I have often wanted to travel to nearby countries, to experience the real Africa of which Kenya is merely a tiny microcosm, like a beaded motif that comes together with hundreds of other beads to make a complete ornament.
We are often bombarded with negative images that can depress even the most hard-core natives; Images of famine, of hollow-eyed street children, of unemployed young men who fall through the cracks and become desperate vagabonds. We see women who are left to eke out an existence for themselves, their children and often, orphaned grandchildren. Doing our part to help where possible, and focusing on a hope for a better future helps us cope with these sad scenarios. I was greatly encouraged by a recent visit to Rwanda. What I saw there inspired me to believe that in this day and age, the milk of human kindness still flows, and it can triumph over tragedy and unspeakable atrocities.
Kigali feels like a piece of Europe and I was struck by the serene environment of that picturesque city. It is green and clean, with manicured gardens and neatly swept sidewalks. The people are warm and friendly when you talk to them, but at the same time they are more reserved than Kenyans. The friends we made showed us real hospitality, and we enjoyed walking through the suburb into town. We learned that in their country it is illegal to talk about tribe. No one mentions the genocide, and nobody mentions the word “Hutu” or “Tutsi.”
In the main roundabout of the city center, there is a beautiful sculpture at a fountain- a statue of a Rwandese woman in traditional dress with a boy holding her hand. It is at this spot where numerous couples go in turn, to pose for wedding photos with their bridal parties. The bridegroom wears white gloves to match the flowing white dress of his wife, and the bridal party arrives in a car identical to that of the couple. Their big smiles show that it is a new day, a time when Hutus and Tutsis intermarry freely. It is apparent especially in the cities more so than the countryside, but as a whole, their country has embraced a powerful culture of forgiveness.
A film was made by a American graduate student Laura Waters, entitled “as we forgive those.” It follows the story of a genocide orphan, a former genocide murderer and the wife of his victim. In this beautiful, moving account it shows how in the years after the 1994 Rwandan massacre, their people have brought about a very real change whereby in the hearts of many, bygones are bygones. Reconciliation and peace have become a reality for them, and they manage to live in harmony, regardless of their different belief systems. Looking at these smart, smiling people in a city bustling with life, I realized that as hard as it is to put aside prejudice and forgive, it is a vital quality for each one of us to cultivate, regardless of how large or how small the offense has been.
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As we walked back to our friends’ home, we could not help but tap our feet to the invigorating beat of a nearby band. The lively, tantalizing music capped a perfect afternoon. As I gushed at the gorgeous green hillside and enjoyed the warm evening breeze, I wished I could bottle the moment, and take home that carefree, dreamy feeling I had. I wanted to stay longer in this postcard city, but all I can do for now is to savor the memories and reflect on the lessons I have learned from this “Switzerland of Africa.”