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Ω2

Rwanda: The country of a thousand hills and a million smiles!

   Mention to anybody you are going to Rwanda and most probably you’ll hear: “Oh, really? Is it safe?”. People know Rwanda just for the horrible genocide which took place in 1994. The funny thing is that it’s one of the safest countries in Africa now, if not the safest! Despite that, first of all I had to ride safe… I was used to drive on the left side of the road for almost a year. In Rwanda I had to remember how it is driving on the right side. Wow, when I was on the right side, I was feeling I’m on the wrong direction! The problem was occurring when I was stopping for some reason… A few times I started unwittingly on the wrong side of the road and I was only reminded I shouldn’t be there when I saw a truck coming towards me! Happily I had the time to move to the other side.

The hard-working Rwandans farm rice in the few plains that exist in the country.

The hard-working Rwandans farm rice in the few plains that exist in the country.

   Of course, a visit to Rwanda is first of all a history lesson. I visited many genocide memorials and I started with the one in Kigali, the capital. It was shocking to learn the details about the atrocities that happened. I visited the memorial with Jacques, the young Rwandan who was hosting me. While walking through it, he was telling me his own story… He was just ten years old when the whole country was full of roadblocks and fanaticized Hutus were looking for Tutsis to kill. The names of the targeted people were even broadcasted through the notorious Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines. That’s how thousands of people got brain washed and they took their machetes to kill their friends.

Loading the harvest on the boats to be transferred through Nyabarongo River.

Loading the harvest on the boats to be transferred through Nyabarongo River.

   Jacques couldn’t understand what was happening at that time. He just knew he had to hide in the bush because they would kill him! He ended up eating scraps or whatever he could find in the bush. He was the only one out of the three siblings who finally survived the genocide… He was a young boy and he didn’t even know the story between Hutus and Tutsis. After all, this segregation had started only a few decades ago, when the Belgian colonists introduced the identity cards. The ancient tactic of divide and rule works for millenniums all around the world… People who had more than ten cows were considered wealthy, so Tutsis. The rest were considered Hutus. The colonists were also taking in account the physical characteristics of the indigenous people. Tutsis are usually tall and slim with a characteristic long nose. So, suddenly people’s race became very important and it was even written on the identity cards that were introduced by the Belgians!

The names of the targeted people were even broadcasted through the radio...

The names of the targeted people were even broadcasted through the radio…

   The colonists favored the Tutsis initially. So, they were the ones who had better access to education and they held important positions in politics and business. Naturally, Hutus were frustrated. Starting in 1959 there were many bloodsheds between the two tribes. Both in Rwanda and Burundi tens of thousands of Hutus and Tutsis were massacred over the years. In 1962 Rwanda became independent and the situation escalated to the genocide of 1994. Those one hundred days almost a million people died. They were not only Tutsis but also Hutus who were suspected of sympathising Tutsis. Whoever wouldn’t kill for the ethnic cleansing would be killed himself. Don’t think people were simply killed by guns. Most of them were tortured and killed by machetes, clubs, spears or whatever was available. The streets were littered with dismembered bodies and dogs were shot en masse as they had become very aggressive. They had developed a taste for human flesh…

People were hiding in churches and schools but the genocidaires were breaking in even there, showing no mercy...

People were hiding in churches and schools but the genocidaires were breaking in even there, showing no mercy…

   Despite UN Force Commander Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire was asking permission to do something, he was clearly ordered not to intervene. So, Rwanda was left absolutely alone by the international community. Right after the genocide, RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) attacked and took control of the country. That was a paramilitary group which was formed by Tutsis who had fled already Rwanda because of the massacres that had happened the last decades. The head of the army was the current dictator of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. As you can expect, then they were the Hutus who were massacred and actually the RPF didn’t even bother to check if they were Hutus who fought for the genocide or against it. RPF even attacked the Hutu refugee camps in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Rwanda is full of mass graves where hundreds of thousands of genocide victims are rested.

Rwanda is full of mass graves where hundreds of thousands of genocide victims are rested.

   I was shocked to see that today the genocide is formally presented as a genocide against Tutsis! When the opposition leader Victoire Ingabire returned from exile in 2010 to challenge Kagame on the elections, she was sentenced to eight years in jail. The justification was that she asked why there are no memorials in Rwanda about the hundreds of thousands of Hutus who were killed. Presenting only the Tutsis as the victims doesn’t make justice and unfortunately, I don’t think it helps the trauma of this nation to be healed.

