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Experience #15 - Kigali, Ruanda

I felt in love with Rwanda.

When we arrived at Kigali, the capital, nothing seemed to be too different. Even because the feeling was just the same after one of those trips of fourteen hours in a bus, where you can’t move your leg, the tire gets flat, the tire is fixed, the bus stop for people to buy corn, go to the toilet and finally arrives with a delay of five hours.

We stayed in a hostel that looks like grandma’s house, very familiar and calm. The owner received us with a tight hug and a request for us to “feel at home”. I almost cried. Seriously.

Until getting there the only information I had about the country was acquired watching Hotel Rwanda, a movie about the genocide that happened exactly twenty years killing more than a million people in four months. According to the little I knew I was prepared to meet a country rebuilding itself from sad tragedy that leaves eternal scars.

But then I arrived and found a clean city, with a lot of gardens that were nicely taken care, kindness in the traffic and smiling people walking by the streets. “Fê, is this the same place of the movie?” The answer was yes, followed by a silly joke that I don’t remember now.

In the following days we went out to seek for inspirations and we had our initiation on a mot-taxi. They are so organized that they have a helmet even for the passengers. Furthermore, we could feel for the first time, the happiness of taking a bus with nobody on my lap – or not being in the lap of somebody – once overcrowding public transportation is not permitted. Is there something more beautiful and respectable for citizens that are tired to go back home after a working day with no half body outside the window of the bus? Well, this almost doesn’t happen in Africa…

I was already completely in love with Rwanda when we had the chance to visit some projects supported by ActionAid Rwanda at Musanze, near the capital.

We joined Michel Ndayambaje, ActionAid project manager, and went together to a kindergarten that teach early child and two women’s cooperatives that produce handicrafts and breads. We got impressed with the school caprice, the beauty of the handicrafts and the delicious breads! As always, a lot of laughs.

Curiously they are children and women who suffered the biggest consequences of the cruelty and brutality that devastated the country.

Around 1890, when Germans and Belgians arrived in Rwanda they found a stable society in harmony. As it happened in all the colonization processes that I know, the settlers arrive, take the land, impose their culture and introduce new concepts and rules that generally never make sense to the native people. In Rwanda it was not different.

In order to make an easier control of the land, Germans and Belgians segregated the society in three ethnics groups, being the Hutus and Tutsis the most important ones. In this irrational logic adopted by them, a minority was considered the Tutsi under the reason that they were more physically similar to the white man. To justify this classification they used to check the size of the nose and the colour of the eyes, also the amount of wealth was important. Who had more than ten cows were automatically considered Tutsi, privileges and benefits were granted to them over the majority Hutu.

Thereafter, Hutus and Tutsis broke cordiality and began to recognize themselves as opposite and diverging ethnics.

Further to that, in 1931 the identity card was instituted, which was used to expressly indicate to which ethnic the person belonged to. This document, after decades, would be the main tool to decree death penalty to millions of citizens.

Some years passed by and the differences arose, till 1992 when the president at that time, Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu one, started to organize and command a military training for thousands of young boys. It was the beginning of the Hutu Power. Suddenly a monstrous quantity of weapons, like axes, firearms and machetes were imported. France, aiming to maintain a cordial relationship for any economic interest, didn’t only borrow millions of dollars to buy weapons, but also its army to coach the local youth to use their new toys and became part of the army. This subject still looks like to be a nightmare to the French…

Nobody seemed to really understand the reason behind all that. The crazy ones – and snitches – that could predict a future tragedy were ignored and put in the black list of Government enemies. Slowly a thick cloud was formed above the people, which soon would spill a rain of cruelty that would change forever the history of the country.

The mood intensified day after day, pushed by hate advertisements in radios and newspapers subsided by the government at that time. The message was clear: “Hutus, exterminate all Tutsis from the country. If you don’t do it you will be the eliminated ones.” In fact, the order was to elaborate lists with the names of Hutus who were married with Tutsis or were maintaining commercial relationships with them. These were called Moderate Hutus and were also marked to die.

On April 6th, 1994 an attack, which the author remains unknown, put down an airplane that was taking the president Habyarimana and Burundi’s president to Kigali. All the passengers died and this was the perfect reason to start an attack.

In less than one hour after the accident there were barriers in the streets and Tutsis began to be cruelly murdered in their own houses.

The history is much longer and impressive, reason why I don’t allow myself to summarize something that should be studied and understood in detail by everybody.

In reality for the four months that followed the massacre more than a million Tutsis were killed, including children and women who were almost always raped and tortured in front of their kids and husbands before been killed. The weapons used could not be crueller: axes and machetes. The “soldiers” always wanted to ensure that the victims would suffer and after the job was done bodies were left in the streets, as a merciless carpet.

Rwanda was lacerate by its people. The country was devastated and the rest of the world didn’t really care about it.

We visited the Nyamata Church that during the genocide served as refuge of thousands of Tutsis who were massacred just there. Today the place is a memorial where we can see dozens of clothes, skulls and bones of people who were refugees there. A local guide received us and explained in detail the history of that place. She is a survivor. She lost her parents and all siblings but still recounts the same story every day, under the motive that as more and more people know about it, more chances we have to avoid this to happen ever again in the world.

Then you ask me “Gabi, with so much tragedy, why did you fall in love with Rwanda?”

And I answer you that it’s impossible not to fall in love with a country that taught me one of the most valuables lessons of the trip: to learn how to forgive.

Streets of Rwanda speak by themselves, with a different energy, a good one.

After a deeper understanding of the history, Fê and I kept walking around imagining how should that all be twenty years ago. And the most impressive, how they were able to rebuild it.

Rwanda has one of the smallest corruption indexes among African countries and according to some conversations – and observation – public services seem to work fine. We walked calmly through the streets, even at night, and we didn’t hear anything about robbery, murders or any other type of violence. Rwanda is peace today.

For days and nights I tried to find out how they could to that. Rebuild a country and recreate unity in perfect harmony.

I got to my conclusion: they learnt how to forgive and did it for love.

They forgave each other and themselves, but they really forgave, keeping no sorrow, just memories.

So I understood that love and forgiveness walk together.

Love is a forgiveness catalyst. The one who loves, forgives and gives freedom to himself and others.

Forgiveness generates transformation, renaissance, reconstruction. Forgiveness heals.

That’s why the people of Rwanda, moved by unconditional love for those who left and next generations, decided to forgive. Without forgiveness, there would never be truce in that war and their children, grandchildren and grand grandchildren would continue to live the terror of being afraid of death. Day after day.

They unconditionally forgave the biggest tragedy that marked their history. They forgave and asked to be forgiven. And, through this, they were born again.

I lived a love affair with Rwanda and I’ll live it forever, as Rwanda taught me that love and forgiveness heal wounds, free sadness and bring the certainty of prosperity and harmony.

If it was not enough, Rwanda reminded me one of the prayers my mom taught me when I was a child:

“I forgive you, you forgive me. I love you, you love me. I thank you, you thank me. We are a single soul before God. Many, many thanks.”

And it was like that that in Rwanda I had a love story and I was born a bit again.



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