even the airline food was delicious, delicious choma) and easy internal transportation. We'd relaxed in the jungle, by the lake, even in the city... what more could you ask for?
But underneath it all there were a few anxieties. Many of the people we dealt with were amazing, however people we passed on the street, tended to glare and if we happily said hello, they might grunt a response. The best we got was stiff politeness in return. It was one of the few places we've been to so far where we felt strongly disliked. The children were the most demanding, ('Give me 100 dollars!'), and it was hard to shake the reality that when we were sitting in a crowd of middle-aged men at a restaurant, that in all likelihood, at least one had brutally murdered someone, and all had likely experienced terrible things.
To top it off, while we were sitting at our hotel in Kibuye looking across the lake at the DR Congo we were in contact with Canadian Foreign Affairs because of a possible conflict brewing between Rwanda and the Congo, a mere 80 Km North of us (though we were still in a 'safe' zone). Rwanda alleges that the Congo fired shells into their territory, killing some civilians and as such had started a military build up at the border.
Then probably the most relieving thing for us was actually being able to talk openly about what we'd experienced because we knew to be extremely careful about what we said while in the country as the government is always listening (we heard stories of men showing up at a hotel to tell someone he had 24 hours to leave the country). We think we're safe now!
It was certainly the most powerful experience we've ever had traveling... being completely immersed in the past and present of a country. We were constantly surrounded by reminders of what had taken place, like people with missing limbs, or scars on their faces. There were genocide memorials in practically every town we passed on the bus, evidence that there had not been a single safe place in the entire country.
The rudeness or disdain that we'd see on people faces wasn't reserved just for us. People would act politely to each other, by opening a bus window for their seatmate, for example, but then shut it in as little as a few seconds later.
During the genocide as many people as who were killed in 9/11 were hunted down and slaughtered every 440 minutes (the amount of time it takes to watch the original Star Wars Trilogy if you take 30 minute breaks between films), continuously for 100 days until 20% of the country was dead. It was difficult to comprehend how an entire nation could recover from such a travesty, Some justice was served, but you can't put the entire population in jail (Rwanda has done a better job than most other genocides in bringing people to justice). What about those with post-traumatic stress? Thousands of children who witnessed their parents being dehumanized and horribly murdered in front of them, women who'd been raped, citizens who themselves had been tortured. Then, of course, there's the aftermath of feelings towards the opposite ethic group. On the surface, the image is, 'we are one nation,' but that will take time and education (see our previous post) to be accomplished.
Then there's us. Really, why wouldn't we be stared down? Are we not there to gawk at their horrible (and recent) past? Plus, should we not be resented for standing by and doing nothing to help when it happened?
Considering this all, we had an amazing time. We would highly recommend visiting Rwanda. The country is beautiful and you'll surely be impacted.
* The 'sss' noise to get your attention is still prevalent here, as with the rest of East Africa
* Communication is challenging in most places - sometimes English is present, sometimes French, often neither
* The country is in the process of building a new national identity. This means that French is no longer the official language, and the names of towns have been changed. People use the old names and new name so interchangeably that they might use both in one sentence!
* You'll never noticed how often you use plastic grocery bags when you're traveling until they're illegal
* Erin loves the idea of umuganda, three hours of mandatory public service the last Saturday of every month
* The women are always dressed very beautifully there
* The food was outstanding (we did stay in really nice places, but it was consistently excellent everywhere!)