If I mention Rwanda, what would you say? For a lot of people, the first thing that comes to their mind is genocide. Yet, Rwanda is much more than that, and genocide itself holds a lot of meanings and learning in the life of Rwandans.
… Vulnerable journey…
I went to the genocide memorial in Kigali, the Rwandan capital. It was probably the most intense journey I have ever experienced. It embraced me with silence, speechlessness, and thoughtfulness on how humankind can kill one another just because of their ethnicity. I tried to process the idea but it never made sense neither I could understand it. During my stay in Rwanda, I met randomly a man in a café shop when I was having my breakfast. Somehow the conversation led us to talk about the genocide memorial.
He explained clearly that the story is never complete. That what people do not know about genocide is that hatred was placed between Rwandan since colonization, which opted to a “divide and conquer” policy.
Media, news, even films talked about genocide. Yet, even Rwandans do not appreciate them, at least the ones I had conversations with.
Hotel Rwanda for example, according to my Rwandan friends, it changed certain facts to portray the hotel owner as a hero while he was asking for money to give shelter for the people to stay in the hotel and survive the genocide horror. If you don’t have cash, run for your life.
I would say that the most impactful moment where I felt vulnerable at last was when I was in the memorial, walking the halls covered with photos of lost souls during the genocide, and a visitor was walking next to me, crying. He stood at front of the pictures and cried. A few minutes later you could hear him crying even steps away. I was guessing that he might have lost his parents or siblings during the genocide. I could feel partially his pain but only God knows how he was feeling, weeping all those tears…
The second intense vulnerable moment was during a late lunch discussion with one of my Rwandan friends. I asked him to which ethnic group he belongs; “I don’t know, he said, “I am a Rwandan, we all have the same culture, we speak the same language, and we are all Rwandans”. Then, curiosity triggered me to ask how he lived the genocide years… “It is very rare to find youngsters who were born in the 90s like myself living with their parents, he said, usually parents are either killed during genocide like mine or in jail for punishment and reconciliation procedures”
Silence overwhelmed me for seconds followed by an admiration of the Rwandan youth’s resilience and persistence in building ONE STRONG united nation.
… The renaissance of a nation…
What is IMPRESSIVE in all of this is actually Rwanda AFTER the genocide, the renaissance of Rwanda. The genocide ended in the 90s. Reconciliation, the establishment of peace and justice were a non-negotiable priority. This led to Rwanda being one of the most developed and safest countries in Africa. This is what you do not hear or see in media…
You will not hear or read often that Rwanda is a growing economy, neither you will hear to which extent this country is clean. In fact, if you think that only the what so-called “developed” world has clean streets and strong infrastructure, know that you’ve been caught up into stereotypes.
In Rwanda, every last Saturday of the month, citizens go for community work to clean their streets. It is actually something rooted in their traditions. Students clean their own high schools. The government took serious procedures to reinforce this mindset such as banning plastic bags.
… The country of a thousand hills…
The country of a thousand hills challenged me in every second I stared to its beautiful landscapes, I was like “ wow, how did they make it in only 20 years?”
Imagine that wherever you go you are on a hill, surrounded by hills, looking to green and red roofs during the day and lights during the night.
Now imagine that you enjoy this view on a taxi motorbike, the most common Rwandan transportation means. Such a place can only trigger your thoughts and challenge your ideas.
As a Tunisian youngster, where my country is going through a democratic transition process, Rwanda gave me hope. It proved for me the willpower of citizens that create a real nation.
… last Rwandan night…
My last night in Rwanda was the night I turned 23 years old; it was my first time spending my birthday outside Tunisia. We went to a beautiful karaoke place, an open-air space, like a big family house backyard, wooden tables, and colorful lamps surrounding the trees. The woman that was animating the space was speaking such a beautiful southern American accent! Man her accent was as if she just came out form dream girls or Ray Charles movie and her voice, mama mia! She was full of life and joy, just like Rwanda.
My visit to Rwanda was a proof that the single story, the one-sided story that we search on the web, or watch on TV is never complete. Indeed, in the 21st century, we still need to be on the ground, in the country, to see what is really happening there.
What the world should learn from Rwanda is willpower, endurance, and the true meaning of what it takes to be a proud citizen with all the beautiful aspects of true citizenship.
Thank you, Rwanda. I feel sorry for those who did not experience your beauty and yet still judge you