Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Land of a Thousand Hills ... and a Million Deaths

First, if I have terrible typos in this post, it is due to the fact that this is a French keyboard, and a bunch of the letters are in different places than what I am used to.

I am indeed in Bukavu, DRC.

Perhaps the keyboard is symbolic of everything else so far. It is just . . . different. But it is also exciting.

I really do feel safe so far. I have been told that it is even OK to take photos in the city; just not near or of soldiers. And there are plenty. I will try to write about Bukavu tomorrow if possible. For now, some thoughts about Rwanda:

If you have seen Hotel Rwanda, the Hotel Des Mille Collines might ring a bell. It is the hotel in the movie where several hundred people were hidden. Mille Collines means a thousand hills, and the country certainly has thousands of hills. It is evident from the moment you land and see way into the valleys below right from the runway...

Rwanda felt surreal. The city was destroyed 13 years ago, but you would hardly tell. The roads are amazing. Everything seems super orderly compared to other cities in East or Central Africa, but there just isn't a lot of globalization from the look of things. No big supermarkets or shops. No international gas stations even. But there seems to be an atmosphere of hope all around.

I will write in detail about the genocide when I am at a normal keyboard; it is hard enough to put into words without having to look for the right letters...

We drove from Kigali to Bukavu today. It was a beautiful drive, and the girls did well. Some of the sights we saw en route:
  • homes look very different in rural Rwanda than in rural Kenya! Most homes have tile roofs - even little mud huts and outhouses would be decked out with tile roofs
  • most homes have walled-in courtyards, and it seemed like cows and goats were often kept in these courtyards
  • more people seemed to be walking than we typically see in rural Kenya, while few or none were begging for rides
  • roads had almost NO potholes, except for a stretch through a national park
  • women carried baskets on their heads filled with everything from tea leaves to bananas, guavas, chives, tomatoes, avocados, cassava roots or cabbages to enormous jackfruit
  • we passed several graveyards with unmarked graves and often one sign reading, GENOCIDE, NEVER AGAIN
  • we also passed a number of outdoor community court meetings called gacacas - pronounced gha'chachas - where communities are finally, after 13 years, having the chance to try neighbors who murdered their loved ones. It truly felt surreal passing these meetings and seeing women standing before what seemed like a panel of judges... I do pray that the process of telling the stories and being given a chance to forgive the perpetrators will bring healing
  • there were several police on the road, but unlike in Kenya, we were never pulled over and asked for a bribe
  • we saw more armed guards in the national park than anywhere else. I believe this is because this is one of just a few places in the world where you can find gorillas in the wild. It costs 500 dollars US to go see the gorillas, so they are obviously trying to keep people out that try to go and find them on their own. It could also be to protect the primates themselves since guerrilla soldiers are known to kill some every so often
  • we crossed the continental divide - a first for me. A little sign showed that rainfall on one side runs to the Nile River and rainfall on the other side runs to the River Congo
  • after leaving the park, we passed through mile after mile of tea plantations, and then, in the valleys up ahead, Lake Kivu appeared... We filled out the necessary exit documents to leave Rwanda, crossed a dinky bridge, and then did the necessary paperwork to enter the DRC. Just like that, and we were in the Congo
  • roads on this side of the bridge are in much worse state than in Rwanda
  • Bukavu seems to be a bustling city on the most beautiful lake. However, the lake has thermal gasses, so it is dangerous to swim in it. Our guest house has a view of the lake. It seems idyllic, but from the look of things, the rooms are really dirty. In fact, I will be asking for clean sheets before getting into bed tonight. I think the room assigned to me is usually used by staff and the sheets haven't been changed. TIA.

My ride is here. Got to go. Will write more when I can.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for taking the time to post, Adele. I've been thinking of you almost constantly, wondering where you were.