My return to Rwanda
After 14 years of absence from Rwanda, I began to feel the need to return to my country of origin, the place that had seen me born. I needed to see and hear if I still belonged to that country. So one day in October he left with my mother, with a thousand doubts, a thousand questions and a lot of curiosity to rediscover the country of a thousand hills. I arrived at the airport and immediately noticed the amazement of the people who had to check my passport, to see that a white girl was born there, I felt almost uncomfortable, as if I had never actually been part of that country because I did not know talk about kinyarwanda. We left the airport and there waited for us a typical African lady, with a headscarf and a very dark complexion, Ziada and an olive-skinned gentleman waiting for us, Aslam. I understood that she was my grandmother’s sister and he was a partner of Pakistani origin.
The stretch of road from the airport to the house was short but I will never forget the impact I had with that modern city, clean and so full of people. I could not believe I was born there. When we got home, we found several people curious and happy to see us, chiefs that most of them were blood of my blood. At that moment the feeling of being out of place vanished and I felt at home. I immediately feel a strong connection with Darira, my mother’s cousin’s cousin, who told me that shortly after I was born, she would take me with her back tied with a scarf, just like African mothers do with their children, that’s why I felt with her that particular bond. I met her 3 children, the beautiful Rehema, Fabrice younger than she was 2 years old and the very small 3 year old Manzi, those children were an explosion of energy, pure vitality. So I found myself immersed in the Rwandan culture made up of beautiful sarongs with which women dress, faces marked by everyday life, by the sun and unfortunately by war. (I learned that many of my Rwandan family were gone , being of Tutsi ethnicity, they were victims of the genocide of 94, betrayed and killed also by their neighbors Hutu, this because the goal of the genocidarians was to make all the Tutsis disappear and did not care if they were friends, acquaintances or neighbors.)
The first day I passed him to observe them, every single detail caught my attention, my curiosity, on the other hand they too were curious but unlike mine they did not have the shyness to touch with hand what they did not know or that they were not used to see; they touched my hair because they were obliged to wear them short to avoid being infested with lice, they touched my skin obviously much whiter than theirs, touched my face and to our amazement to notice some resemblance between us. After a few hours, I found myself playing on the ground with the children and eating with my hands the delicious dishes of Ziada, consisting of rice, meat, vegetables and even bananas. I understood why those children had so much energy. After the long journey and after being soiled playing with the children, I needed a shower, never like in that moment I feel naive.
There was no shower at Ziada’s house. He came to me and showed me their bathroom, where I would have to take a shower, but he explained that I would have to wash myself with rainwater since it was 2 days that no water arrived in that area. I was left alone, with the big tank, a bowl to throw water on me and to my surprise some pink worms that are created with stagnant water. Even if the desire to take a shower faded, I suddenly thought that if this was their life then I could do it too, and so after dodging the worms, I took the funniest shower of my life!
Kigali , like Switzerland
In the previous article I mentioned my amazement in having a modern city, clean and with all the services, being a Central African country victim of war, the rebirth of that country is still shocking, but let’s not forget that many Rwandan citizens having lost all in war find themselves today in a state of poverty that does not allow them to keep pace with the development of the country, despite all the primary services guaranteed. In those early days of course, the enthusiasm to know the country was not far behind, and I began to ask for information on everything I could visit, and so I did not stop a day to go to the discovery of Rwanda. The first thing I did, as usual, was to wander the city, but soon realized that without a vehicle it is difficult to move and so to get to the center I took a mototaxi. I got out of the vehicle and arrived in front of a shopping center, I hoped there was a bar to try and get an espresso and to my surprise I drank a long Rwandan coffee, not bad. After browsing through the city, I decided to buy a map for the shops and went home to study where my itinerary would start.
