Friday, July 8, 2011

Visiting Kenyan and Rwandan Friends, part 2

Dear F/friends,

I left off the story of our trip on Tuesday in western Kenya.  Monday the 27th we fly back to Nairobi and then took a flight to Kigali, Rwanda.  After lunch, we went to the Genocide Memorial Centre.  It’s difficult to describe the Center (and heartbreaking to walk through it), so I’ll simply say that it was thoughtful and well put-together.  For those who don’t have a firm grasp on the events of the genocide, it’s well worth studying and the Center’s website has a good summary.  Built in 1999, only 5 years after the genocide, the Center represents a strong effort on the part of Rwanda to uncover the truth of what happened, punish those that need to be punished, and move on. 

As we drove to a restaurant for dinner, I found myself looking at people on street and wondering what exactly there were doing for those 100 days in 1994.  Were they Tutsi?  Hutu?  Did they participate?  Hide in their homes?  Who had lost family members?  I could imagine this kind of thought process driving me crazy.  Kigali is beautiful, clean, and the buildings spill out over several hills into a valley.  There is quite a bit of new development (modern-looking buildings) and it’s hard to imagine what it looked like in 1994.

At dinner we met with several leaders from Rwanda Yearly Meeting.  One of the pastors explained that there needed to be justice and acknowledgement of wrongdoing, but after that the country could not move forward without reconciliation and forgiveness.  (To paraphrase her, “There are women whose husbands died in the genocide and they are widows and there are women whose husbands are in prison for being perpetrators and they are both hurting and unable to support themselves.  We need to move on and work together.”)  Friends here are doing deeply meaningful work through HROC workshops organized by the African Great Lakes Initiative and AVP.

Tuesday the 28th and the 29th we spent near Volcano National Park.  This park is the home to family groups of mountain gorillas and we had permits to “track” them.  Groups of 8 go with each guide (and a few porters, if tourists want them) and hike into the park.  Getting to the area of the park where the gorillas is can take half an hour . . . or 3 and a half hours (as it did for my group)!  The money from the tracking permits goes to support the park, pay the guides, and invest in infrastructure and services for the local area so that poaching becomes less attractive.  I was impressed that Rwanda had such a sustainable model for conserving the park and caring for the animals.  The mountain gorillas have 97% the same DNA as humans and can catch our colds and illnesses.  I had heard that looking into a gorilla’s eyes is uncannily like looking into a human’s.  It’s true, and I now understand why my guidebook referred to the 2007 killing of several gorillas in the DRC by poachers as “murders.”

Our lunch in the villlage
On the 30th and July 1st (Thursday and Friday) we were Gisenyi, which is on Lake Kivu and near the DRC border.  Etienne, one of ESR’s alumni, is a pastor in the area and we were able to sit down and talk with local religious leaders.  (We also got to play with the children of meeting members, who were hanging out in the yard of the meetinghouse!)  On July 1st we drove out to a small village where we had lunch with widows and families.  Several groups sang for us, and we sang two songs for them as well.  We also got to meet some sheep and goats that had been bought with money some of us donated.

On Saturday morning we left and 42 hours later we were home!  The trip back was long, but we’re all in generally good condition and more or less adjusted to the Eastern Time Zone.  This summary has felt a little jumbled, partly because I’m still processing what I learned and saw.  I do have a few general thoughts:

1.                  I really wish we could sing and dance like the Kenyans and Rwandans we saw!  It was truly a gift to see how they worshipped.
2.                  Traveling to this part of the world is a reminder of how much we think we need in the US but don’t.  People do quite fine and are happy with much smaller houses, simpler food, and less stuff.
3.                  Aid can do good, and it can do harm, and sometimes it does very little.  When we give aid (corporately or governmentally) we should discern the needs and gifts to be given with the input of those from the country we wish to aid, as they have the best understanding of logistical and contextual issues.  There are many wonderful organizations and projects out there (as I mentioned, we heard first-hand about the world done by AGLI and FUM ministries) and they are worth our support.
4.                  Friends in both countries were excited to know that American Friends are thinking of them.  When we introduced ourselves at the Peace rally and in the village, the Quakers in the group added “I bring greetings from my home meeting of . . .” and this was always met with excitement.  I am sure this is not limited to Friends in Africa, but more generally demonstrates the value of intervisitation.

I’ll leave it at that before this gets any longer~

In Peace,
Valerie Hurwitz
Director of Recruitment and Admissions
Earlham School of Religion

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