While many African countries have bad reputations, its hard to think of one whose recent past holds as much horror as Rwandas. Things may be quiet now, but the genocide forms an integral part of the Rwandan psyche and at no time is it closer to the surface than during the yearly remembrance week, the same week I was in the country.
Let’s leave that aside for now- Rwanda and its people are so much more than their painful past. The country is stunning- a fantasy world of stepped hills covered in tea and other plantations. Roads run along ridges before plunging down into narrow, twisting valleys. The country is so small that you can ride the tarmac to your destination on the other side of the nation and still have hours left to explore, or just drop your luggage and ride a light bike around the terribly wonderful back roads. And the people- they are, like Ugandans, wonderful. The kids are fun without being annoying, the adults curious, but respectful (not counting country gas stations where a mob of at least 20 will surround you and make filling up a challenge).
Kigali is a fairly pleasant city and smack dab in the middle of it is the ‘One Love’ campsite/hotel/restaurant/club/prosthetic charity/Rasta church/other stuff that I forgot. It’s an odd place, but there is space for camping and The Duchies, a Brit couple who I had met previously at JJ’s, and myself called it home for a couple of days. The night of our arrival, the 5 of us headed to the restaurant for dinner and a couple of drinks. After dinner, the owner and his friends dropped by and the night really began. This being the week of the genocide memorial, there was no club or music going. The guys were just there to talk and the insight we got into the history leading up to ’94 and after it were profound. Talking with someone who lost their entire family (he was spared since he was in Japan DJing) and still lives within a 1km of the people who did it is a lot to deal with- then you think about what he has to deal with. It was a tough night in many ways, but it was also a priceless insight into Rwanda and its people that you could never get in any other way. The most unfortunate part of the night was that is wasn’t hopeful- Rwanda is still torn and the international bandaids being applied are only curing the symptoms, while leaving the festering tribal differences to strengthen once again…
After a day doing chores (I make a lousy washerwoman- trust me!), the Brit couple headed south, while the Duchies and I headed north to Gisenyi. This was also the day where I booked my trip to see the mountain gorillas (the same goup that Dian Fossey studied and died for). It was booked more as a duty than a real desire. $500USD seemed a lot for an hour with gorillas- even if blah, blah, blah. I was really desperately hoping that no one in my group would break down and cry over the ‘life-changing’ experience. Despite my indifference, I was looking forward to it and had a fantastic ride to the campsite.
The ‘campsite’ was actually a mini-resort kind of place where they let people camp on the lawn. It was okay, I guess.
The view from my tent was… It was bloody fantastic is what it was!
In the evening, the local fishermen went out on their odd, sort of tri-hulls, singing in time with their rowing into the sunset, and leaving me once again in wonder at the sights this trip allows me to see and experience.
Early the next morning I went off to the gorillas. I’d post pics, but I left my memory card in my pc… No, really. A nice American lady took some pics and will send them to me (I hope). Thing is, I’m not too fussed about it. The gorillas were an amazing experience and well worth the price, but they were an experience- a feeling you got from them looking at you, a tingling in your spine when they did something that screamed out their close link to us. The power wasn’t in the photos, it was in having been there and experiencing their presence. No one broke down and cried, but two Danish ladies did seem to go into a state of ecstasy…
I kicked back for the rest of the day and then headed south to Burundi.
How can you have a bad day when it ends with a beer called “Turbo King”?