New Memories

Wow,  What has happened to this quiet little city of Kigali?  When we lived here in the nineties I never ever saw so many cars/motorcycles/trucks on the streets at one time.  I guess it issss morning rush hour, but still, whoa…  Sam is taking me to the bus station to catch a ride out to Kibuye in the west but I think we are going to miss the bus.  Hakuna  Matata,  Sam is on his cell phone to my new friend-to-be Bagabo telling him to buy me a ticket, save me a seat, and ask the driver to pick me up just below the round-point heading out of town.  In a couple of minutes we pull over I jump out and about 45 seconds later I jump into my Kibuye-bound bus.  Clean, comfortable, "cultural" music playing, and Bagabo prefers English over French… great start!

Leaving the bustling town behind, Rulibrwa  brick/tile factory comes into view on the bank of the Nyabarongo river and it feels good to be rolling though this gorgeous terraced countryside again.  Coming up on the left, 25 k’s from town is Amiel’s place, my former administrative assistant’s home. His eucalyptus plantation is growing back…
Muscular young men pushing bikes up the steep hill, one hand on the handle bars one arm wrapped around an enormous sack of sweet potatoes. Hoe swinging farmers in the valley sinking their blades into the muck of the muddy water surrounding their garden bed, pulling more rich soil up onto the bed as they reclaim the wetlands.

A truck snorting  stuff into the blues skies, loaded with  what looks like 2 truckloads of goods struggles up one of the thousand hills.  He just can’t shake the long winding string of vehicles on his tale as they busily role up their windows to shut out his fumy stink.  As a boy peddles past our crawling cue I wonder if  thoughts stirred by the cars  with  the "IT" license plates of NGO’s vehicles stirs anything in his mind close to what they stir in my mind.  How many changes have come to  this tiny country on the belly button of Africa.

Free of the truck we now fly around newly paved curves.  Fly that is when the oncoming bus driver has given our driver the all-clear sign, by jabbing his index finger heavenward several times, letting us know there are no cops ahead.  These foot policemen are serious about reducing the number of accidents that have plagued these roads.  Dark uniformed pairs, men and women sometimes, with one wearing a florescent green traffic overcoat, are the law.  And  if you are doing something wrong, don’t try slipping them something to improve your situation or you very well may find yourself in deeper soup than simply paying a traffic fine.

We finally leave our comfortable 25 passenger Toyota Coaster bus in Kibuye (seems to be a huge fleet of these "Coasters" criss-crossing this payee) and climb into a  Toyota double cab 4×4.  Leaving the pavement behind our shocks are getting a vicious pounding as we begin to follow the shore line of Lake Kivu, one of the cleanest lakes in the world. Around every corner is a postcard  picture with coves reminding one of mini fiords. Steep steep hillsides covered with banana groves and coffee bushes,,, I mean STEEP!  Most residents aren’t impressed with their sheer beauty. For them it’s  simply a long way down to get water and a much longer way back up.

Stopping to take a picture, little kids materialize from nowhere (You can allllllways count on this "appearing") and  they start saying    "Agacupa" (agachoopa), "Agacupa".  I look at Bagabo and say, "what’s this?  15 years ago they used to say ‘amafranga’ (money), ‘amafranga’".  He smiles and says their asking for plastic water bottles.  They will use them to take water to school.  Might sound like a small insignificant change, but how about that symbolizing something larger going on?

Round another bend there are shiny roofs  across the valley reflecting the noon sun.  "What about those houses Bagabo?"  "The government supplies the roofing sheets and the local district arranges the mud brick construction." He goes on to say that they are most likely for widows and/or orphans. I remembered hearing 2 days earlier how the  government was asking the different denominations in the country  to help in this housing effort for the homeless and for the Adventist church’s share  it was working out to be about 2 homes per congregation.

"Hey Bagabo what is that?" "That’s a methane plant, taking gas from the lake to make electricity"  

I can’t tell you how many times I drove these roads in the 90’s… knew them like the back of my hand, but  change is definitely happening. In fact the word is that this  long teeth-jarring lake-side road is due to be reworked and paved starting next year.  What a gorgeous drive it will be.  To my right an incredibly steep hillside that defied terracing forever now has hundreds of coffee bushes on it and there is a new coffee bean washing/weighing station below.

I’m heading to Mugonero Hospital and  not sure I want to write about my last visit here, about a year after the genocide ended.  We had been building a nursing school here and the project like everything else in the country was interrupted by the killing.  The word "interrupted" works for a building project but  what words can we find for what happened to the flow of family and community life?  

I can still  hear very clearly the sound of hoes thwacking into the earth on that visit years ago…  The men swinging them were not gardening…they were digging up mass graves… it was happening all around the country.  Survivors and other family members and friends wanted to show respect for the loved ones taken from them… please stop for a minute and read these sentences again… take a moment to in a very small way try an put yourself in the shoes of at least the family members and friends…the shoes of the survivors would be way to "deep" to even  try… but yes we should also try their "shoes"  on to….

Gruesome and unbelievably difficult, your body tenses listening for the hoe to hit something other than soil.  I stood silently by a dad whose wife and five children were believed to be in this pit…he was away from home when the killing began…thousands at this location… many, perhaps most unidentifiable… some clues from clothing… the most tragic "mosaic" imaginable… these "shells" of loved ones encased in the earth…  A very large group gathered to show that these were people of value, people greatly loved… and on the other side of the group stands the Minister of Defense, Paul Kagame…

For this visit, for now,  I chose not to go inside the memorial at the entrance to the hospital’s campus.    You see during the 5 days that I have been back here, 14 years after the mass killing of innocents ended, I’m finding myself in desperate need of new memories…  in class rooms and lecture halls around the USA I have been reliving these 1994 memories hundreds of times and there are just times I do not want to remember them here…and yet with survivors and other genuinely interested friends I find myself almost wanting to go touch and explore those memories again…  But new memories… how I welcome new memories… New memories so that every time I pass Amiel’s Eucaliputs forest for example, I can choose among memories and not be obliged to only recall the small shelters that replaced the chopped down forest there… and it’s not the shelters but the vivid snapshots stored in my head of glancing in those shelters and seeing the families lying where they had been murdered, or the shoes and pants on the sun shriveled remains of someone’s brother…  to have a choice of memories to choose from when  I cross  the Nyabarongo river and not just think of the thousands of young and old, petite and not…  Help me for a minute, how would you describe a masterpiece painting that had been slashed and vandalized beyond recognition/reconstruction?  Now think about each soul, a masterpiece of the Master Designer, passing under this bridge, having been slash…..

Those who survived no doubt have had to cross this river hundreds of times since those dark days… and many on foot where there is so so much time to think…No ipod headphones to transport them somewhere else… during those first trips when everywhere one looked, you saw reminders of those taken from you…just take the half hour of walking before reaching the bridge…, and then the 2 minutes walking over the bridge… perhaps looking over the sides… and then the half hour walking away from the bridge…

I need a break from writing, from remembering, from imagining… and if I think I need a break… ohh…. what about the courageous people of this country?   No break is afforded them.   We have so much to learn from them. How can we facilitate this?

Lets just end for now thinking about  the change from  "Amafranga"  to   "Agacupa".  If you are able to look past the exterior of these little ones and look deep into their eyes, you find their smiles and easy laughter so very inviting…so very infectious… so very resilient.

Carl – World Outside My Shoes

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