Been in Rwanda for two days now – still cannot believe I’m here. It’s amazing the things that have come together to make this adventure possible. A month ago, I haven’t any idea about Africa, but yet here I am! I was planning a month trip to NYC to work and live with a friend and it’s amazing how drastically my plans have changed. The trip seemed so impossible, both financially and academically, and being given only a week to decide - it seemed that it was a definite no. And yet, here I am. I cannot believe the forces that came into play to make this possible for me. I was upset that I had to decide against the program… and, incredibly, life didn’t agree with that decision. Fate came into play, and I’m coming to believe that we meet people for very specific reasons – reasons we may not understand right away. Part of me believes that I’m meant to be here and I hope this comes to realization throughout the trip. I really think people are meant to meet, I’ve been one confused person over some of the questionable things that have happened over the past year but I realize I wouldn’t be here, in Rwanda, if they didn’t happen. It all seemed impossible. But yet, here I am.
The flight was LONG – 14 hours, probably the longest I’ve ever sat down still in my life. Well maybe not, grad school tends to make time nonexistent and I’m sure a seat will be formed to my body by the time I graduate. I wasn’t sure what to expect here in Rwanda and I can tell you – it’s by far the most relaxed atmosphere I’ve experienced. Yoga studios got nothing on Rwanda! J Saying the citizens work on “African time” (arriving/starting later than the appointed time) doesn’t do it justice – everything seems so serene and peaceful here. I mentioned today it almost seems like a Snow White scene, it’s just like a dream here. It’s so green and quiet, and the hills create an amazing scene. Kids are strolling about the streets, alone, and smiling and holding hands. It’s so different than America where parents are constantly on top of their children and super protective. The children roam about on their own and there isn’t a sense of danger. Two boys, maybe 8-10 years old, joined us on our walk about the town. They’re so sweet and have the most beautiful smiles (little side note, Rwandans have really awesome teeth, and its gorgeous against their dark skin… I don’t think braces are the cause but its definitely a noticeable trait about them) and it isn’t a smile to be nice or respectful, it has that genuine sweetness to it. The boys would giggle with excitement when we would say some Kinyarwanda words and you can tell they were wondering about us too. It breaks my heart when you think about what happened 20 years ago, similar sweet children faced such horrid cruelty. Were going to the national memorial tomorrow and Carl mentioned the children section is the hardest to cope with. Despite the boys’ shyness and seemingly low English skills, you get a sense of connection with them and it just makes you want to protect them. I just can’t believe anyone would want any harm against someone so small and innocent.
Drew mentioned that everyone has a story related to the genocide and it really hits home when you’re able to realize it. Sitting in the airport, about to board the plane for Uganda/Rwanda, I remember looking around and seeing people and just thinking wow, these people have incredible stories and strength. A lot of them were flying to Uganda; I didn’t know that so it really affected me. I spoke to our guide, Eric, today and I realized he was only 10 when the genocide occured. He mentioned he grew up in Burundi because it was safer for his family. Burundi eventually became just as dangerous and they moved back to Rwanda in August 1994- very soon after the genocide officially ended so it was still unruly. He told me that his parents felt they were going to face their deaths because of all the chaos in both countries, and decided they’d rather die in their home country of Rwanda than Burundi. I was speechless, I can’t imagine having to face that idea and make a decision like that. Fortunately, they survived. Personally meeting people who’ve been affected by the genocide and listening to their story (of what they want to share at that moment) is really hard on the heart. Like I’ve said in the previous post, it’s so easy to distance ourselves from tragic events and this experience is giving me such a better understanding and connection with these amazing people. Well, you try the best to understand.
The flight was long, as I’ve already mentioned. I read Carl’s book on the flight and I’m glad I did right before visiting because being here is making it so much more real to understand the events. Having Carl here with us makes it even more incredible; having a person who experienced the genocide tour the city with us is just amazing. I may have fan-girled a little bit when I met him… I just feel so lucky to have this experience.
Yesterday we arrived to the hostel around 3pm (8AM Buffalo Time). 26 hours of total travel! Left my house around 515 to make it to Buffalo State for the bus at 6AM. Then off to Toronto, Ethiopia, Uganda (stayed on the plane) and then finally Rwanda. We didn’t have much layover time so much of it was actual travel. I didn’t sleep much and my body is still adjusting to the new sleep schedule. We hung around the hostel for the first part of the day and it’s a really cool hostel – very social and the people are very friendly. We met a few other hostel guests during the day. We had an amazing welcome dinner. The food has been amazing so far, even the airplane food – they fed us so often! There isn’t as much meat as we tend to have in America but the vegetable dishes are delicious. We’ve all remarked on how awesome the avocado is and the BANANAS! THE BANANAS. You know when you have banana flavored candy and it tastes pretty exaggerated? That’s a Rwandan banana. I swear I don’t think I can eat a banana back home without thinking of them here! They’re so tasty! Mmm. But the food is amazing, it’s putting Italy in a pretty tough competition. There are two vegetarians with us and they’ve remarked how amazing it is as well. The welcome dinner was beautiful… they set up a candle-lit table outside the hostel nearly under the lit-up trees. The hostel has events every night and its very communal. They had a bonfire roasting next to us and a man played on his guitar next to our table. The hostel rests on a hill and has a great view of the city, and the sun was setting as we ate dinner. The hostel hosts a spoken-word night every wednesday and the second girl who went had such an intense poem, I hope she returns next Wednesday because I'd love to have a copy. "The African child will dance…" It was such a lovely night and a great welcome into the calm and serene culture here in Rwanda.
I was really excited to experience NYE in another country. The hostel held a bar crawl for interested guests and me and another, Tim, joined. It was so much fun! We were meant to go to 5 bars but only visited two for the entire ‘crawl’. The first bar had a giant dance floor but the people there were mainly just sitting down despite the blasting music. The hostel group took over the dance floor and it was mostly 80’s American music. It was fun, but didn’t feel really authentic – as it was just a bunch of foreigners grooving about. The next place was great. It was packed! It didn’t have a dance floor so the group spent some time trying to figure a way to get the group into the dancing club below. Eventually it was too close to midnight so we made a mad dash to the previous planned-bar and it got so much better! We tried to have a countdown but it didn’t match because the entire crowd starting “woo-ing” for midnight. The atmosphere was so friendly- everybody was hugging each other and wishing one another Happy New Years. The place was mainly Rwandans with our small group of foreigners and the Rwandans were excited to celebrate with us – often offering sips of their drinks after wishing a happy new year. I heard that’s a cultural thing but I stuck to my own beer. It was great to see how friendly they were and how easily they brought us into their own groups. I specifically remember a small dance circle and how silly and fun they were – really loving life and really loving people. At the end of the night Tim and me left but there was a basic grill outside the bar making kebabs. I tried goat meat for the first time- very similar to horse! A large group of the ‘crawl’ were also grubbing so they all decided to head home as well. I didn’t sleep very well, despite only getting a few hours during travel. It took me awhile to finally sleep and I woke up nearly two hours before my alarm. My body is really taking this adjustment hard, which hasn’t happened quite as drastically before. For 3 days I only had a few hours of sleep and still didn’t feel tired but thankfully I was able to nap and I feel I’m getting used to the sleep schedule. My experience with the malaria pills is also MUCH better than the first time (knock on wood), I just have to be sure to eat a large meal with them so I don’t have that awful nausea to face.
It has been a national holiday the past two days. We start our official itinerary tomorrow, really excited but a bit nervous about visiting the memorial. We visit the churches on Friday and I think that’s going to the hardest.