The pull to Rwanda was immense. I’ve made my way through Central and Eastern Africa, but Rwanda had a mystical hold on me. Except I was wrong. I was not prepared for the country at all. My mind was filled with images of Volcanoes National Park and the magical mountain gorillas that call it home. The foto album in my head did not include so many surprises that the country had in store for me.
This country is cleaner than Singapore. If you’ve been you will think I’m daft. I am certainly not. This place is safer than Japan. In the worst slums of Kigali, you will not find trash or grafitti. If you want to get out of your vehicle and go get a nice cold drink, you certainly can. Even with half the place unemployed, there is an immense pride of ownership. You will be welcomed into the store, and repeatedly thanked for visiting Africa, not just Rwanda… Africa. In a country that lived through unspeakable tragedy, they built not just one, but many genocide memorials across the country to remember the atrocities and pay respect to the many, many lives lost. The genocide memorial in Kigali is eye opening, heart-wrenching, soul turning… and yet so well done. If you think you’ve held it together progressing through the numbers of the audio tour, you will almost surely lose it when you reach the children’s room. No more to say. There is not a single person in Rwanda alive today that has not been touched by this. It lives just beneath the skin. It will take at least another generation seeking solace to get by this. Do not venture into this country to visit the gorillas or the other lush parks filled with birds and wildlife without visiting the memorial. This country is not just another stamp in your passport.
The roads are the stuff of Autobahn. The pavement is smooth. Our pace is fast. The houses are painted and well kept. Storefronts are swept and clean. The sense of this place is baffling. I’ve come for the gorillas, but my senses are overcome before we even get to the entrance to Volcanoes National Park. My eyes can’t believe the unspoilt beauty of this place as we drive towards the 7 gorilla families that have been habituated to humans and visited by up to 10 people per family per day. The green hills remind me of Central America. I imagine luscious coffee plantations and fresh fruit plantations. If it was a movie, it would be 50 shades of green. It is beautiful.
I have been so fortunate to see so many places in this world and have experiences beyond belief. There are only a handful of places I dream of returning to, Rwanda just went to the top of the list.