So far, my trip in Africa has been a whirl-wind adventure. After driving to Toronto, an 11-hour flight, a layover in Ethiopia, and the final 2-hour flight to Kigali, jet lag has completely kicked my butt. Instead of turning completely irritable and cranky, I have used the tired energy to reflect on the first travel day, my first full day, and my future travels in Rwanda.
Shortly after we arrive at the 'Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel', I passed out and awoke to a power outage that lasted almost 30 hours. This could have easily made anyone made or anxious but the people of the hostel and myself found it almost liberating without electricity and the Internet. We used it as an opportunity to get to know each other better and to distress before our big New Years Eve Celebration.
Along with getting to know my fellow travelers better, we took a large part of our first day and explored Kigali. This city is much more modern and westernized than I ever thought there would be in Africa. It's a huge city, full of many hills, buildings, and people. While touring the city, we stopped in a neighborhood that overlooks the city to take some pictures. As soon as we stepped off our bus we were greeted by many children. They were so polite, curious, and soft spoken. We walked around the neighborhood talking to the kids and their families, and I can honestly it was an incredible feeling to be so welcome in a place where you not necessarily supposed to be.
Following our initial explorations of Kigali, we have visited two genocide memorials; Kigali Genocide Memorial and a memorial for United Nations Peacekeeping Soldiers killed during the genocide. These memorials were places to learn about the events leading to the genocide, what happened during the 100 days in 1994, how it has affected this country and the world, and to reflect. "Individual reflection and personal responsibility" was a phrase that was emphasized at the memorials.
Below are some of my written reflections of the memorials, they are very brief outlining notes of bigger issues and feelings related to the genocide and the memorials.
- Turning a blind eye toward genocide
- Children's room
- Meaning of family; orphans
- Power of youth: leading, changing, learning
- Good coming from bad
- What If's - Walk a mile in their shoes
- Ways of healing/ "there is no healing without justice, there is no justice without healing"
- Embracing the past for a better future
- "Individual reflection and personal responsibility"
- Flower of life
- Symbolism: fruit, roses, vegetation, indigenous plants, fountains
- One Rwanda
As my travels continue, I will be doing more reflection of the memorials and what we are learning about Rwanda, but here are my initial thoughts. It is truly astonishing that after the terrible events that took place here only 21 years ago and knowing how many people were killed, injured, raped, orphaned, and displaced; the people here are so happy. Every person we pass waves to us, every person we meet welcomes us with a hug, every kid smiles. Even as I write this post I can hear singing echoing through the hills from different churches.
What a wonderful place to start a new year.