Crossing over the border from Uganda into Rwanda one would be forgiven for thinking that they had entered into the twilight zone.
Immediately upon crossing that invisible line several things happen at once. The time changes. That one hour difference causing havoc in heads and thoughts instantly.
The roads become perfect, immaculately maintained. It takes a little readjustment to navigate through new terrain whilst also focusing on driving on a different side.
The country is absolutely pristine. Gone are the rubbish strewn streets, dirty and dusty scenes and lazing villagers. What is laid out before one’s eyes are perfectly laid out fields, irrigation channels and inhabitants that move with purpose and plans. Whilst the country is one of the most densely populated in the world, with every inch of land used, the scene is one of striking beauty. Agriculture abounds, with terraces reaching mountain peaks. Each and every area is pristinely demarcated and cared for, with housing dotted amongst the fields. The roads wind through this mountainous scene, ascending and descending rapidly through one valley to the next, until reaching the capital of Kigali.
Kigali is yet another jaw dropping surprise. A capital city that has recovered from a horrendous past, and rebuilt itself into a well-cared for, and prosperous town. Boulevards lined with flowering hedges flank new buildings housing shopping centres, industry and tourism. Tall glass hotels rise into the sky and organized roadways pass traffic through in a western felt flow.
Within the city boundaries lies the Kigali Genocide Memorial. This amazingly well-established museum and memorial marks the burial site of 250,000 of the million slaughtered in a mere 100 days, during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Incredibly well laid out, informative and emotional, this memorial is well worth a visit. Perhaps most noteworthy was the understanding that came to us of the importance of this site to the survivors, who visit their relatives here, lying silently in mass graves. One could easily pick these individuals out, sitting quietly in the rose gardens that surround the mass grave sites.
After an emotional morning visiting the Genocide Memorial a more positive experience can be had by visiting the Hotel Mille Des Collines. Still within the theme of the events that rocked Rwanda, this hotel is the real-life location that inspired the film, Hotel Rwanda. When the international owners of hotel fled during the conflict, the local manager used this establishment to hide and assist many of those who were in peril. It is an example of love, and the willingness to risk one’s life to save those in need, and a much-needed happy note, in conjunction with a lovely lunch in the city of Kigali.
This truly incredible country is an eye opening and amazing example of the ability to rebuild and recover from true disaster and hate. The people’s ability to move forward, erase the previously steel line that separated tribes, and become one united nation, is a testament to all that is good in us humans.