We headed to the “Land of a Thousand Hills” to track the mountain gorillas (Part 2, coming soon to a blog near you) and started off with about 36 hours in Kigali.
We met a solid young American lad named Martin within about 15 minutes of arriving at dinner at our hotel and agreed to explore the city together. Martin is from Newton, MA and I forgive him for attending Williams College, the quasi-rival school of my beloved Middlebury.
Visiting the Genocide Museum was the core of our day in Kigali, which was a gut-wrenching experience. In three swift months in 1994, one million Rwandans were killed, two million displaced, and hundreds of thousands more were tortured, raped and maimed — we passed multiple people on the streets about our age with missing limbs. This all happened in a nation of only eight million people at the time, so it truly devastated the entire country. It was pretty near impossible to comprehend.
While the genocide haunts all Rwandans alive today who lived through it, what’s really amazing to see is how the country has bounced back. Rwanda today is extremely safe — we’ve heard people refer to it as the “Switzerland of Africa.” We felt totally safe walking around the city day and night. The economy is booming. Education and healthcare are top priorities. And there a number of really interesting policies, such dedicating the last Saturday of the month to cleaning public spaces, which virtually everyone does, including the President. They use close-knit community structures to apply peer pressure in positively reinforcing ways.
The following morning our awesome guide, Magezi, picked us up to head three hours north to Parc National de Volcans where we would have a free day before our gorilla tracking. The drive is gorgeous, with rolling lush green hills and private farmlands covering the entire landscape.
The hotel was definitely our nicest so far (we hadn’t stayed anywhere “nice”), which was a welcome treat. But it was still very remote — no Internet and a generator ran only a few hours a day to provide electricity. They light a fire in your room and put hot water bottles in your bed (Jill’s new favorite thing on the planet) to keep you warm at night.
It’s a pretty secluded property, so we headed out the main dirt road for a long walk. We made it about 500 yards before meeting a few super excited kids about 10-12 who insisted we come with them to go see their school and meet more of their friends. We asked them where it was, they pointed through the woods to nowhere in particular, so naturally we said “sure” and wandered off into the woods with strangers, just like our parents taught us.
More kids kept popping out of the woodwork — literally — including four-year-old Eme (in the pink hoodie and younger brother to the tall boy in the tan shirt).
Eventually we did clear the woods and came across their school, where even more kids joined the flock.
After an hour or two we wound back around to our hotel, where they all insisted on getting our email addresses. Pretty fun little excursion for our first afternoon in Northern Rwanda, and we came back to a dance performance happening on the hotel lawn. The next day would be the gorillas… Stay tuned.