Monday, October 20, 2008


A few weeks ago there was a hash run in a small town in Rwanda on Lake Kivu (the 6th largest lake in Africa). Having not left Uganda since I arrived and wanting to visit Rwanda, I took advantage and joined my fellow Kampala hashers for the trip. Well, actually I took the non-hash bus as to avoid the drinking, rowdiness and the frequent pit-stops that become necessity because of the drinking. I took the regional bus line and it took us through varied terrain, from hills to plains to mountains, all before we reached the border, usually at high speeds. We left Kampala at 9am and reached the border around 3 or 4 pm. Once we were in Rwanda the traffic changed back to driving on the right, something I was slightly uncomfortable with so I guess that means I’ve become used to driving on the left, or maybe it was because even though the driver was driving on the right side of the road, his steering wheel was located on the right side of the bus.

As we made our way down the winding roads through the beautiful African mountain villages I couldn’t keep my mind from the genocide that occurred in Rwanda so recently – the 1994 mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Rwanda's minority Tutsis and the moderates of its Hutu majority. Over the course of approximately 100 days, from April 6 through to mid July, at least 500,000 people were killed. Most estimates are of a death toll between 800,000 and 1,000,000. A concise review of the happenings can be found at but there have been many books written and films made on the subject; Books – "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families” and “Shake Hands with the Devil” Films – “Shake Hands with the Devil,” ”Sometimes in April,” and “Shooting Dogs”

Please read the wikipedia article before continuing if you are unfamiliar with the events of the time, of particular interest might be the role of the West, the UN and the US – you may remember US officials quibbling about the “definition” of genocide while hundreds of thousands of people were being brutally murdered based on their ethnic group or support of that ethnic group.

During the ride into Rwanda, I would see an older man walking along the road, wonder where he was during that time, what atrocities he must have seen, what might have happened to him, what he may have done to others. And then I saw many children who have been born since the genocide, how are their lives different from other African children? Do their parents and older siblings talk about the genocide much? Rwanda is one of the most densely populated places on the planet so there was never really a lack of people to see out the bus window and wonder about.

Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is even hillier than Kampala – well, I guess the difference would be large hills in Kampala versus mountains in Kigali. Rwanda was initially a German colony, then a Belgian colony and the French were also very active there and thus, French was the official language of government. But since the genocide, and the role of Europeans in the genocide, Rwanda has become less and less friendly toward the French and the Belgians. In fact, a report was recently published by Rwandan authorities implicating the French as somehow enabling the genocide ( Because of the touchy Franco-Rwandan relations, many Rwandans prefer to speak English instead of French so in the capital you find older signs in French but newer signs in both French and English and most educated people actually speak both languages well.

We spent one night in Kigali and left, with a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, for the lake the next morning. The drive took three hours and included some more beautiful views. We drove through many small towns that contained large signs referring to the genocide. There were also many statues of gorillas, not only because this part of Rwanda (Parc National des Volcans) is where some of the few remaining groups of mountain gorillas are located, but also because the presence of gorillas indicates peace. During the genocide, the gorillas fled the areas of fighting for places where gunshots weren’t audible. So it was a big deal when they returned to their former homes, they are the messengers of a time of healing for the country.

The town that played host to the hash, Gisenyi, is right on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the DRC – if you have read “America, the Textbook” you’ll remember the DRC from the section that showed the number of inherent lies the name of the country as the names changed – the country was formerly known as Zaire), a beautiful, mountain town perched over the lake. (Since the hash, it has been in African news because the President of the DRC is accusing Rwandan troops of crossing the border.) From the beach you can see some sort of platform on the horizon. When I inquired, I was told that there are major methane deposits under the lake, and that occasionally that methane bubbles up from the bottom of the lake. With somewhat less certainty, I was told that if someone was caught in the water by one of these lava-heated methane bubbles, they would almost certainly die.

The hash was, not surprisingly, a very hilly one, and started with a nice, steep climb up to a level with a great view over the lake. Taking in the view and running are not two things I can multitask, especially when the running path is as narrow as this one was so I slowed down to a walk and still tripped, nearly hurling myself over the edge of a mountain. Luckily I’m still here to type the tail. We ran through villages and large groves of banana trees. Children ran along with us, something that happens at most hashes, because of the novelty of a large group of people running through their community – probably something they’ll talk about for weeks.

Later on in the weekend I was talking with another hasher, an American woman who had been working there for a couple months. As we gathered at the beach, a mother dog and her puppy were playing near by. In Uganda this would not be an uncommon sight as stray dogs of all kinds are everywhere – in fact, as I’m typing this I can hear two or three barking in my neighborhood at 8:45 on a Sunday evening. The woman commented that she had previously only seen one other dog in Rwanda during he entire stay. When I reacted with surprise she explained that during and after the genocide, dogs (and cats) were found eating the corpses – the bodies of people who were killed, so ever since, dogs and cats were rarely allowed to live.

Because the Kigali hash group is so small, I really only got to meet a few Rwandan hashers (most of them are ex-pats), but those that I did meet were extremely friendly and welcoming as I’ve come to expect anywhere on the continent. I am still curious about which ethnic groups the people I met fall in to, I didn’t feel it appropriate to ask. My stay in Rwanda showed me that they are recovering but having only spent a very short time there, it is still very difficult to understand exactly what is going on. Unlike the genocide in Europe during WWII, very many Rwandans are still living amongst their neighbors who may have turned on them in 1994; just one more unimaginable point in this horrific history.

These are some Crested (crowned) Cranes that I saw in Rwanda - they are the national symbol of Uganda - even on the Ugandan flag, but to this day I haven't seen them here.