It is Sunday morning in Kigali and I will stay in the hotel, I might venture out if the pyramids were just down the road, but much of my life involves unexpected sights and today I am happy not to go looking for them. I should be working on a new proposal to fund a much needed project in Kenya, but instead, sitting with my computer at a little desk next to the open balcony door, in my tracksuit pants and bare feet, I am writing you a postcard.
I somehow messed up my flights. I am here a day earlier than I should be. I got to Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi yesterday and they showed me I was actually due to fly today. As I had checked out of the hotel and out of Nairobi in my mind, I changed my ticket and flew out anyway. But this morning I see that all my tickets are a day later than I had put in my itinerary. How do these things happen? I should have let my assistant arrange things, at least then I would have someone else to blame…..but on the other hand, she probably wouldn’t have made these mistakes. I wonder if this is how the UN feels when it gets its timing wrong.
The hotel where I am staying is a small concrete block, everything is spotless concrete, much of it painted. It is basic but fine. As a former French colony everything has a vaguely French feel about it. The bar at the restaurant, the breakfast this morning of croissants, corned beef, tangy cheese and good strong coffee. Someone told me that where the French colonized, their legacy is good food, good music and enticing women.
Last night I went down to the open air restaurant for dinner and sat with two volunteer aid workers, Michelle a 25 year old from Wisconsin and an older woman from Edinburgh. I didn’t catch her name but she looked like an ‘Elisabeth’. They are both social workers. Michelle tells me that she is in a very serious relationship and soon after she returns to Wisconsin midyear, is expecting to get married and have children. Elisabeth will return to her job in Edinburgh as a social worker with families fostering children. They are both on one year engagements to programs working with orphans here in Rwanda.
Two beautiful young Rwandan women sit down at the table next to us. They would have been little girls during the genocide. I have seen young women like them many times in Nairobi. They have come hoping that someone will buy them a drink or more. I am glad the spare seats at my table are taken by the volunteers.
I tell the volunteers that this is my second visit to Rwanda and again, in spite of many offers from the office here, I am hoping to avoid going to the genocide museum. They are both emphatic that I must go, and see images of genocide, the pictures and movies of people hacked with machetes, dead children, the bones, the history of genocides through the ages. Michelle tells me that the first three times she went she sobbed uncontrollably. And the next time? Yes she cried then too. Elisabeth tells me that she has been three times and cried every time as well, and that I must go. I am trying to get my head around crying and devastating and good and hacked body images and must go.
A fifty something Robert Mugabe look- alike comes and sits with the beauty queens at the next table, he is wearing a shirt that makes him look a bit like a psychedelic pineapple.
“So tell me again, why should I go to the genocide memorial?” “Well it is so moving and you see how it was really all set up by Western powers through their colonialism.” Just what I need, more guilt. Maybe they are Roman Catholics. I think of Jesus, “let the dead bury the dead” and wonder whether he would go to the genocide memorial and the Dalia Lama who says simply; ‘my religion is kindness’. I am about to ask whether they think that going will help me to be a kinder person but am distracted as Robert Mugabe leaves with the two young women. I am trying desperately to reign in my imagination which, like some kind of wild horse pulling, is following the three out the entrance and into the night. Maybe powerlessness transforms you as you lean into it, an unlikely synergy. Like did you know that passion fruit pulp is very good poured over cooked brussel sprouts? Mysteriously more than the sum of its parts.
Kigali Rwanda March 2009