A Modern Genocide, Rwanda

September 20, 2017

Narrated Audio Blog

The Rusumo One Stop Border Post Customs and Immigration (-2.378747,30.778526) as the name suggests, is a one-stop border crossing from Tanzania to Rwanda. This particular border crossing was mostly uneventful, but they did ask for the permit to bring live animals into Rwanda. We weren't aware of such a requirement, this was the first time anything like this had come up since the Southern African Customs Union. The customs official told us that he'd let us through this time but in future we were to visit the Department of Agriculture website and register with e-rabis. It would probably be unlikely that there would be a next time but we took note anyway.

That night we stayed at the Urugo Women's Opportunity Centre. We had initially just stopped in for a coffee and to use their WiFi to book accommodation in Kigali, but something about the place just spoke to us and so we asked if it were possible to camp in their grounds. The entire site had a spectacular view of the valley. The site consisted of a handful of cabins and a large grassy terrace which could be used for camping. There was a restaurant and bar which of course we used, and we returned to the roadside cafe in the morning for breakfast. It was a wonderful first impression of Rwanda. We had a good look around the facilities and gardens before departing but still got up and out at a reasonable time.

Urugo Women's Opportunity Centre's website best describes their initiative as "Built and operated by Women for Women International with the generous funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies and others, the Urugo Women's Opportunity Center provides a safe environment and dedicated facilities where women can learn, build new skills, and operate businesses that directly contribute to the local communities."

Next day we rode to the capital of Rwanda, Kigali. We found a place to stay on Airbnb for three nights. This would be sufficient time to see a bit of the city and visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial and we could extend if need be. Our host was a young french lady who had fallen in love with a handsome Rwandan man and stayed longer than planned. We didn't see much of her which was fine because we were busy exploring.

We had wanted to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial from the very start of our travels and it was one of the reasons we took the detour and visited Rwanda rather than simply continuing north. Both of us had studied the genocide while at the Australian Defence Force Academy. Australian peacekeepers had been serving in Rwanda at the time and there were a great deal of case studies for the subject of ethics as well as the mental health aspects of witnessing such atrocities. Stu had the additional context of having worked as a UN peacekeeper and knew exactly how restricted they were in taking action, even with the changes to the rules of engagement which came about after the Rwanda genocide.

Our day at the Kigali Genocide Memorial was very educational and added greatly to our knowledge of the events of 1994. The exhibition dedicates a section to genocides throughout history right through to current day. Placed on a life size timeline with photos and statistics it really sinks into your core just how horrible humans have been to other humans. You leave angry and sad that it's still occuring today, that we haven't learnt anything from this long history of abuse and violence.

The roads in Rwanda were beautifully maintained, this is in a large part due to the community service that many of those involved in the genocide were sentenced to as opposed to prison sentences which would have crippled the country given the sheer number of offenders. This is a level of forgiveness on a scale that must be unmatched anywhere in the world.

From Kigali we headed to Gisenyi, a city on Lake Kivu that bordered directly with Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). We booked four nights on Airbnb for Stu to see if he could organise a trip across the border to Goma to climb a volcano he'd read about. Our host, Christina, was a great source of help with information on the DRC and Uganda. Christina was from Canada but had been in Africa a long time researching Gorillas. She was often going across to the DRC and to Uganda for work. She was able to confirm the information Stu had received that it would cost us thousands of dollars to go across and climb the Volcano and see the Gorilla's. A large portion of the cost was the DRC Visa and national park permit which would cover both activities, so only doing one activity was not a great deal less than both. As much as we wanted to see the Volcano and the Gorilla's, we couldn't justify the cost, it would have cost as much as our entire travel budget to cross Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt combined. But it was awe inspiring to see the volcano, located only 15km away it was a prominent feature of the landscape and at night the red glow could be clearly seen emanating from the lava lake within.

Gisenyi itself is really worth a visit although you probably won't want to stay nine nights as we did. It's a pretty city on Lake Kivu with some nice hotels and restaurants, some of which have pools which can be used for a fee. It's a very leafy city with nice roads and footpaths. We did a lot of walking along the Lake with Weeti and Shadow, often popping into a modern cafe along the route for a latte and a muffin. Christina would come to this cafe to work while her son, Atlas, was at school.

We were starting to worry about Weeti's epilepsy medication, Phenobarbital, which was starting to run low and we weren't sure how we'd go about getting more. But a visit to the pharmacy in town quickly solved this problem with us being given a two months supply without question.

We had intended to leave Christina's place after 4 nights but the day we were to leave Janell's motorbike wouldn't start. The oil reservoir was empty but there were no leaks evident on the bike or on the ground. Where did the oil go? We suspected the oil had drained down into the engine and that the pump was not within its tolerances. We decided that at the very least we should change the oil as it had not been long since the head gasket had blown and a lot of gunk was still floating around in the oil, evident from the previous oil change. We found a mechanic who was willing to look at the bike onsite and decided to have them do the work and at the same time have them remove the engine case so the oil pump could be examined and tolerances checked. This was a bigger job than we'd anticipated as the whole clutch assembly needed to be removed which really required an impact wrench. Instead a socket and hammer was used to provide the sudden impact needed, not a suitable substitute, taking hours longer. Once the clutch was removed the pump clearances were checked and to our surprise they were within tolerance. While we had the engine in this state we took the opportunity to clean as much as we could before reassembling. Hopefully this along with fresh oil would be sufficient to get Janell and her bike back to Europe.

Frustration levels with Janell's motorbike were pretty high at this point, if it wasn't for the dogs smothering us with love and making us laugh we may not have made it this far. It's fair to say we couldn't do it without them, they remind us of what is really important; food, water, somewhere to sleep, walks and cuddles.

Once back together, Janell's bike started normally and so we departed for Uganda. The problem was now known and for the most part if was an issue we could live with and easily monitor. The ride to the Uganda border was really pretty, all of Rwanda was pretty with fantastic mountain riding. As far as the eye could see the land was cultivated, even though it's a very hilly country, the land is all used, creating a uniquely picturesque scene. The number of children was significant and to be frank a little concerning with overpopulation being one of the biggest challenges that humanity will have to face in the coming decades.

Rwanda certainly came across to us as tourists like a happy, safe and prosperous country now. Hard to believe such awful atrocities occurred here less than 25 years ago killing a million people.

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