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Location: Old Hickory, Tennessee, United States

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

My Rwanda Trip

I was anxious to go on this trip but also quite concerned about contracting some contagious disease. In preparation for the trip I got all the required shots including Yellow Fever and started taking my malaria medicine two days before departure as instructed by the Travel and Contagious Diseases Center at Summit Hospital.

On February 27, 2009 I traveled to Dallas, met up with Lara Dulaney, one of my two best female friends, and together we departed on KLM from Dallas to Amsterdam, Netherlands ~ then to Nairobi, Kenya ~ and then to Kigali, Rwanda. All together the trip was about 23 hours of actual flying time. It is much further to Africa than I realized.

While in Rwanda I was cognizant and very careful about what I ate, and every night I called Lara Dulaney to remind her to take her malaria medicine. I am sure she thought old Tigger was way to anal about taking my medicine and putting on the mosquito repellent every day and using the hand sanitizer quite often but I was taking no chances. In preparing for the trip, I purchased some cheap pants and long sleeve shirts and soaked them good in mosquito repellent.

We did not get in until nearly midnight on Saturday. We stayed at the Serena in Kigali which is billed as a five star hotel- actually it is quite nice. On Sunday all of the WOF and World Vision travelers on this trip went to visit the Kigali Memorial Centre pictured above. The genocide that occurred in 1994 is difficult to imagine and disturbing to contemplate on many levels. Below is a timeline of the Rwandan genocide.

Some 800,000 Rwandans, mainly Tutsis, were murdered in a 100-day period following the killing of the Hutu president of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana. The presidential guard quickly murdered the political opposition and enacted a pre-planned campaign of slaughter that spread across the country. Soldiers, government officials and business leaders organised the killings and were joined by a Hutu militia, the Interahamwe.

The international community did little to stop the killings and the slaughter was brought to end by the military defeat of the government by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi-led rebel group.

6 April 1994: President Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira are killed when the Rwandan leader's plane is shot down as it is about to land at Kigali Airport. Hutu extremists opposed to the Arusha Peace Accords are believed to be behind the attack.

7 April: The Rwandan armed forces and Interahamwe militia begin the systematic killing of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. UN forces, unwilling to breach their mandate, fail to intervene. 10 Belgian UN peacekeepers are killed.

8 April: The Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) launches a major offensive to end the killings and rescue 600 of its troops based in Kigali under the Arusha Accords.

9-10 April: French, Belgian and American civilians are rescued by their governments.

11 April: The International Red Cross (IRC) estimates that tens of thousands have been slaughtered. UN soldiers protecting 2,000 Tutsis at a school are ordered to withdraw to Kigali airport. Most are killed after their departure.

14 April: Belgium withdraws its troops from the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda.

15 April: Slaughter of thousands of Tutsis gathered at Nyarubuye Church seeking protection.

21 April: The UN cuts the level of its forces in Rwanda by 90% to just 270 troops. The IRC estimates the dead could now number over 100,000.

30 April: The UN agrees a resolution condemning the killing but omits the word 'genocide'. Tens of thousands of refugees flee into neighbouring Burundi, Tanzania and Zaire.
Mid-May: The IRC estimates that 500,000 Rwandans have been killed.

17 May: The UN Security Council issues a fresh resolution saying that 'acts of genocide may have been committed'. It also agrees to send 5,500 troops with new powers to defend civilians, however deployment is delayed by disagreements between the US and UN over the financing of the operation.

22 May: RPF forces gain control of Kigali airport and Kanombe barracks, and extend their control over the northern and eastern parts of Rwanda.

22 June: With arguments over the deployment still continuing, the UN authorises an emergency force of 2,500 French troops under Operation Turquoise to create a 'safe' area in the government-controlled part of Rwanda. The killing of Tutsis continues in the 'safe' area despite the presence of the French.

4 July: The RPF takes control of Kigali and the southern town of Butare. Its leadership claims it will form a government on the basis of the Arusha Accords.

13-14 July: Refugees fleeing the RPF advance in north-western Rwanda flood into Zaire. Approximately 10,000-12,000 refugees per hour cross the border into the town of Goma. The massive influx creates a severe humanitarian crisis, as there is an acute lack of shelter, food and water.

18 July: The RPF announces that the war is over, declares a cease-fire and names Pastor Bizimungu as president with Faustin Twagiramungu as prime minister.

