The streets are spotless clean, not a speck of garbage in the entire country, in fact plastic is totally banned and people use paper bags if need be – This was the first and lasting impression of this tiny yet mighty nation in the eastern part of the African continent – Rwanda. Its recent genocide history has been one of the worst, around a million people
Slaughtered to death and still counting, as they unearth more bodies, the genocide memorials unfold the story and it leaves you numb to the core. The survivors talk about the trauma and their efforts to deal with it. But post the genocide that happened in 1994, the country has emerged strong like never before.
At the genocide memorial I remember reading about this incident. Soon after the genocide, in 1997, there was another small attempt at its resurgence when people entered a school asking the kids to separate themselves in the 2 tribes – Hutu and Tutsi, which were at war during the massacre. The kids replied – “We are not Hutu or Tutsi, we are one – Rwandan.” And to this reply the militants killed almost all of them. Though a horrible story for its outcome, it talks high of where the people see themselves today as Rwandans. With every person you interact you can feel the pride in their identity as one, there is of course regret and remorse as well, but mostly it is that feeling of forgiving and to move on.
Thanks to our hosts and now our dear friends, we also had the luck to attend a ‘community meeting’- monthly all residents from every village/ locality meet up to discuss local issues pertaining to them and arrive at solutions as a team. This activity they say solves almost all problems amicably and in a democratic way. Every person you meet on the street talks about their unparalleled president, Kagame, who has spearheaded the nation to optimism and pride and self-respect.
Every person you met, all are well read and we enjoyed the most animated discussion on world politics with many! Apart from their own language Kinyarwanda, it was great to see they speak three more languages fluently – Swahili, French and English!
For long I have looked forward to experiencing “Africa”, it has always intrigued me and I wished to know more of the people and their ways of life. I watched “Cry Freedom”, a movie based in apartheid times in South Africa at the conference, and honestly, the impact of racism hit me harder that time. All the hurt and pain people have been through just for their looks and skin color!!! Unimaginable. Surprisingly when most said they still have a tough time to get into US or Europe even as visitors and require a lot more documentation to prove they are not potential immigrants that seemed extremely unfair!
As a visitor I found the streets perfectly safe 24×7 and people in general are very friendly. Even strangers would pass you an occasional smile or a hello. The country is mostly catholic and I had a lot of interesting conversations on my personal take on atheism and Hindu culture.
I was also looking forward to visiting the rain-forests and the Savannah, both very high on my wish list! The Nyungwe national park boasts of some pristine rain-forests and surely one must visit it again to give it justice. It is home to 8 different primates including the chimps and gorilla. The forest guards are very friendly and have a lot of knowledge. I personally decided to visit it again someday with a longer duration planned to do the Congo-Nile trek.
The Savannah of the Akagera national park was a treat to the eyes. I don’t have a decent camera but got fairly good pictures even on the cellphone as the likes of elephants, hippos, buffalos, bucks, giraffes, zebras crossed our path. For birding, one needs to give it more justice by dedicating more time and carrying a relevant bird book along. Beautiful flora and fauna in over a thousand sq km of area that you just can’t get over!
This is but the first African experience for me, and I am glad it began with Rwanda. And in Rwanda, this would not have been possible without the super enthusiastic and helpful Servas team. Flawless planning and execution for the conference and more than that, one of the most friendly and welcoming experiences ever! It was truly a home away from home for us…
Every journey alters your course in life, and perhaps after knowing this first bit of this superlative continent, nothing can ever be the same. There is so much to experience and share and learn, and mostly, with a lot of love and respect. I hope to travel all over this fantastic continent in coming future with all my new friends, and also hope they visit India too!