Last weekend, a dream came true – I went to Rwanda! Ever since I wrote about the Rwandan genocide for my senior paper in high school, Rwanda has rooted itself in my heart. It’s the country that really started me in this whole messy business of human rights, peace studies, and international development. Rwanda is beautiful, intriguing, and confusing, to say the least. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Scott (another IJM fellow serving in Uganda for a year) and I took the overnight bus from Kampala to Kigali. In true African fashion, we left Kampala five hours later than anticipated, the border crossing took more than two hours, and we had to stop twice on the side of the road due to our brakes smoking up a storm (I was less scared of the bus catching fire than I was of getting stampeded by the shrieking host of large African women as we all evacuated the bus). Before we knew it, a trip that was supposed to take eight hours turned into an 18-hour trip. For fuller details on the most disastrous exciting road trip of my life, check out Scott’s part 1 post of our Rwanda trip on his blog.
The Rwanda countryside is absolutely gorgeous, and is the first country I’ve seen that could compare with the rich rugged green beauty of Papua New Guinea. Almost every five minutes I had to resist bursting out in happy awe, “This looks SO much like PNG!” as we made our way to Kigali on winding mountain roads and through expansive tea-covered valleys. We were surrounded by steep green hills with cultivated terracing; patches of maize, potatoes, and sugarcane covered every inch of the landscape.
Kigali itself is a quiet, orderly city, striking in its contrast to Kampala’s loud, bustling, polluted chaos. It was frustrating/humbling to encounter more difficulty in communicating, since Rwanda is a Francophone country and fewer people on the street speak English.
The next day we headed out to the northwest corner of Rwanda to (Volcano National Park). The scenery just got more and more beautiful, as we descended into a large valley capped by rugged volcanoes on every side.
We had every intention of hiking one of the volcanoes that our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook said was an easy day’s climb, but unknown to us, every hike starts at 7 am sharp, and we were strictly not allowed to just explore without a guide. It was a sad moment.
So we hopped back on one of Rwanda’s amazingly convenient and organized public transit buses to Lake Kivu, one of only threeexploding lakes in the world (meaning they’re located over a volcanic lava bed and so can explode with poisonous gas and a veritable tsunami at any moment. Quite exciting, no?) Lake Kivu itself was beautiful, and we had fun exploring the quiet little lakeside town of Gisenyi.
By far the highlight was when we accidentally reached this place:
Yep. That’s the border to Congo! (Don’t worry, Mom, I didn’t try to illegally cross the border without my passport… although the thought did cross my mind!)
The next day was focused on visiting genocide memorials in and around Kigali, which deserves its own separate post.