Rwanda: 1st Impressions
We’ll get to the gorillas later, and the Golden Monkeys and the chimpanzees and the mangabeys and the Colobuses… Colobi?… I want to start with the people.
Rwanda has another horror story to be filed under “If it happened to them, it could happen to you,” like the story of Nazi Germany. I recommend you google and read a thorough account of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. It’s difficult to wrap the mind around. 500,000 – 1,000,000 Rwandans were slaughtered by their fellow citizens in 3 months. It’s a story of favoritism, propaganda, paranoia, xenophobia, and pack mentality. Also mass insanity and almost indescribable blood-lust.
It happened. It was horrific. But the beauty of the story is Rwanda today. The perpetrators ~ les genocidaires ~ who fled the country in fear were forcibly repatriated. The worst stood trial and were sentenced. But the rest were expected to rejoin society, to be Rwandan with the rest of the nation. It was too expensive and pointless to attempt to punish everyone who participated. People live and work, side by side, with those who put the machete to their parents, siblings, and children. It was only twenty years ago.
Right now Rwanda is a shining star in Africa. President Kagame’s emphasis on communication and education, in conjunction with international aid, is building Rwanda for the future. The monthly day of service (clean up) for all citizens in the capitol builds community and pride. They are constantly sweeping and mopping homes and businesses to keep the dirt streets’ dust at bay. The national ban on plastic shopping bags makes a remarkable difference in the cleanliness of the land. Perhaps those awful decaying bags which festoon the trees and fences in other emerging countries are gateway garbage. It’s noticeable. Trash stands out rather than composing the background. Rwanda is clean. Maybe cleanliness is indeed next to godliness. The genocide drew acute attention to this country over the chronic needs of its neighbors. Christian organizations do tremendous amounts of good work. Rwandans see them as the ones who come to stay, to really help. The desire to thrive in peace is so very evident, businesses from hair salons to guest houses called Peace in both English and Kinyarwanda are in every town. While there is plenty of sittin’ around, watchin’ the day go by, the roads are lined with people, everywhere, walking somewhere, pushing heavily laden bicycles or carrying burdens up on their heads. Curiously, bicycles are strictly for boys and men while top o’ the head carrying is almost exclusively a thing done by girls and women. Out of necessity, their posture is amazing. I’m thinking of taking it up myself, as if the locals in my own town don’t stare enough already.
The people we met were invariably friendly and curious. Also beautiful, strikingly so. The underwater hockey team, which our friend started in Kigali, was so tickled to have us turn out to practice with them. Those big, bright smiles will stay with me forever. The students at our friend’s school were like teenagers anywhere, yet maturely focused on their precious opportunity to go abroad for university and bring that education back to Rwanda. The national language was changed from French ~left by colonial Belgium~ to English in order to prepare for interaction with the larger world.
Currently, Rwanda is lead by a … strict father in President Kagame. Some would use less generous descriptors for his style. But he has accomplished great things for the country and the people when such leadership was necessary. Of course more freedom is good ~I’m American, after all~ but they needed that leadership then and may need it still. It would break my heart to see this growing, emerging, beautiful civilization fall to ruin if put into gentler hands too soon.