Friday, 24 August 2012


Rwanda: a little country in the middle of Africa full of big-hearted people

A couple of weeks ago I went to Rwanda for five days to visit my brother who has been working there for the past 6 months. I hadn't seen David for nearly a year so I was pretty pumped to see him for the first time in a long time!

I had no idea what to expect from Rwanda. The only image I had in my head of what it could be like was from the movie Hotel Rwanda, which I don't think was even filmed in Rwanda, and off photos that David has been sending us. The main story I had of Rwanda was one of violence, genocide and suffering, and although I knew that the country wasn't like that anymore, it is still hard to get that image out of your head.

Before I could fly into Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, the Captain told us that we were by passing a place that I thought was called Bugambura, but turned out I was stopping in Bujumbura in Burundi, a country just next door to Rwanda. So after a 30 minute lay-over in Bujumbura, we set off again for the 25 minute flight across Burundi and into Rwanda.

Flying over Rwanda to get into Kigali, you realise just how hilly the country is. They call it the country of a thousand hills, but there are many many more! Just from flying over it I realised that this was indeed a very beautiful country, that had unfortunately seen so much horror. I landed 45 minutes early, which is very unusual for Africa since everything seems to run on African time, where everything is delayed.

I hoped off the plane and was greeted shortly after arriving by David and his friends Gilbert and Carine. It was so lovely to see David and give him a massive hug! I was greeted much the same way by Gilbert and Carine, and even though I had just met them, I felt like I had already known them for ages. Maybe it's all the times David has spoken about them on Skype.

Now I won't give you a complete minute by minute run down of what I did while in Rwanda (you'd get bored), but I'll give you the basic outline of some of the cool things I did, amazing people I met and just how amazing Rwanda is.

When I first arrived on Friday night, David and myself went to dinner with Noel who David works with.
David's friend Noel is one of the nicest people I have ever met. As soon as I met him, I had felt like I had known him for years. He just made me feel so comfortable to be Rwanda and to be sharing his country with him for a few days! Noel was 12 when the genocide happened. Most of his family were killed by the Hutus and he was forced to hide for many days to survive. David told me that while he was hiding, it took him 2 days to crawl 400 metres. Noel can talk about the genocide. You can see that it's not easy for him, but he wants people to know about it and for people to know exactly what happened rather than just know the Hollywoodised version of the story.

Although the genocide isn't openly talking about that much in Rwanda, it is always there, in the background of conversations, lurking, like a marker of time in Rwanda. It's almost like you can't talk about Rwanda now, without talking about the genocide. I think this is an extremely important thing to do. The country won't be able to move forward without tackling it head on, which I think is what they have done, and you can really see this with the way the country is today. I highly suggest that people read, We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, by Philip Gourevitch. It is an amazing book about the genocide and how it came about. I read the 400-page book in about 5 days, it's that compelling.

On Saturday morning, David dragged myself and Carine to go horseriding. For all those who know David, you'd know that he loves horseriding, like loves it! I'm not the biggest fan of horseriding and Carine had never done it before so one could say that we gave David the reins for most of the time. The journey to horseriding was an interesting one. The main way that people get around in Kigali is by moto, a taxi service via motorbikes. You literally hop onto a motorbike, the ones where the drivers are wearing vests and have an extra helmet for you and away you go. I had my first moto experience about 1 hour after arriving in Kigali. I'd never really been on a motorbike before but it was so much fun, and I looked forward to the next time I got to ride on one!
No hands- my first moto experience!