Tourism in Rwanda
Rwandan tourism, is a niche tourism especially dedicated to trekking lovers, because in the north of Rwanda there are Virunga, active volcanoes that also include the south of the Uganda and the south east of the Congo, of course I booked myself for some hiking them. Aslam introduced me to Yassim a boy who accompanied me to Ruhengeri the next day. I woke up at 4.30 and we left at 5, on the way from Kigali to Ruhengeri for 2 hours I remained glued to the window and saw many villages, including the small town where my mother was born, Shyorongi. They were very different hamlets from the city, houses made of earth, women walking with their children on their backs, going to the market or working the land, children with large cans of water on their heads or boys who are struggling carrying bicycles full of plane trees. I saw true Africa, Africa difficult to imagine, to accept. We arrived at Musanze, there was very little for Ruhengeri.
Africa you do not expect Suddenly it was overcast and the scenery changed. The sky was leaden, so as to allow the colors of nature to go out, I remember that the green was very intense, I felt totally immersed in nature. We started with the Defender a long stretch of dirt road that took us to the place where I had decided to camp. Immediately after our arrival, the guys who worked there, took me inside this chalet, prepared hot water to wash my hands and brought me the excellent Rwandan. The chalet was great, there was a fireplace and a comfortable sofa, the sound of burning wood and that tea made me relax so that I fell asleep. I rested only for a few minutes, as soon as I opened my eyes I noticed that the curtain was already mounted, with the curiosity that distinguishes only children, I entered and was stupid was in effect a double bedroom: mattress, blankets, pillows and space for clothes and bag, satisfied with the chosen campsite, I turned around and sat down and realized that my tent had the best view I could wish for, in front of me I had volcanoes and lots of green. In the afternoon after a hot tea, I decided to go and visit the village of Kinigi. Before leaving, however, the guys at the campsite asked me what I wanted to eat for dinner and I replied that one of their typical dishes, rice, chicken and potatoes, was excellent for me; I got ready to go out but when I arrived in front of the reception I heard a boy running and a hen running away, they were about to pull his neck because I told him I wanted the chicken. I left the campsite very frustrated. Despite the rain and cold, walking I noticed the state of poverty in which the local families live, to see a white woman who wandered around the place was very strange for them, and in a short time I found myself surrounded by children with wonderful smiles, which in the end they accompanied me to the market in the country to buy a jacket and protect myself from the cold, I could not help but buy something for them. It got dark and I decided to come back, suddenly I remembered that for dinner the pollen awaited me that until a few hours before was running undisturbed in the garden, but when I served dinner, that chicken was the best I had ever eaten.
Trekking, Virunga Voulcanoes
The next morning the alarm was very early as I had booked the trek to go and see the Golden Monkey, some monkeys with long, gold hair. I came to the tourists’ quarters and to welcome us there were boys and girls with traditional Rwandan clothes that danced and sang, it was something spectacular. We divided into groups and we left on foot for trekking, in that stretch of road in the rain I had the opportunity to discover the most unknown corners of that country named Ruhengeri. I fell in love with it was a different, cold, gray Africa surrounded only by nature. When we reached the valley of the volcano Karisimbi we started our hike and shortly after we began to glimpse the first Golden Monkey, it was very funny to see them jump over our heads, and they were obviously very spiteful because some of them found them eating the tubers from the fields of people that soon they would have to harvest the potatoes. Returning to the campsite, I feel quite tired, from the cold and the long walk, as soon as I entered the chalet the boys immediately prepared a tea to warm me, I was amazed by the continuous kindness, they also brought me the sarongs but did not understand what they could to serve me and they told me that they had prepared the sauna for me, with an infusion of balsamic herbs to recover from the cold. For the first time in my life I had a sauna like this in the middle of Africa. After the sauna I feel the lungs burst, I was reborn and I felt that the following day I would have faced the second excursion with much more energy. And so it was, the next morning I felt ready to climb the everest! Yassim arrived to pick me up at 6 am and took me to the meeting. With another group and a different guide we started towards the Bisoke, a volcano with a volcanic lake at the top. Shortly after they left, it started to rain and as soon as the climb started, I noticed how slippery the ground was and began to hope to get all the way up to the volcanic lake. The vegetation was getting thicker, I had difficulty seeing the companion in front of me, at every