If you haven’t read part 1 about my recent trip to Kigali, please read that first because it will give you some background on my overall experience in Rwanda. I spent approximately 2 nights and three days in the country as a whole, traveling between Kigali city in the central region and Lake Kivu which sits on the border of Congo. More about Lake Kivu in the next post. For now, I want to highlight my time at the genocide museum along with my reflections, thoughts and experiences.
A bit of reflection
The major highlight of my trip was the visit to the historical genocide museum I don’t know when this peak in interest ensued, maybe it was right after I moved to Uganda. I think there’s something about being on this side of the world that naturally connects you to life, people, culture, experiences, history and the aftermath. Not necessarily in a sympathetic kind of way because I don’t believe that pity is needed in most cases, but more with a celebratory mood. I have already claimed Rwanda to be victorious over oppression, affliction, loss and confusion. Amen!
Rwanda has undeniable strength, a booming infrastructure and a dynamically growing city (Kigali) filled with innovators, educators, philosophers and proper government systems and the like, all functioning in progressive unison. Overcoming is clearly not an obstacle and the resilience of the Rwandese is definitely worth acknowledgement.
I’ve been a bit curious about the whole genocide so…
Like most of us do when we find something of interest, I started to research a bit more about what this genocide really meant for the Rwandese. My findings were horrific. I couldn’t believe that what essentially started out as a racial divide among the Hutu and the Tutsi spared the lives of over 250,000 souls. This struck me hard. What if this was my family? My kids?
So, in efforts to have a deeper connection-to hear, experience, feel and see with my own eyes, I felt that it was more than necessary to dig deeper which was the purpose of my visit. Besides, I live in such close proximity to Rwanda and I was literally able to take a 10- hour bus from Kampala to Kigali. So, no excuses! It also gave Christion great exposure, especially since we talked about the genocide prior. He was familiar with the general effects and aftermath and was able to connect his understanding about what happened a bit more clearly after witnessing the museum for himself.
Couldn’t get in so…
My experience at the museum immediately changed as I was halted at the door by the security who assuredly told me that children under 12 weren’t allowed in while his counterparts agreed in unison. (jaw drops).
Me: “What you mean, sir? I think he can handle it. He knows about this already. Why not?”
Man: No, sorry mam, but our policy strictly states that children under 12 are not allowed. He can wait over there.” He pointed to a small sitting area just outside of the corridor.
I just looked at him perplexed at what I was going to do with my already anxious son.
That’s when he kindly and reassuringly informed me that he is more than welcome to visit the burial sites instead. Wow! How exciting is that (I thought sarcastically).
I didn’t argue with the man who stood about 5’9 with beautiful dark brown skin.
Rwandese men, by the way, are quite the eye candy if you ask me. (I’m just sayin)!
So, I simply obliged, flashed a winning smile and went toward the burial sites since I didn’t want to be officially banned from the very museum that centered around my sole purpose for being there.
Contrary to my initial belief, the burial sites were quite interesting. They are arranged in the back of the museum and are made out of huge, concrete blocks. I automatically converted my feelings to a very somber mood in recognition for the deceased. There was an unexpected lull of peace that filled the air. No words can describe the pain and turmoil one must experience after visiting these burial plots, knowing that loved ones are in their final resting place.
You know, this wall has the 250k plus names on it to remind visitors of the many who lost their lives during those 60 days between April and July.
Since I was literally trying to waste time so that Chris wouldn’t have to be by himself for too long, we headed over to the gardens next.
What a more pleasant and harmonious place!
The garden, so appropriately placed, especially for those who don’t take death well. It’s also nice if you want to unwind and take in the natural resources, the view, sights and nature. I enjoyed it and Chris did, too. We took our mini photo shoot, enjoyed the waterfall and then skedaddled since time was getting the best of our day.
So, by this time, the driver is giving me a subtle look like, “girl, can we get on with the program?”
Nah, he wasn’t like at all. In fact, he was busy conversing with quite a few of the other drivers who were also waiting for people.
Yes, I had my own private driver. If you want the information to this company, I’ll happily provide it because they demonstrated safety, professionalism, and flexibility throughout the duration of our trip, leaving me feeling completely satisfied with my overall experience.
So, since he didn’t seem in any immediate hurry like one would expect after waiting around a place he probably frequents all the time, he reassured me that he was all good and to continue enjoying our experience.
Before I FINALLY went in the museum….I made a stop.
I still hadn’t been inside the museum at this point because we were somehow lured into the gift shop. Now, who loves to shop? (Me: Raises hand…both of them).
I usually stay away from these types of shops since they are in touristy places because they are extremely overpriced, however, I couldn’t resist this small, crossover handbag. Chris wanted a peace basket, something that is highly used throughout Rwandese culture.
And…the conversation went a little like this…
So, as I was inquisitively walking through the small open air shop which was conveniently located around the corner from the main lobby, the lady working behind the counter stopped me.
“Where are you from?”
I usually cringe at this question since most people mistake me for South African. Look, I’m happy to be identified as a sister from the continent and not anything less, especially since people often judge your authentic African heritage simply by the darkness of your skin, which is something that I’ve become insecure about since living in Uganda. More on that later.
