Â I can’t believe its been two weeks since my last blog. I’ve been busy. I’ll try to remember everything I’ve done since then!
Â After saying goodbye to the chimps at Gombe Stream, I jumped on a bus with my mate Jeremy and we headed for Mwanza up in nothern Tanzania by Lake Victoria. Mwanza is the second biggest city in Tanzania with about a million or so people. It was the first time that I’d been anywhere near a nightclub during the past three months so we did some catching up over a long weekend. On Sunday night I boarded a ferry going to Bukoba which is on the western side of the lake over by the Ugandan border. I pitched my tent on the beach front and spent a relaxing day or two wandering around the hills overlooking the lake. I liked western Tanzania. There isn’t a whole lot to see but that also means there aren’t other tourists which in turn means that I was welcomed every where I went with open arms.
Â There was an English guy called Ben staying in Bukoba and together we made the arduous 15hr bus trip to Kigali in Rwanda. I hadn’t heard a great deal about Rwanda so didn’t have too many expectations. It’s probably the most beautiful country I have seen in Africa and is certainly the most lush and fertile. They call it The Land of a Thousand Hills and with good reason – you can’t walk more than 100 metres without having to start climbing up a slope. It is also by far the safest and cleanest of all the African countries I have been to. I’ve been here for over a week now and haven’t seen one single piece of rubbish on the floor. Plastic bags have been made illegal and everyone has to clean up the street outside their house on the first saturday of every month. What a great idea! The Rwandans are also the most fashionable of any of the countries I have visited here and compete with the Malawians for the title of most friendly and welcoming. It may be unfortunate for them that hardly no one comes here but it is very fortunate for me. What a gem.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect is just how well the country is coping with life after the genocide in 1994. It was just 17 years ago and yet they appear to have moved on and put it behind them. There is so much life and drive and ambition. It is obvious that everyone here loves their country and is proud to be Rwandan. If I’d have given it much thought beforehand then I probably would have expected a country that was still grappling to come to terms with what had happened. And its not even a taboo subject. I am often told stories about the genocide.
Â The other day I visited the memorial in Kigali which was an eye opening experience. I’d watched Hotel Rwanda beforeÂ (which you can visit)Â so I only knew a little about it, but I didn’t appreciate all the facts. For instance, the division of the country into two groups – Tutsi and Hutu- was a Belgian invention. When they colonised it they said that anyone with over ten cows was a Tutsi and everyone with less was a Hutu. They then gave all the powerful and prominent jobs to the Tutsi’s. In the 1930’s they brought out identity cards which clearly showed who was who. Things escalated after independence in the 60’s when the Hutu majority wanted revenge. In the 1990’s the Interahamwe was set up to advocate Hutu power. The French supplied the regime with the weapons and trained them how to use them. Credit Lyonnais, a French bank, loaned them the money to buy the weapons. The genocide took a lot of planning and the UN were aware of this but did nothing. On the 6th April 1994 the presidents plane was shot down and the massacre of Tutsi’s began within a few hours. 800,000 people were killed in the 100 days that followed. Afterwards there were 300,000 orphans and 85,000 children had become the head of their household. The number of UN troops estimated as necessary to stop the massacre was the same number of troops that were sent to Rwanda to ensure the safe evacuation of foreign personel. When the killers were finally driven out by the RPF, the French supported their escape into the Congo. The new president seems to have done a good job. For starters he abolished the Tutsi and Hutu labels and now everyone is ‘Rwandan’. They have also dropped speaking FrenchÂ and are now teaching English in all their schools.
Â Someone here said that 95% of the Hutu’s turned evil. I would like to think that I would have been one of the 5% that didn’t. But if you resisted or helped out the Tutsi’s then you and your family were automatically added to the death list. I’m not sure I would have risked my own life and that of my family. Its a horrible thought.
Â The memorial also talks about the other genocides that have occured in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia over the past 60 years. I imagine this is in case anyone is ignorant enough to think that its only an ‘African’ problem.
Â The words in Kigali were upsetting but they are still just words and words cannot convey what really happened. At another memorial in Butare they have preserved a thousand bodies in lime and left them where they were massacred in a school along with 50,000 others. It is more grim than it sounds.
Â After visiting the memorials I went into Nyungwe national park and spent three days tracking chimpanzees in the forest. It wasn’t quite as easy as in Gombe stream. After 20hrs of tracking we finally saw two in trees about 50m away! But it was somehow more special than seeing them within ten minutes at Gombe Stream.
Â I left there yesterday and made my way back to Kigali and then up to an absolutely wonderful place in the north called Palm Garden Hotel in Gisenyi. And I’ve managed to blag myself a Gorilla permit for monday so very excited about that!!
Â I cannot recommend Rwanda highly enough as a place to come and visit. It’s beautiful. The people are very friendly. It’s by far the cleanest and safest country I have been to on this trip and it’s small enough to get around in a week or two. And you can get to see chimps and gorillas in the wild! Come before everyone finds out.
Â ….or maybe wait till I tell you about Uganda, I hear it’s even better over there, although I can’t think how it could be.
p.s. I’ve been overloaded with spam lately and have just deleted about 10,ooo messages. Sorry if anyone’s was in there but it would take the rest of my trip to check through them all!