Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rwanda trip…

Next, Jeff and I decided to take a trip to Rwanda. This was partly to renew our very outdated visas and partly so I could meet with a gorilla research group. We were actually in Kigali during the bombings that went off in late March, but were totally clueless to any of this. In fact, I think there was a grenade outside of the Kigali Memorial Center a few hours after we left. My Mom actually called to tell me about the bombings and I said “Oh Mom, those were weeks ago…” It wasn’t until later that I realized she wasn’t crazy and I was! Anyway, to get to Rwanda, we took a car to the border of Rwanda and got out. The border is interesting. For one, you cannot drive across. You have to get out and walk. We weren’t actually taking a car into Rwanda, so this was okay for us, but even on the return trip, we had to get out of the bus and walk across. We walked across and found one very nice passport inspector on the Rwanda side. He was the last nice person we saw for a while, so it is note worthy to comment on him. It started raining and we started walking to find public transport for the 2 hour trip to the capital. The very rude people we ran into who refused to let us share their cover at their little security posts, but insisted on making us fish out our passports (even though we had already finished the boarder crossing), told us the mini busses were about 10 mins up the road. We started walking and getting soak. We approached a group of school-aged girls all coming home from school and we smiled and said hi. It turns out they were not friendly, they were little bitches and they surrounded us and decided to taunt us as we walked. So I decided to be a bitch back. I kept stopping short, which made all of them pile into each other trying to avoid bumping into me. After a few times of this, they dispersed. We then got to the mutatus and no one spoke English (the current official language) or French (the previous official language), so we had a really hard time figuring out where to go. Finally, we ended up in a mutatu that headed for Kigali. Along the way, we met a few nice people who talked to us, but those were few and far between. When the trip started, there had been no English speakers in the car, so I thought I could talk to Jeff (who was sitting in front of me) openly without anyone knowing what I was saying. At one point, the guys next to me were pointing at my ring finger and discussing it in their local language. Already being annoyed by how rude everyone was to us, I held out my hand and said “Yes, I’m married, ok?” A few minutes later, we made a stop and everyone was yelling at us “Mzungu, Mzungu!” We are used to this in Uganda, but it is usually kids who yell this. Yet, these were adults who were being really aggressive towards us from outside the mutatu. This happened everytime we stopped. It was extremely uncomfortable. So at one point, I said, “Ooh, Mzungu, look at the Mzungu, I’m going to stare at the Mzungu.” And the man next to me and the girl next to Jeff laughed. So we realized we were sitting next to English speakers. I spoke to the guy next to me for a bit and Jeff chatted with the girl next to him and then we arrived in Kigali. Somehow, the girl next to Jeff ended up still being with us after we got out of the Mutatu. She said she was helping us find a taxi, then she got in the taxi. She said she was helping us find the hotel, then she was in the hotel. The final straw came when she asked Jeff if he wanted a separate room from me. Oh Jeff, he had no idea what was happening.

So we settled into our room and headed out for dinner. The town is nice, very European. We found a nearby mall that was obviously a mzungu hangout, which we didn’t realize. We found a great little cafĂ© with free internet. It had tons of mzungus and all sorts of yummy food we hadn’t seen in forever, like goat cheese. We ordered lots of things and then ended up being pretty disappointed in it overall. But we still ended up coming back to the place multiple times because of the internet and the comforting foods.

While in Rwanda, we visited the Kigali Memorial Center. It is a museum that documents the 1994 Genocide and other genocides around the world. It was horrifyingly sad. Of course, we all know the sad things that happened and this museum just overwhelmed you with it. At one point, Jeff had to take a break from walking through it because he was so overwhelmed and feeling sick to his stomach. In the museum, the biggest print is the local language there, then French and English. This confused me because I thought they would have the country’s official language first. As we went through the museum, though, it became obvious why they didn’t. So much of what happens goes back to bad ideas from the colonist and this new divide that was created by the Belgians. And the West totally abandoned this little country when it needed them most, so why should they be using their languages? The saddest part of the museum was definitely the “Heroes” section. Jeff and I were both crying. These were people who risked their lives for other people, sometimes saving hundreds of people in the most creative ways. It was so touching. And then reading about the “aid” that came to the rescue, but was really all diverted to the refugees outside the country (aka the murderers who fled the country) was just appalling. Again, it isn’t that this is new news, but having it so in your face had a big impact. Comments about raped women who contracted HIV from being raped not getting any medicine for the past 15 years, but their rapists being given free meds by aid workers in the refugee camps just makes you want to puke. Really sad. This is where it is so important for people to actually think about where their aid money is going and what sort of “aid” they are giving. Just throwing money at a problem and feeling good about yourself does not work.

The other part of the museum had info about other genocides. I thought this part was really good because it highlighted how every continent has had its share of massacres. I feel like sometimes people just blow off the tragedies in Africa as century-long “ethnic” problems and so forth, but that part of the museum showed that all cultures have had their part in genocide. Very sad!

It was actually extremely weird to be in Rwanda. Everywhere you looked, the people were probably either victims of the genocide or perpetrators of the genocide. It was horrifying to think about. And it made me feel bad for being so frustrated at how rude people were acting towards me. I just don’t know how a country comes back from something like that, really. Jeff is commenting here that despite this, they are coming back. It seems like a crazy success story, it doesn’t even make sense. Also, he’s saying how they have a national understanding that they aren’t going to forget what happened, they are going to face it and they are going to face it together. Which is great!

After Kigali, we went to Ruhengari, which is the base town for the mountain gorilla researchers. It was BEAUTIFUL! Sitting at the base of the volcanos, the views were amazing. And the views on the drive to get there and back were also amazing. It was just mountain after mountain, valley after valley. On our ride back to Kigali, we were driving on top of the clouds and the mountains were bursting through at certain points. It was so breathtaking, I just wanted to make sure I got back there at some point. I am posting a few photos, I hope they show just a gimpse of what we saw on our 2 hour ride. Also, there are some photos of kids who we met on our walk around the town and were dying to have pictures taken. These are just a couple of the dozen or so photos they posed for.

After some delays, I had a great meeting with the gorilla research group and we are moving forward on discussions for me to get involved with their research… so good news there.

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