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Leaving Rwanda – well, almost

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon


I woke up this morning sad to leave Rwanda. Sad for many reasons. I have been reading Philip Gourevitch’s book about the genocide. In it was yet another horrific description of barbaric behavior – using machetes the “genocedaires” would chop off each foot, each arm just to watch the suffering of the Tutsi. Think about Dian Fossey’s favorite gorilla named “Digit”. He suffered the exact same fate from the poachers. I put that fact together as I was laying in bed. I believe the gorillas have fared well with its $18 million revenue brought in by 25,000 visitors each year. I wonder if the Tutsi’s have done as well. I believe they have because of Kagame’s leadership and pragmatism. I read that Kagame was a Rwandan refugee in Uganda since the age of four so his wish was a sense of belonging for every person in Rwanda.

So my sadness around the genocide will always be a part of me. Today we visited JP’s family where I learned that his wife went back to her hometown to be with her parents only to have them murdered. She ran and hid in the forest for months. These families all carry so much loss… too much sadness hangs in the air like the mists hanging around the volcanoes.

I am sad to leave this landscape and its people. Ah, the countryside. Everyone is outside. Everyone is going somewhere. Everyone is carrying something – a baby on their back, a load of firewood on a child’s head, a mattress, a sack of potatoes, a plastic bowl of pineapples, a yellow water jug, and a hoe balanced just so. Most walk for hours long distances and others who have a source of income bicycle, take a motorcycle taxi or public buses. The men shake hands and the women shyly smile. The country is spotless because two years ago they banned plastic bags. Now they just need to work on car pollution. The politeness is impeccable. The “muzungu” (white person) curiosity everywhere. There is a mix of blue jeans and kanga cloth.

Rwanda is a tiny jewel of Africa with great leadership. If the hate can disappear then it will have a bright future.

I must end with another quote by JP, “My generation has to die of old age before we can be rid of the memories of murder.”

Oh, “the almost”? We made a huge mistake not confirming our flights. As punishment, we get to airport only to find out the flight doesn’t exist. The next flight is tonight at 1 am! Ugh! But we had a great day!


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Learning About The Genocide

Text by Patty Simon | Images by Dick Simon


“How can I ever Forgive? Really, it is absurd and anyone who says they can forgive is not being truthful to himself!” said by our guide and now friend, JP, after spending many days with him visiting the place he was shot, hid for almost 3 months, where his father was murdered, where they found his bones, the house the rest of his family died in, the church in town where 11,000 were killed with the blessing of the priest and the group grave where we paid our respects.

I just finished reading “Running the Rift” by Naomi Benaron – a novel that depicts this period of history. We had dinner with the director of the Kigali Genocide Memorial and Center and I was able to fact check what I was reading and found it was true down to every detail. I am now reading “We wish to inform you that Tomorrow we will be Killed with our Families” by Philip Gourevitch.

As I drive through the countryside or go to a market, I wonder “who did what?” I imagine myself driving at night and being pulled over by my neighbors and friends – the very people I knew all my life and suddenly feeling the machete. Death! Instant… Wiping out my ‘belonging’ to this very country I thought I was a part of. I became a “cockroach” – a hated creature to be slaughtered.

I view myself as someone who can relate to suffering and offer understanding and support. In this country I have met my match! I have asked a thousand whys??? I keep reading about the history, the reasons written, and just like the Holocaust, I cannot relate to the horrific, senseless, violent, overwhelming action of genocide… a systematic plan to kill a “group” of men, women, and children. I told JP it is just too BIG- unthinkable. A human being is not made to process that much death, that much trauma, that much loss, so quickly.

And, so, as optimistic as a I am, as much as I believe in my own Project – “You are Loved – Pass It On”, how can I look JP in his eyes and not agree with him. This kind of murder with intent and ignorance seems unforgivable.

Life does go on! JP says, “I cannot put this aside, I must carry the loss and sorrow always with me… If I see my father’s murderer in the street and he greets me, I simply tell him to go away. I am not your friend or forgiver. Stay away from me as I might hurt you. I do not want to be a killer like you. I have my future and my wife and children.”

All of this talk of the genocide is the unspoken underbelly of the country. President Kagame has outlawed the distinguishing of Hutu and Tutsi and people do not speak of 1994. That is why it was so wonderful to have the opportunity to learn from JP. Rwandans are moving on with “living” – building, educating, and developing. Kigali is clean and modern and bustling!