We recently had our second to last school break, and me and my two best Peace Corps girls, Lantana and Josephine, decided to take a little vacation to little Rwanda. We tore some pages out of an East Africa guidebook and caught the night bus from capital to capital: Kampala, Uganda to Kigali, Rwanda. Ten hours later, we arrived at the border, where we were ushered to the front of the line, and Border Patrol let us walk right through, except that they confiscated Joey’s plastic bags because they are illegal and “bad for the environment.” – How great is that?!
We spent our day in Kigali at the National Genocide Memorial. It was quite a somber thing to do on a vacation, but also an important one.
The genocide of the Tutsi people by the Hutus took place just 20 years ago. In 2 weeks, over a million people were slaughtered for no reason other than for being who they were. The memorial was extremely graphic and emotional, with a room of torn and bloody clothes that people were massacred in, victims’ skulls cracked with hammers and split by machetes, and an entire exhibit dedicated to the children of the genocide, with vivid descriptions about how they were killed, who tried to save them, and what their last words were.
It is unbelievable to me that the Rwandan Genocide happened so recently, in my own lifetime. We need to remember it, to learn about it and from it, to talk about it. If you haven’t seen the film Hotel Rwanda, you should; it’s a good place to start.
It was difficult to walk around Kigali after seeing the memorial, and not think about what each person I encountered must have experienced in 1994, how it must have damaged them, how it must shape their current world… At one point Lantana said that she would be surprised if every person in the entire country didn’t have PTSD…
Thankfully, not all of our vacation was as heavy as that first day. After Kigali we headed to the Parc National des Volcans and stayed in a guest house at the foot of the mountains. Climbing Volcano Bisoke (3900 m) was one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done – I like to think mostly because of the altitude – but it was incredible and well worth the struggle. We walked straight up into the cloud-choked jungle for hours and hours, spotting mountain gorillas, antelope, and foot-long earthworms, before collapsing at the summit, where a 300 meter-wide crater lake, complete with tiny beaches, awaited us.
A little bit of rain made the descent even harder: the steep paths that we had scrambled up had now turned into a giant mud slide. We finally made it out, with shaky legs and mud halfway up our thighs. It was such an amazing day!
Our final stop was Chameleon Hill, Lake Mutanda. We slept in rainbow cabins built along a cliff overlooking the lake and the entire volcano chain. We relaxed, had nice meals, and got to know Joey’s parents (it was thanks to them we got to stay at this fancy place!). The views were breathtaking, and it was so cool to be able to look out at the massive volcano that we climbed just a few days before…
Lots of Love from a Refreshed PCV,
The man who waits for a perfect opportunity, will wait a lifetime.
[African Proverb – Nigeria]