So, I quickly interjected and told her “ummm no…But why don’t you guess?”
She finally guessed that I was from the States due to my accent. Immediately, I just knew I’d get the side eye and the once over and possibly a mumble or two of words that probably sounded like, “Who does she think she is?” or “Those damn black American chicks.”
I assumed this because I get it from most Ugandan women just because of who I am and how I look. Her response, however, was completely and utterly the opposite.
She said, “Well, it doesn’t really matter where you are from; we are all a part of the African Diaspora and originate from the continent.”
“Much love, sis for the recognition, much love.”
So, this was completely refreshing and I told her that almost immediately with deep, heartfelt admiration. I was in awe at the level of conversation that proceeded after.
We talked for a bit about where we are from and what brought me to Rwanda. I told her that I live and work in Uganda, something that shocks most people because of the stigma placed on African-Americans. For example, I always hear that we don’t travel to the continent or are totally ignorant of African culture. I’ll be the first to debunk that foolishness!
During our initial part of the conversation, I found out that she lived in Uganda for most of her childhood and her family moved to Uganda in the late 50’s as a result of one of the initial genocide attacks. So, she didn’t relocate back to Rwanda until 1994 and by then her perspectives were more diverse and compelling, leaving room for one of the most interesting conversations I had during my time there.
“We need to come together in unity and not against one another.”
I completely agreed with this statement. In fact, we both agreed that white people have been trying to conquer and divide for far too long with the intention of stripping us of knowledge of self. Their problematic agendas have caused conflicts, racial divides and colonization for centuries, leaving us as African people across the globe with a sense of displacement and feelings of strong indignation.
She went on to say, “This is the reason that the French came here so they can put us against one another in battle so that we can practice hate and not community.”
Now I know all Rwandese probably don’t feel this same sentiment, however, there are still many strong resentments toward them, especially the ones who live there and walk around boastfully expressing their white privilege both indirectly and directly.
Inside the museum
After the talk, I told Christion that he would need to wait for me outside while I quickly perused the museum. My friends, this is not the type of museum to just “peruse.”
I didn’t realize the depth of it until I actually entered and laid eyes on what was before me. At that point, all of my energy went into a dismal effect as I watched, listened, read and ultimately prayed.
I didn’t take pictures because I don’t think it was allowed. Besides, I just didn’t feel right. To me, it would seem a bit crass if I took random photos of what is considered a memorial of the deceased. Instead, I decided to humbly participate in the enlightening experience with full attentiveness and optimism.
Once you start at the beginning, you will see pictures which are labeled with specific narratives in chronological order referencing the various accounts that occurred which lead to the final genocide in 1994. It was so educational, something that movies can’t always accurately capture. I told myself that I need to invest in a few books to get a more clear insight on what took place.This is one of the books that was highly recommended from the lady with the great convo.
Moving past the narrative portion, I came to a room that was really grueling to see. It had limb bones, skull bones, lost clothes, pictures of the deceased along with other things. You could feel the heaviness in the room, leaving you to wonder if the spirits were there visiting. Because of the time, I didn’t make it to the top floor which showcased the many youths who were lost during this horrific incident. In fact, I’m kind of glad I didn’t see this because I would have broken completely down. I promised myself, however, that since its part of the experience, the next time I visit Rwanda, I’ll check it out, bringing my tissue and all.
Hotel Rwanda? Noooo….
By this time, Christion is beyond anxious and frustrated over the fact that I’ve been gone and he hasn’t had anyone to interact with. Oh, the life of an only child.
So, on to the next stop.
So, we headed over to the Hotel des Mille Collines.
From what I recently learned from a You Tube follower who wasn’t afraid to put me in my place was that this place was never called Hotel Rwanda. By the way, this is the actual hotel where Rwandese stayed for protection against the perpetrators.
This is also where the movie Hotel Rwanda was made so I apologize in advance if you were offended while watching my video like my Rwandese friend was when I didn’t get it right!
Of course, it’s very remodeled and modern now. In the hotel, I had a chance to speak with a Rwandese gentleman who gave me some details in the background and how he felt. He told me that Rwanda is so free now…free from oppression, negativity, negligence and bad ties.
“What they did to our nation was beyond words. We have overcome and we’ll be just fine.”
We didn’t stay long because the hotel security is extreme. So, I took a few more shots with my camera, and we were off! Next stop! Food!
Eating is my specialty. I don’t really care about the pounds too much anymore and I’m still managing to keep my girlish figure. (Bam! Two snaps and a Zumba twist).Don’t ask me what a Zumba twist is…
I couldn’t visit Rwanda without trying some delicious local food. I’d heard that the fish baguette was delish! So, I ordered that along with some amazing plantain and beans.
Awesome meal and the boy ate well! I told him that picky mess needs to go out the window when we travel and it’s all about trying new “eats.”
So try this place (Chez John) if you’re ever in town. We went on a weekday so it was a bit slow but I’m confident that weekends are booming, simply for the food and ambiance alone.
So, this was part 2 of my overall Rwanda experience. I still have more to share about Lake Kivu in my next post so stay tuned!
Are you planning a trip to Rwanda? Have you ever been? I’d love to hear about your experience. God bless!