Lots of different emotions are swirling at the Civitas hotel today, as we all prepare to leave Rwanda and return home or move on to the next step in our travels. It’s hard to end such a monumental trip, especially when it’s coupled with the anxieties of packing and flying.
Yesterday we had a wonderful day at Lake Kivu in Kibuye. We stopped for pictures on the three hour drive there, posing in front of the beautiful hills and fields of this country. I was lucky enough to get a window seat as one of my favorite things is watching the landscape as we move past it, observing the many forms that life takes in this country- people hard at work on the fields, kids playing in the grass, women walking with heavy loads delicately balanced on their heads, and animals roaming around. Then we arrived at Lake Kivu. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to- a large body of water surrounded by brush, forest, hills, villages, and even some scary looking spiders. It straddles the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. We had gone to the western border of Rwanda in just a few hours, exemplifying how small this country is, yet so rich with history, culture and diversity. At the lake we relaxed in the sun, calmed by the rippling waters, and went on a mini hike on a path along the lake. On the path we ran into eucalyptus plants, dragon flies, spiders, flowers, banana trees, and some skipping stones that made their way from our palms into Lake Kivu. It was a relaxing, joyous day filled with reflection, jokes, sun and sea.
Before we headed back to Kigali, we were given some free time in the village and some of us walked up to a magnificent church rich with the history and tragedy of this country. This was a church where thousands of people were massacred during the genocide. Unlike the other churches we visited in Bugesara, this is a memorial church for those lost but also still functions as a church for worship. Inside were awe inspiring stained glass windows, shining and shedding celestial light on the people inside. Sitting inside this church where children were giggling outside reminded me of the life that continues after the tragedy that occurred here. This is the mixture of sadness and joy that exists in Rwanda. Many souls were lost here 18 years ago, and are remembered at sites throughout this country. This memory has allowed the Rwandese people to rebuild and look towards a brighter future, something that is evident in the joy and ambitions of the KIE students. Sitting in a church reflecting on these contrasts as a visitor is a strange thing. It is not my history and yet when I think of the events of 1994, I am overwhelmed with emotions- for the loss, for the devastation, and for my disappointment that my country and the international community in general did nothing to stop it.
As Ramy and I sat on a ledge by the church overlooking the lake, I felt enormous gratitude that I was able to come to Rwanda with my classmates and teachers and have had this learning and life experience. The KIE students and Kimasagara Youth Center volunteers have taught me so much about listening, communicating and living with an open heart. I am grateful to the Rwandese people that we have met or passed on the streets for welcoming us to their country with smiles and Murahos (hellos). I will miss the red dirt of this place rising up in the wind and I will miss hearing amakuru (how are you) from strangers. As Jimmy, a KIE student wisely said a few nights ago, this is the land of a thousand hills, and the land of a thousand smiles. And we can only smile back at you, and say Murakoze Cyane (Thank you so much!)