step we had to move, very large leaves, branches and hope not to put your foot badly or risk ruining and returning to the starting point. The climb became increasingly difficult, the breath began to fail, as they began to miss the first companions who surrendered, began to get carried away by the mud and go back, I do not deny that I began to have some sign of failure, but I decided that I had to do it. We arrived in a clearing to sit down and take a break, I realized that we were surrounded by volcanoes, by the silence and the fog, it was extremely very suggestive. From there we decided to continue to go to see the tomb of Diane Fossey, a biologist who studied / dedicated her life to the mountain gorillas and who died, defending the latter from the poachers, it was exciting to think that the woman dedicated all her life in the study of the Silver Backs and who died just in the way the poachers killed the gorillas. The last stage was the volcanic lake, I thought I could make it to the top, now we were few to have continued the climb, and then the guides could help us with more ease. But it was not so, I gave up, I could no longer feel my legs from the cold, I had the fang everywhere and the muscles had left me now, in despair I also slipped from the mud and after almost an hour I arrived at the starting point afflicted and disappointed that she could not get to see the lake. Yassim, when he saw me, knew immediately that I was not well, he put me in the car and I immediately took to get some dry clothes and a hot tea. After I heated up I went back to the campsite and to comfort my bitterness I decided to eat and rest to go back the next morning to Kigali, I started to feel a bit ‘the lack of my family, I wanted to live as much as possible.
The following day, back in Kigali, I did not leave the children for a minute, we played and had lunch together, the afternoon after Darira came home, I set up the Safari at Akagera Park, which would take place 2 days later. To get to Akagera, to the north-east, on the border with Tanzania, Yassim took us 2 hours, along the way we talked about how the country changed in the years following the war, how citizens took the courage to go on despite their life he removed them all. Yassim, because of my curiosity, found myself being taught by Cicero, explaining to me the culture, traditions and history of all the countries we met. Speaking of the development of the districts that make up Rwanda, at a certain point he told me that thanks to the work of Italian engineers, many years before, the road we were making was being created to reach the north of the country, and when he told me the name of the firm that built it, I could not believe my ears, it was my father, who at the time was a foreman of the Astaldi, (company to which they entrusted the infrastructure).
Safari at Akagera Park
We arrived at the entrance to the reception, paid for my ticket and began to travel the route to enter the park with the Defender. The first Safari of my life started, with a defender all to me. I was pleasantly surprised and happy to see that park reborn. During the genocide the park was not fenced and was stormed by refugees who saw their cattle threatened by the predators of the park killed them, exterminating both lions and rhinos, as well as other animals. Seven lions have recently been reintroduced from South Africa. The park is almost new because of the many problems that Rwanda has had to face in its recent history, the high poaching has led to the disappearance of some species. To date, the situation has changed, by implementing a sustainable tourism policy the park has managed to drastically reduce the poaching activity, thus succeeding in reintroducing numerous species such as lions, rhinos and crowned cranes. What struck me about the Akagera was not only the fauna, but its continuous variations of landscape. The park offers breathtaking views: lakes, mountains and plains that are the backdrop to the African fauna, and I had the honor to see a few meters of giraffes, zebras, monkeys and elephants. My first Safari was even more fantastic to think I was born there, in those wonderful places, I still had a hard time believing it. The return to Kigali made me sleep and when I returned home my grandmother was expecting a rich dinner of freshwater fish, bananas and rice.
The day after I decided to stay home and be with the children we played all day, especially they enjoyed listening to me that I tried to learn from them a few words in kinyarwanda and I was gently taken around all day; I learned to say how you are, to count to 10 and some other useful word in everyday life.
The family days were upset by the meeting I will never forget, the meeting with my great-grandmother, Moamini of Ugandan origins and surviving the genocide. I could not even explain what I felt at that moment. I could not believe that in both, the same blood flowed in the veins. She was a beautiful, very old woman of small stature, with a small hump on her back wrapped in a colorful kanga, she approached me with a slow pace, helped by a stick and wrapped me in a hug that without any word expressed the lack of great-grandchild in 14 years of absence. all the love I felt at that moment I will carry it in my heart for a lifetime.