So today is the first day in a while that I have been able to make a post on the blog. During our stay at the Women’s Opportunity Centre just short of Akagera National Park we had no real access to Wi-Fi. Thus, the adventure continued in the papers of my journal, scattered about in messy scribblings and perfectly defined calligraphy.
I finished the book Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut and something overcame me. The plot of the book was so outlandish and its science fiction theories so dense that I almost thought that I became Kilgore Trout. For those unaware, Mr. Trout was a science fiction author in the book who once wrote a story about somebody who was the only real conscious and feeling being in the universe. Everybody else was simply just a robot, placed there so the Creator could study his reactions. I always had problems looking people in the eye growing up. After putting that book down, I was making eye contact with everyone. Weird.
Today I am sitting near a beautiful Lake Kivu overlooking the sunset near the border of Rwanda and the DR Congo. Life is great. I am alive and well in Rwanda. The deep and darkest thoughts of my imagination have receded, leaving me with longer and longer periods and feelings of inner peace. We’re not quite there yet, but we’ve made amazing progress toward that goal. We’re coasting down now from the intense action of the trip to a few relaxing days here at Bethanie Guest House. After tonight, we will head back to Kigali where we will have one more full day at Good News Guest House and then it’s back to London. In all that I have gained or felt different about during this trip, the paradoxical feeling of normalcy has reached its peak. I honestly do not feel much different anymore from when I was in London.
I expected a magnificent return where my behaviour was totally different and I came back a changed man. This may be true, although I no longer feel the gusto of such a change. Rather, I am simply a smarter, wiser, and more compassionate form of the same old guy. The experiences I have had so far have been mindblowing to say the least. I’ve seen unspeakable horrors here in Rwanda but also powerful stories of humanity and a sober reminder that there is a “meat-hook” reality that we need to remember exists. But overall my perspective has widened and I do not take these sober reminders as a fuel for cynicism but rather a motivation for deeper compassion.
Anyway, about what we did today.
We woke up at around 8:00. I had been drinking with a few friends on the trip the night before and I should have felt bad… but I didn’t. We drove for about an hour to Bisesero Genocide Memorial where a group of Tutsi had managed to defend themselves and fight off the Interahamwe militia for about two months. Unfortunately, and largely due to French involvement, they ended up being killed after surrendering their position on top of the mountain. We headed through halls of skulls and bones on tables. I was caught with the thought of imagining that each one of those skulls was somebody that I knew, which helped me to internalize the feeling of brutality and loss. It really goes to show the limitations of our perceptions. I was walking up a very steep hill and I should have felt exhausted but I didn’t.
Later we headed back to the Guest House and went on a beautiful boat ride. It sure was relaxing. The view was indescribably beautiful. It reminded me of my cottage in Northern Ontario and also of Heaven On Earth if such a thing is attainable in our lifetimes. I reflected on my own lack of awareness, understanding, and inability to feel emotional connections to those I did not have direct experience with. This was certainly not my image of Africa when I lived back home.
It made me think about the political forces and hatred which led to the genocide and how dangerous anger can really be. How human beings are capable of such kindness and such brutality. The thing about genocide that really shocked me and resonated with me in the past few days wasn’t the fact that “it was unthinkable” but rather that it made perfect sense. It wasn’t a case of “How did this happen?” but “Of course it happened”. We were simply too blind to see it. And that knowledge must be carried forth into our everyday lives because these things can and will continue to happen unless the causes and conditions which create them are extinguished.
Take a look around the world today and think about countries where a genocide could potentially happen. Now compare it to the history of Rwanda. It always starts slow. We need to be attentive and awake, for any signs of hatred, because although hatred against a specific group in contemporary times does not seem to warrant comparisons to Hitler or Habyarimana, that hatred must exist for genocide to be possible. It is always the first stage.
So the lesson today is to look out for everyone, no matter who they are. Inclusion, not exclusion. It is not enough for us to simply be intelligent. We need to have intelligent hearts as well.