Friday, February 7, 2020

Ruminations from Rwanda

We came to Rwanda to visit the "Gorillas in the Mist" for Rainey's 60th birthday.  Our group includes our daughters Elizabeth and Emily and our good friends Marnie and Greg Cervenka.

Let me just say this up front… I am struggling in Rwanda.  The history of this country sits atop of everything I see and feel.

Day 1: we went to visit the Genocide Museum ... a very sobering beginning to this trip.

When the Germans and the Belgiums came to colonize Rwanda, they decided to create two tribes: the Hutus and the Tutsis.  They randomly assigned every person who had more than 10 cows to be a Tutsi and the poorer people became Hutus. And just like that ... social inequality divisions were born.  The Tutsis were given better education opportunities and jobs in the colonial governments.  The Hutus were relegated to being laborers and farmers.  The Rwandan genocide here started in a way that should be frighteningly familiar: a Hutu political movement that stirred up the emotions of the uneducated to believe that they were being looked down upon by the elites; the charismatic leader encouraged hot feelings of hate and revenge; he stoked the flames of divisiveness and engendered cult-like devotion; plus a media source that amplified only the meanness and hostility against the Tutsi (think Fox News). In April of 1994, the Hutu president's plane was shot down and he was killed. The state-sympathetic media blamed the Tutsis and inflamed the divisions. Politicians called the Tutsi “cockroaches” and called for the extermination of those inferior beings. When the emotion was at a fever pitch, the violence started.  In 1994, in the course of just 100 days, Rwandans turned against each other: neighbors against neighbors; husbands against wives; roving gangs of Hutu men rioted in the streets … and in the end, the Hutu majority killed 2 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus (those who refused to participate in the nationwide “purge”).  Women were raped, tortured and hacked to death; children stomped upon or beaten to death and men dragged from their houses and murdered in the streets. 20,000 people killed every day.

This country just marked the  25-year memorial of the genocide and it is still reeling from the horrors.  As a visitor, everyone you meet here – who is older than 45 – makes you immediately ponder, “What role did you play in the genocide?" Murderer? Aggressor? Observer? Victim? Every guide book says to not ask people today if they are Hutu or Tutsi, since those distinctions are not allowed here anymore.  But since 75% of the Tutsis were wiped out in the genocide, it stands to reason that most people you meet are from the group on the very wrong side of this tragedy.

The Genocide museum, to give full credit, provides an unvarnished and impressively honest chronicle of the events.  It is disturbing at a core level. I am so sick of the meanness and ugliness of our country and Rwanda brings those feelings home in such a gut punch way. 

Day 2: We visited the King’s old palaces: both the one from before 1932 (a rush-thatched hut) and the royal permanent home from the 1930s (which is just a basic house with few frills). The royal line ended in the genocide when the family was killed.

Of note is that in the hut palace, the king had a giant bed made of rush mats, and when he made love to the queen, beautiful women had to stand at the end of the bed and clap and sing.  Nothing creepy about that at all… !!!  I felt sorry for any King who suffered from performance anxiety. Talk about audience pressure.

The King’s favorite pets were these long-horned cows (I mean, seriously, he obviously did not get the concept of a pet… why did no-one get the poor guy a kitten?)  We got to meet the cows and their guardians (wearing nothing short of rent-the-runway glam outfits) who sang for us – and the heifers – a fine little diddy with reed pipe accompaniment.

The King's love of cows even shows up  in the street graffiti...

Next up … the National Museum …

And my all-time favorite photo … Mom washing her baby ... using the age old method of blowing water through a reed straw right into butt… Yikes!!!

Day 3: We went deep into the country which is hilly and cool and perfect for tea plantations

Beautiful tea picker

Saw lots of monkeys besides the road

Day 4: Dawn marked the start of our hike in search of the chimpanzees.

The chimps move fast through the jungle during the day so you have to set out early to catch them while they are still waking up and eating breakfast. A tough hike through thick jungle later… we found two male chimps and a female … SPECTACULAR viewing.


Janna Garvin said...
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Janna Garvin said...

Great pics, and history shared! Happy birthday Mr. Booth! It's sad that we've become a world desensitize to the hurt and pain of others, and so focused on our own needs and greed that instead of being untied as a country or world we couldn't be more divided. It's truly sad that it takes something extremely tragic and devastating for us to come together as a nation, country, or world to care about our fellow humans or animals. It takes a mega tsaunami, floods, fires, drought, famine, outbreaks/epidemics like black plague or smallpox, volcanic eruption, earthquakes , or war any of those on a mega grand scale before we realize human and animal lives matter. That our ecosystem depends on all of us, not just a chosen few.


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