Happy 4th of July!!! Have some watermelon and good American food for me!!
And Happy Birthday Tadia and almost Birthday Seamus!
OKay, so we arrived in Rwanda yesterday and I have a lot to write about but, I want to start from Monday because I have been unable to use the internet for a while.
So, on Monday we visited Rwandan refugee settlements which are in Southern Uganda. It was really interesting and completely different from the IDP camps. These refugee settlements have actually been there for a very long time. In 1959, many people, mainly Tutsis, lived in these ‘settlements’ because they feared the ruling regime. Then, in 1994 when the regime changed after the genocide, many Hutus fled the country for their fears of the ruling regime. So, now there are supposed to be no classifications anymore but, the people who are living in these settlements are mostly Hutus who do not feel comfortable going home to Rwanda. They have been there since about 1996. The settlement is pretty much just like a village and there are some Ugandan original villagers who do live there. The refugees are given a small plot of land on which they are permitted to build small shack like houses and they are allowed to grow some crops with the hope that they will have some sort of livelihood and self sufficiency but, the conditions in the settlement are still quite poor. The places in which the refugees live are really small and not reliable structures. The medical condition is also extremely bad. We visited the medical center in the settlement and it was quite small and they said that they receive about 250-300 people per day, with 85% of the cases they see being malaria. We asked how many doctors they had and the replied saying ” WE have one clinical officer and two health representatives” We took that to mean that there are no certified M.D.’s. OUr experience in the settlement was quite different from that of the camp because we only spoke with a few of the people living there. These people were convinced of the corruption within the current government and their inability to go home because they fear for their safety. It was interesting to see a traditionally unrepresented viewpoint, whether it is right or wrong.
So, we drove from Mbarara to Kigali yesterday and the drive was absolutely beautiful. It was just never ending lush green mountains and hills and valleys. It was quite nice. The experience at the Uganda/Rwanda border was also interesting. We got out of our van, we had to get an exit stamp from Rwanda and then walk the like quarter of a mile of ‘no man’s land’ in between the borders to get to the Rwandan side. The walk was really strange because people kept trying to get us to change money and of course people were there begging, etc. But, yeah then we got to the Rwandan border and got our entry stamp there.
We arrived in Kigali late last afternoon and just changed money and got new phone cards. Today was quite interesting though because it is the liberation day for Rwanda, so we went to a huge celebration ceremony this morning. They are celebrating their liberation when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (now the Rwandan Liberation Front) stopped the genocide in 1994. So, we were at this huge soccer stadium and there were so many people. We only decided to go early this morning so, we got there and ha no real plan. But, our program director had some friends who were escorting us there and were going to act as translators for us. We went to a few different entrances but, they were not letting anyone else in and there were so many people waiting and just swarms of people trying to get in. But, then somehow we went to one gate and one of our escorts negotiated our way in. It was actually extremely uncomfortable because we were the big group of mzungus, representing the people who did absolutely nothing to help this liberation, and we were having the gate opened for us while there are hundreds of Rwandans still waiting to even get into the gate. After we got into the gate, we went up and went to the like area that was especially marked for visitors and there again we cut through a big crowd of Rwandans waiting to get in. That had to be the worst because as we were walking into the stadium other people tried to go in with our group and the stadium guards/police started beating people on the stairs. It was bad.
Despite my extreme uncomfort and distaste for the way we got in, once we were there the ceremony was quite interesting and fun, but I would have much rather given a Rwandan person my seat. But, the ceremonies consisted of first a marching band and a few groups of army men on this huge soccer field and then the President of Rwanda came in and then, there were like tons of schools, groups, and private security forces/police that marched through the stadium. We were sitting in the section for visitors, which was in the section next to the President’s section so, we got to see everything pretty well because all the groups went by and sort of performed in front of his section. Then there was tons of drumming and traditional dances, etc. It kind of reminded me of our Memorial Day parade except with the parade marching through a stadium. In the middle of the ceremonies, before the President spoke, they opened up half of the soccer field and allowed the rest of the general public to come in and sit and stand on the field to see the remainder of the ceremonies. The rest of the huge soccer stadium was full of Rwandans who must have just gotten there first. The rest of the ceremony consisted of more dances, more like presentations by the army and their marching band and the president spoke. We had people translating for us because they speak kinyarwanda here. The presidents speech was interesting from what I was translated. He was basically saying that they are celebrating liberation but, they are not fully liberated because they have to liberate themselves from foreign donors, and other sources on which they are dependent in order to be fully liberated.
So, okay, Kigali is great. It is much cleaner and more organized than Kampala. There are lines on the road, there are traffic lights, people follow general driving laws, the motor bikers and their passengers wear helmets, there is not as much pollution, there are more green areas,etc. It is practically impossible to imagine the atrocities that took place here only 13 years ago. But then, I guess that is the point.
We go into our homestays tomorrow with Rwandan families. I am very excited. One of the homestay dads is getting married on Saturday and we are all going to the wedding, it should be awesome. We might all have to get new clothes that are appropriate for a Rwandan wedding! 😊
Peace and Love from Rwanda
Happy 4th of July/Rwandan Liberation Day!
PS. My blog title is from Wyclef’s song Million Voices, from the movie Hotel Rwanda. Get it now.