On Monday, we traveled with the WV film crew out in the countryside~ mountianous and very beautiful ~ elevation about 7,000 ft and tropical, lush with green everywhere and lots of banana trees - not that far from the equator.

The purpose of the trip was to bear witness to the tangible results of World Vision's work in Rwanda- this included demonstration of bread making skills, a house built by WV and sustained by entrepreneurual work, aids care giver and an elementary school with about 700 children in attendance. The school visit was really the highlight of the trip for me, seeing the hope and excitement of so many young people with so much promise. And this one very bright young kid (he looked to be 8 to 10 years old and spoke perfect English) asked me how old I was- in answering his question, I realized that very day was my 66 birthday!

These people are really poor but this is not an issue of intelligence or lack of effort but rather lack of capitalist tools which we take for granted in America and which it seems that many of the liberal bent want to tear down. If you give a farmer in Kansas a $500,000 tractor he can cultivate a 1,000 acres of wheat but take away the tractor and give him a hoe, which is what most of the Rwandan farmers have, and the Kansas farmer won't do any better than they do regardless of his education! The left is so blinded by the negative aspects of capitalism that they fail to see the good resulting from capitalism, the most productive and efficient economic system ever devised by man.

After dinner one night, Chantal Kagaba, told her very personal story of surviving the genocide. Her husband was killed the first night of the attacks and she gave birth to her second child in the bush by herself within a few days after the killings began. It is difficult to imagine the physical stamina required to survive not to mention the psychological torment. But the most compelling aspect of her life experience is that she came to forgive the man who murdered her husband and now they are best friends. After wanting and plotting revenge on his family, she came to believe that forgiveness was the better solution and found peace of heart and mind.

I took a lot of pictures of the people I met and the landscape including some pictures of the Serengeti , a portion of which is situated between Kigali and Nairobi.

The Serengeti ecosystem is a geographical region located in north-western Tanzania and extends to south-western Kenya between latitudes 1 and 3 S and longitudes 34 and 36 E. It spans some 30,000 km2.
The Serengeti hosts the largest and longest overland migration in the world, a semi-annual occurrence. This migration is one of the ten natural travel wonders of the world.
The region contains several national parks and game reserves. Serengeti is derived from the Maasai language, Maa; specifically, "Serengit" meaning "Endless Plains".
Approximately 70 larger mammal and some 500 avifauna species are found there. This high diversity in terms of species is a function of diverse habitats ranging from riverine forests, swamps, kopjes, grasslands and woodlands. Blue Wildebeests, gazelles, zebras and buffalos are some of the commonly found large mammals in the region.
Around October, nearly 2 million herbivores travel from the northern hills toward the southern plains, crossing the Mara River, in pursuit of the rains. In April, they then return to the north through the west, once again crossing the Mara River. This phenomenon is sometimes called the Circular Migration. Over 250,000 wildebeest alone will die along the journey from Tanzania to Masai Mara Reserve in upper Kenya, a total of 500 miles. Death is often caused by injury, exhaustion, or predation. The migration is chronicled in the 1994 documentary film, Africa: The Serengeti.

I bought some small gifts for friends at the Kigali airport when we left. On our return trip, Lara and I arrived in Amsterdam at 5:30 in the morning. We got something to eat at McDonalds and two hours later on the plane trip home I got sick- what a bummer. I sat next to 16 year old German exchange student who was also sick. This was her first trip to the America so I helped her with the immigration and custom declaration forms and waited for her to clear passport verification upon arrival in Dallas. At the international terminal in Dallas, I retrieved my bags, cleared customs and rechecked my bags on American Airlines for the flight back to Nashville. And to my horror, American lost my bags which contained not only my clothes and personal stuff, but my CPAP and medicine. So there I was in Nashville, sick filling out lost baggage forms- not a fun time. Three days later, American found and delivered my bags.

So that was the end of a very long, interesting and inspiring trip. I am glad I went to Rwanda.
My thanks to Lara Dulaney, Mary Graham, Stuart Bitting and Mike Hyatt for this once in a lifetime opportunity.


Blogger Michael S. Hyatt said...

Thanks for posting this, Tom. I very much enjoyed reading it. It is good preparation for my own trip to Africa next month.

Thanks for taking time to write this!

6:39 AM  

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