- On May 16th, 2008
- In Ashley Judd
In 1994 when the machetes stopped hacking bodies it was women and children who began to pick up corpses and body parts. Remains were everywhere. In an already poor country bearing one of the world’s most crippling disease burdens, cholera, typhoid, and other killers took additional lives. Women, often rape victims, attempted to bury bodies and build simple shelter and find safe drinking water and a little food. The trauma was sky high.
Rwanda now also had a massive orphan crisis and most survivors took in at least 1 orphan. However, in many cases, children became the heads of households.
As we drive through the now clean and orderly capital, as we drink in the lovely countryside, my mind from time to time does an automatic slide show, and imposes the detritus of genocide on what I see. It really is unimaginable, that such protracted filthy evil transpired ever, anywhere, but especially here, some place so pretty.
President since 2003, Kagame has worked his heart out since he led the Rwanda Patriotic Front in 1994 in what is widely credited as stopping the genocide. His parliament and minister posts are stacked with capable women, the highest female participation anywhere in the entire world (this has been codified in their constitution and government articles) and women have enormous government participation in the welfare of “la base,” the people. Looking at the extreme nature of what transpired, the government has reckoned extreme solutions are necessary, and the result is one of the most progressive and dynamic governments in the entire world. (I like to say San Francisco and Rwanda are equally progressive, although opposite ends of the economic spectrum.) They stopped the genocide with no help from anyone, and they have a can-do attitude about re-building their country themselves. PSI employs 150 people here, only 4 are non-Rwandais and the ex pats are monitored closely; I even heard one refer to herself as a “transactional cost,” meaning the government tolerates her as the price of getting on with the business of improving public health.
Rwanda society is highly decentralized. It is described in units, if you will, beginning with the individual household. The next unit up is the cell (still trying to get this right! It’s fascinating!!—), the sectur (——–), the deparment (—–), the province (like our states), and the national government. This is to ensure individuals have a voice, that there is a way for their needs to be recognized and heard, to create a harmonized society where there is a profound sense of belonging and community. The expectation is that such closeness will also eliminate the possibility of the types of divisions that created the genocide.
It is remarkable how nice things are here, in spite of abject poverty. This is country is ranked 159th out of 177 countries….so close to the very bottom. The hotel is terrific, with an azure blue pool and pretty gardens. I have a little suite and each morning I stand at my window drinking tea, watching a woman with a hand made broom sweep the street below (the city employs street sweepers). All the lavs are clean, modern flush toilets, some with 2 modes (little flush, big flush, for conservation), and there is TP available in public places everywhere. There is usually even a nail with a small, clean cloth for drying hands after washing with the bit of soap provided. The streets and fields are free of litter; there is less litter here than there is on the road between Franklin and Leipers Fork that I drive every day. They are proud, these Rwandans.
And the flowers! My Lord, how beautiful! Vegetables are cultivated literally everywhere, even in urban spaces. Houses often do not have a path to the front door, rather, folks walk to their homes between rows of corn or runners of beans trained up bamboo sticks. It is a hungry country. So many are food insecure, the stunted growth and orange tinted hair tells me that.
For these reasons, I think Rwanda absolutely should be promoted as a tourist destination in Africa. It is safe. There is no corruption (the government is very serious about this!!!), there is no intimidation or crazy making and contradictory bureaucracies to navigate. There are at least 2 very good hotels (phones and internet work fine, big lovely bathtub, robe, slippers, rather amazing, don’t you think??) and the overall landscape is not only clean looking, it is stunningly beautiful, these mille collines. I have finally found somewhere I could bring Dario.
Day one — arrival
Day two — genocide memorial
Day three — the countryside
Day three — the PSI.org offices
Day three — malaria nets
Day four — you go, global girl
Day four — water purification
Day five — world malaria day
Day six — Women for Women International
Day six — Democratic Republic of Congo
Day six — heal Africa
Day seven — Sonrise
Day seven — Dushishoze
Day seven — reflections