In about 4 hours I should be touching down in Kigali. My flight out of Nairobi has been delayed and its given me time to reflect on what the next 12 days might be like in Rwanda.
I just spent 3 weeks in Zimbabwe and was blown away by the courage and resilience of a people who surely have been stretched way beyond the limit again and again and again. How can they be smiling and even laughing when a little banana cost a weeks wages? Wages obviously are not what people live off of. It’s their gardens for those fortunate enough to have one and then a lot of ingenuity along with their wits. Here outside Mutare in the eastern part of the country recently discovered diamonds have apparently recreated the “wild west gold rush” all over again. When I first arrived at Paula’s orphanage I had met an innocent faced clean cut 16 year old orphan boy who was living with his aunt near the orphanage, decided that he and a friend would head towards the diamond fields about 10 days ago to try and get money for the family and school fees. They found such chaos, saw a guy get shot in the leg and ended up fleeing for their lives. All the while his aunt was at home on her knees praying after failing to dissuade him from going. Think about a 16 year old you know being driven to something like that…
On another day there after dropping off a bag of potatoes to a single mom who looks after here 5 children plus 5 more orphans plus her aging mom, I was kicking up dust in a field with a local dad when he told me that the people are praying for better rains this year (recent years yields have been less than minimal). “People here eat one meal a day,” he went on, “which as adults we can do, but the children don’t understand.”
Writing about her childhood, a Rwandan survivor who lost so many family members and friends said “Pastor says we’re all of us, all humanity, just children walking along paths whose past and portent we hardly know. But we actual children know so little – and sense so much…”
And that brings me back to thought s on Rwanda. Yes I’m so anxious to see friends, and once again experience the generous heartfelt Rwandan hospitality, but… there is this “but” that I’m not sure I want to put words to… walking the roads and paths that are so stuffed with memories… memories that can inspire and memories that can foul. Yet “put words to” is exactly what I’ve got to do. It’s one of the main reasons I’m going.
Starting a book has seemed like an impossible task. “Eat the Elephant” a good friend has said more than once in recent years. One bite at a time…14 years later… yes I still have the tapes I made to Teresa during the genocide and yes I’ve been living the genocide a hundred times over in schools around the country, but the book…the book has got to be something more than just a collection of stories about the most horrible 100 days of the 20th century… as incredibly selfless and courageous as the Rwandans are in these stories ( if you’ve heard any of our stories you know I’ve chosen to focus on these Rwandans,)…. Well a book with just these stories would be of serous value…. Yet… well there is more… we can know so much and sense so little, or like children, we can "know so little and sense so much"…
That’s why I woke up one morning last month, a couple of days after 3 generous families offered to pay my ticket to Zimbabwe, and said to Teresa, “What do you think about me adding a couple more weeks on to the Africa trip and going to Rwanda to start the book there.” There in Kigali, there among those hills, among those memorials, visiting the orphanages again, finding friends I have not seen since the end of the genocide… and as you might well guess Teresa said Yes, do it, do it with my full support. The smile, the tone, the conviction, I knew she meant it from deep down. Once again I’m thinking “She’s incredible… how could I be so blessed?!” (we celebrate 27 years tomorrow since we both said “I do”, I think it is the first anniversary we have sent apart.)
Ok.., for some reason I feel a little more prepared. (funny it takes about 10 times longer to write this than it does to read it) Got to get to my departure gate… Thanks for being with me during this flight delay in Nairobi airport. You know right outside the window on that very tarmac is where I touched down 14 years ago. it was a week after the genocide ended I’d hitched a ride out of Kigali on a Canadian Military C130 transport plane. When I climbed down those steps and saw my Teresa, Mindy, Lisa, and Shaun coming towards me…. Let me tell you… that was a dream I had dreamt again and again and again, every one of those 88 nights I slept in the hallway of our home in Kigali… A dream I had sometimes feared would only be a dream… and there they were… arms, cheeks, voices, laughter, tears… yea…yup… this boy better get writing.
Carl – World Outside My Shoes.