Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rwanda - the Switzerland of Africa.


I have been avoiding writing about Rwanda. It confuses me. Plus, I’m very busy soaking in the “western” feel of this place… ahhhh… almost like home.

If I hadn’t known the recent history of Rwanda or the ventured through it’s neighboring countries before my arrival it wouldn’t be so striking. It’s very developed, organized, and clean. We’re talking streetlights, sidewalks, traffic signals, western shopping centers, and a coffee shop that blows starbucks out of the water (with free wifi!). It’s really very comfortable.

The fact that they were slaughtering people with machetes on these streets almost exactly 18 years ago gives this place a bit of an eerie feeling (for me). It’s baffling.

A hefty dose of kerosene was thrown on my flame for Africa about 12 years ago when Dr. Donald Miller gave a guest lecture on the Rwandan Genocide in my Terrorism and Genocide class at USC. At the time, he was working closely with the orphans of the genocide. His passion and brilliance for the topic was contagious to me, I guess. I followed Dr. Miller’s work with the Orphans of the Rwandan Genocide for several years, attending lectures of his long after I graduated.

I’m not sure why the story of this genocide is so striking to me. Genocide is always horrific. Maybe the combination of it being so recent, being so fast (1 million people killed in one month…), or because of the way I first heard the story. Suffice to say, I’ve felt close to this place since I sat in that lecture hall 12 years ago and listened to the brutal events that took place on this soil.

So what’s really wild about this place is that with the exception of the Kigali Memorial (the Genocide Museum), there are no visible remnants of the genocide. This city appears to be on its feet and leading East Africa as an example of success in development.

But then - to be totally honest, it makes me nervous. It seems too good to be true. I have spent hours walking this city and (no joke) sitting sipping fizzy water at the Hotel Des Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda) trying to figure out how this city went from complete chaos and despair to THIS. (Again, comparing Kigali to any other major city I’ve visited in Africa really magnifies its development.)

After visiting the Kigali Memorial it occurred to me that every single person that is from this country and over the age of 18 has a story to share about that time. Almost every adult I walk past either took place in the massacre, was a victim of it, or has a family member that was. Keeping this in mind while wandering through a city that bears no indication of hostility confuses me more than anything.

On an individual level – trying to forget the fact that there was a genocide here – I would say that I love the city. I ran at dusk last night – once the air had cooled a bit. It’s the first time I’ve run on sidewalks under streetlights in three months. People are less confused by me here – though they refuse to smile at me until they see me smile (with TEETH!). Once I acknowledge them with a big, stupid grin I almost always get bright, cheery greeting in return. Sometimes they even gave me a thumbs up or words of encouragement (I’m assuming they were saying nice things, but were speaking French or Kinyarwanda). I actually saw another white woman and three other African men running on the street. I was SO excited!

I haven’t taken many pictures here since it really looks like some combination of a city in the US and a city in Europe. (Meaning, it feels like Europe but there aren’t any cool old buildings to take photos of.)

I’m beginning my three-day bus journey back to Arusha tomorrow. (Really not looking forward to that…) I will spend a few days in Arusha before heading up to Nairobi to fly out to India on the 25th (assuming I can get Qatar Airways to cooperate…)


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