The sacred cows in the former royal compound of Nyanza were used in ceremonies with music and dancing.

The sacred cows in the former royal compound of Nyanza were used in ceremonies with music and dancing.

   The most moving moment for me was not learning about the atrocities that I had already read about. It was when a Rwandan school visited the genocide memorial. After a while, I saw the teacher sitting down and bursting into tears. That was when my eyes became wet. Who can imagine what kind of images she had from that dark era…

   In Kigali I was hosted by Jacques and his wife Marie. They live in a simple house but they did everything to make me feel as a king! Marie was cooking everyday on charcoals meals with chicken, rice, beans or chips and of course ugali, the African staple, equivalent to bread, made out of maize or cassava flour. They are a lovely young couple who were making jokes and teasing each other all the time!

In Rwanda they install these wooden houses over small fish farms and rabbits are bred there. This way, the rabbit dung falls in the water and fish find it... tasty!

In Rwanda they install these wooden houses over small fish farms and rabbits are bred there. This way, the rabbit dung falls in the water and fish find it… tasty!

   What a visitor in Rwanda seemingly realizes is that a miracle is happening there… Can you imagine how would a country look like after such a horrible genocide? It’s unbelievable to see that nowadays everyone talks to each other and Rwandans are friends again, no matter their race. It’s actually not even allowed to ask somebody in which race he belongs. Everybody is considered just Rwandan. On top of that, the country is remarkably well organized, with little corruption (seemingly), tidy and clean. But unfortunately, that’s only the surface…

Kigali is thriving... It's an amazingly clean and well organized city for the African standards!

Kigali is thriving… It’s an amazingly clean and well organized city for the African standards!

   As somebody would expect, this peace and unity doesn’t come out of peoples’ heart but it’s imposed to them by the totalitarian authorities. Of course, it’s still important that peace prevails but I’m wondering if that will be the case in the future… The international community turns a blind eye on the dictator’s heavy hand and on the crimes that he has committed. It serves everybody’s consciousness to think that Rwanda nowadays is an African role model and finally the international community does something about this long-suffering country. However, a very interesting documentary by BBC, called “Rwanda’s Untold Story“, reveals a truth that is hidden for decades. Just make sure that if you watch it, you are not in Rwanda… As you would expect, this documentary is banned there, as is BBC in general!

In Rwanda, one of the most densely populated countries in the African continent, people farm wherever there is space, all the way to the top of the hills!

In Rwanda, one of the most densely populated countries in the African continent, people farm wherever there is space, all the way to the top of the hills!

   I visited the churches in Nyamata and Ntarama where thousands of people were massacred. I headed south to Huye and I visited the Murambi Genocide Memorial where the visitor can see almost a thousand bodies preserved with lime on their last position before being killed. After all those terrible stories, I was thinking once again how lucky I am that I was born just a generic human and not a Hutu or a Tutsi…

Enjoying the dirt roads along the shores of Lake Kivu...

Enjoying the dirt roads along the shores of Lake Kivu…

   As a human, it was easy for me to travel around Rwanda and experience the pleasant side of it… I could cross the gorgeous Nyungwe Forest National Park and play on its inviting curves with those two cables going from my motorbike’s throttle to the carburetor. I could enjoy the dirt rides and the amazing views of Lake Kivu. But I always had the dark history in my mind…

Boat building in Lake Kivu, the largest of Rwanda's many lakes

Boat building in Lake Kivu, the largest of Rwanda’s many lakes

   If someone achieves to overcome the past, he will see the country of a thousand hills, as it is nicknamed… Rwanda is full of green hills which are cultivated all the way to the top, since there is not enough space to grow food. This tiny country has one of the highest population densities of any African country. As you can imagine, going up and down those hills through dirt roads is very enjoyable. One of my favorite routes was on the north, around Lake Ruhondo and Lake Burera. The landscape was amazing! These lakes on 1,900 m. (6,234 ft.) altitude are full of tiny forested islands. If somebody would tell me that I was on the Scottish Highlands, I would have no doubt!

That's how actually wood is cut in this part of the world!

That’s how actually wood is cut in this part of the world!

You can check out the map with more photos and reports at: Live Trip Traveller

 

Παρουσιάσεις

Κοζάνη
Σάββατο
30 Νοεμβρίου 2019, 20:00
Όμιλος Δικυκλιστών Κοζάνης
1ο χλμ Κοζάνης - Κρόκου

Kozani

 

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