Rwandan Adventure| July 24, 2010
Not too much to report this weekend work-wise as Evans had to go to Eldoret this
past week to “write exams” (he’s working on an additional degree, as is his wife – they
both go take classes and tests a couple times a year, she’ll go during August) so I took
the opportunity to go visit a friend from home who’s working in Rwanda. Kelly teaches
high school English at Sonrise School in Musanze, and I’m her first visitor from home
since she arrived in January.
After an 18 hour overnight bus ride from Eldoret, Kenya to Kigali, Rwanda (by way
of Kampala, Uganda – I had to pay $50 for the privilege of passing through their wonderful
nation which now tops the list of corrupt east African countries) Kelly met me at the bus
station and we went back to her organization’s house. It looked like quite the palace –
running (hot!) water and even a hairdryer! After cleaning up, we took motos (on which
you have to wear a helmet in Rwanda, not so much in Kenya) to the genocide memorial/museum.
The museum is very well done, and thus extremely depressing. Even before you enter,
the gardens convey the gravity of the events of 1994 because several mass graves are
integrated into the lawns and flower beds overlooking Kigali. When I asked Kelly about
some elephant statues surrounding a fountain, she said they’re to symbolize remembrance –
After all, “An elephant never forgets.” The ground floor of the museum is dedicated solely
to the Rwandan genocide, showing the historical and political events that led up to it as
well as testimonials from survivors and photos of people who were not so lucky. As you
climb the stairs, the focus shifts to genocides around the world from Germany to Kosovo to
a few that I wasn’t even aware of, hammering home the point that every time we seem to say,
“Never again,” yet somehow the lesson goes unlearned and history is allowed to repeat itself.
The sheer numbers in Rwanda (and in every other genocide) are staggering – One million people
in one hundred days. Though it was a heavy way to start the trip, I was glad that I’d
visited the memorial first as it gave at least a glimpse of perspective on the Rwandese people.
Anyone over the age of sixteen lived through those horrors, so it’s truly amazing to see how
far Rwanda’s come and the hope and happiness that some people have found.
The rest of my visit was very enjoyable and far less depressing. We visited Lake Kivu
on the border of Rwanda and the Congo and spent a good amount of time in Kigali walking around
and eating delicious food (best chicken tikka masala of my life!). Rwanda is significantly
cleaner than Kenya, which can partially be attributed to the fact that on the third Saturday
of every month everyone is required to perform community service, often in the form of trash
Things were going great until I tried to leave Rwanda to return to Kenya. First, my bus
was about an hour late, which maybe I should have taken as a sign, but I figured, “This is
Africa, this is the first time the bus has been late so really I’m doing pretty well.” We
boarded, and then about fifteen minutes outside of Kigali a truck coming the opposite direction was
passing around a corner and was thus in our lane. Neither vehicle was able to get out of the way
in time. The front left corner of our bus was destroyed in the near head-on collision and we had
to climb out the windows because the door was useless. A terrifying experience for sure, and there
were some injuries to people sitting in the front of the bus, but I don’t think there were any
fatalities. Had the bus flipped, which I thought was the next step after we swerved and
over-corrected, it would have been much much worse. I called Kelly (she said she felt like a parent
receiving a late night phone call about her daughter) and we arranged a taxi to take me and a couple
other girls back to Kigali for the night. I decided that I’d go ahead and fly back to Nairobi the
next day, after getting a full refund from Kampala Coach. My bag had been stuck under the bus, and
when I went to collect it the next day at their office, they said, “At first we didn’t know which
one was yours, but then we spotted that muzungu bag and we just knew.” I could only laugh, as it’s
certainly true that I’ve never seen an African traveling with an orange backpacking backpack (thanks
for letting me borrow it, Karen)!
Now I’m back in Mbale, safe and sound, and I will once again reiterate that I can’t believe it’s
almost August and so it’s almost time to come home! This week I’ll be working with Peter, the
attorney in Kisumu, so I’m planning on making another post later in the week about his work as well
as writing a couple more things for IBJ.