Horseriding was at the top of Mt Kigali, so we had to moto it up to the top of a mountain, on quite bumpy, narrow, steep roads where at times I felt like I might fall off but luckily the bikes have little handle at the back that you can hold onto, so I held on. The view at the top of the mountain was beautiful and definitely worth seeing. We rode around the pit at the horseriding place for about an hour and a half, David riding for about half of that and Carine and I sharing the rest. We were riding one of about 4 horses in the whole of Rwanda, trust David to be able to find it!
The view of the hills in Rwanda
Me on the horse
David, Carine and the owner David
David and his beloved horse

After our horseriding experience, we met up with Gilbert and went to lunch in the centre of Kigali and had  some delicious veggie burgers (David makes me feel bad eating meat when I'm in his presence). Then we walked around the lovely, clean, orderly streets of Kigali and headed back to David's apartment. That night David and I went for a lovely all body massage which nearly made me fall asleep. They used a hell of a lot of oil but it was so relaxing and something that I needed after sleeping in a not so great uni bed for the past 3 weeks!

On Sunday night we were invited to a housewarming party for a friend called Sam that David works with who had just got married. It was a lovely night as I got to meet some more of David's lovely friends, to hear stories about what David and his friends have been up to and to just have fun. Everyone I met was so nice and welcomed me into their lives with such ease. I thank David for making such lovely friends and for being a pretty cool person that makes me being there very easy! 

Sam and I
David and I showing off our denim shorts
David, Sam, Sam's wife and JC
Carine, Noel and I
Genocide Museum 
 On Tuesday I went to the genocide museum. It is an incredible museum that is hard to put into words. The museum itself is situated on a hill that looks out onto parts of Kigali and where you can see the main CBD. Inside the museum, it is peaceful but obviously sombre. It is made up of sections to explain how the genocide came about, what happened during the genocide and what happened and is happening after the genocide. You follow the museum around like a labyrinth, where on the outer section there is information and pictures before, during and after the genocide. Then you go into the inner labyrinth of the museum where there are pictures of those people who were killed, the clothes and mementos from those killed and skulls and bones of about 200 people that were killed. It was definitely confronting to see 200 skulls and 400-plus bones in one place, and to know that they had been brutally killed by another human being. But what struck me was how much the skulls all looked the same in one way or another.

This is not to say that the skulls all looked like Tutsi skulls, but they all looked like human skulls, like my skull or your skull. I don't know if this is a morbid thing to think, but in the end we are all similar. We all have a skull, two arms, to legs and a body. Why did there need to be a distinction between who was who in Rwanda? Why did there need to be Hutu and Tutsi people? I obviously know that everyone is different with different religions, ethnicities, values and beliefs, but when you get down to the crux of it, we are all the same. We are all human. The Rwandan Genocide was an extremely horrific 100 days in Rwandan history, but also in the history of humanity. How can we as bystanders let a group of human beings kill another group of human beings and do very little to stop it or even make it worst? What degrades people in such a way that makes it ok for a neighbour to kill a neighbour, a friend to kill a friend or even a relative to kill a relative all because they are labelled Hutu and Tutsi? How do some people not know that this happened, or even deny that this occurred? We said in 1948 that the Holocaust or something similar would never happened again, but a little under 50 years later it did, where nearly 1 million Tutsi's were killed in the space of 100 days. 
The Genocide Museum

I had an incredible time in Rwanda and want to go back there right away. The people and the country were so incredibly lovely that it is hard to see that something awful happened not very long ago. The only physical remnants you can see of any conflict occurring is on the side of the Parliament House in Kigali, where there are bullet and mortar holes from fighting between Hutu rebels and Tutsi rebels. Other than that, you wouldn't know. I don't know exactly how the country has come to seem so harmonious in the 18 years since the genocide occurred. I'm sure that there are divisions, anger, hurt and every other emotion under the sun still being felt by Rwandans and will still be felt for probably their whole lives, but it seems such a peaceful and extremely safe place. I'm so glad that I got to spend my time in Rwanda with my brother and was able to see what is he doing and how respected he is by the people he works with. I definitely hope I can go back very soon to hang out with the amazing, lovely and generous people that I met. Thanks for making my time in Kigali so awesome.

Next up I'm off to Capetown to umpire AFL for AFL South Africa! I'll let you know how it all went very soon.

Love to you all,
Love all that you are,
And all those around you.


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