June 5th: Kigali and More Pancakes

3:24 PM

June 5th:

On our first real day in Rwanda we experienced a full range of emotions. We woke up early in the morning to freshly prepared Oatmeal bars from Aidah, they were served with bananas and Rwandan jam (and tea, duh). We decided to spend the day exploring the city of Kigali (or Chi-gali, as we later heard it pronounced). I have fallen indefinitely in love with Rwanda.

The transition from Kampala to Kigali has been interesting. The way that the bus system works in the two cities is different and the language barrier is much more noticeable here. The main language of Rwanda has recently turned to English but many of the locals still speak French or Kinyarwandan. And since we speak neither of those, transporting did have its slight setbacks. We DID learn how to say no however. The word for no is Oya, pronounced “Oh-Yeah”. Kigali was full of street vendors running after you trying to sell you everything from gum to wrenches. Multiple times, they would grab my arm and say “mzungu, mzungu” (word for white person). Learning to say no, might be the best word I’ve learned thus far.

Our first stop on the taxi brought us to the middle of the city. We passed by the Mille Collines Hotel, which you might recognize as Hotel Rwanda where over 1,000 Tutsi’s were hidden during the massacre. We explored inside the hotel and it was beyond luxurious. The strangest part about exploring Kigali was trying to imagine mass slaughter occurring here. You would think that there would almost be a dark cloud over the city but it was so alive. 

For lunch, we went to an African buffet called Camellias that Aidah recommended. For a little over 3$ we got a full course African meal full of an assortment of rice, beans, potatoes and complete with fresh papayas and lime. We ordered coke with our meal and the coke came out in a glass bottle. I typically hate soda but African coke is like taking fruit from heaven and squeezing it into a cup. They use real sugar instead of anything highly processed. Lindsey ordered fresh juice and ended up being charged twice the price that the menu said. It turns out that in Rwanda, the customer is NOT always right, total Mzungu move, lesson learned.

After lunch, we attempted to seek directions from a man at the taxi stop. An american woman could tell we were struggling and intervened. We were looking for the Genocide memorial and she went out of her way to not only give us instructions but walk us partly there. I am constantly amazed by the helpers, even the ones that do not understand a word that we are saying. She told us that she was working for Yale University to train health care workers here how to run a successful health care system. One thing about Kigali is that you can see a great Western influence. At times when walking down the street, it almost felt as if we were walking down the streets in LA. 

We felt that way until we walked into the Genocide Memorial. I don’t know if I can necessarily put into words the thoughts or feelings I experienced in the memorial. I started out mad, really mad. My fists were clenched most of the time because I had no other way to express the depravity of the situation. I have spent a great deal of time studying genocide, specifically the Rwandan Genocide and the Holocaust but no amount of studying can fully prepare you for something such as the Genocide memorial. The graphic pictures, the personal testimonies of friends and families, it all left me wondering the same question, where was the rest of the world when this was happening? Why did the UN ignore the early warning signs? Why did the early massacres not alert somebody to do something? 

The Genocide Memorial focused mainly on the importance of education so that events such as the Rwandan Genocide would never happen again. It not only explained the Rwandan Genocide but other genocides that have occurred in the world, multiple in my lifetime. I learned today for the first time about the Armenian genocide and the Cambodian genocide. The US and even the Turkish still refuse to call the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenian a genocide. I guess the most disappointing part of the memorial was seeing where the world has fallen short when it comes to justice. Even in cases such as the holocaust, many survivors never felt that justice had been served. Genocide is a string of hurt people that allow hate to become destructive. Hate under the right conditions, turns into mindset which turns into action which turns into devastation. Why do we allow it to manifest in this way?

Even among the anger however, I found some reasons to be joyful, for in almost every scenario, the museum pointed out the helpers. There is a famous quote by Mr. Roger’s that says: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” And there always were, and even if it was a woman pretending to be a witch doctor to scare away Hutu’s to protect 13 Tutsi’s , there will always be the helpers. There will always be the woman on the street to help you when you can’t speak a word of French, or the man willing to jump on a boda to save your trip to Rwanda. People, although at times run by hate, are good.

It was sobering to walk past graves of over 250,000 Rwandan’s murdered in the genocide, many of whom will never be identified because of the act of slaughter. I wish that everyone in the world could come and stand in that very spot because I think it is necessary. There was a room in the memorial with pictures of people who had been identified from the bodies. Seeing their faces, staring into their eyes, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed. Next to one of the photos was a note written in english. It was written from a survivor about his cousin. He said “My dear cousin, although I barely had the opportunity to know you, I think often about what your dreams might have been. I have tried in my life to do many things, knowing that one of those dreams must have been yours”. I started to reflect on my own cousin who took a huge risk and came on this trip with me. I think about how much I love her and to what extent I would go to so that her dreams can come true. People are people are people are people. They feel what I feel, what you feel. We feel because we are people and we deserve to live because we are people. Ruthless slaughter is NOT an option.

Walking through the streets of Kigali after viewing the memorial was different. Because I started to realize that the majority of people over 20 years old were affected by the genocide. I started to see the city as scattered testimonies of the past. And I started to see a huge amount of hope. Like I mentioned before, this city is very much alive. Anna and I spent some time talking to the guest shop employee and he brought up the same word that Ronald stressed the other day, embrace. He told us that Rwanda has overcome, has embraced the past, and has moved forward. Holy cow, that is real talk. 

After a solid discussion about humanity, we headed home and reheated pancakes. There is nothing like pancakes to lighten up a conversation and pancakes will now forever remind me of Rwanda. We ended the night in tears over a game of Balderdash. Laughing is therapy for the soul and after today, we needed that.

Rwanda has brought real conversations, and plenty of fresh bananas. Tomorrow we’re headed to hike around Lake Kivu. I apologize that this post was so long, it is midnight here and I have to wake up in 4 1/2 hours but my head and my heart aren’t content until the pages are full. Goodnight, or good morning depending where you are in this crazy world.

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