Jan 142012

First off a very fair warning:  This post will likely be a bit depressing, but as a famous quote says those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

Who goes to Rwanda on vacation?  After a massive genocide that left somewhere around 1 million dead (nearly 10% of the country’s population) Rwanda wasn’t exactly on most peoples’ tourist map.  Recently, the government changed the official language from French to English and has been on a major campaign of investment promotion, anti-corrpution, and doing “all the right things” to become a full member of the international community.  From what I saw, this is clearly a country that is going places, and if I had capital to invest it would certainly be high on my list.

That said, the ghosts of 1994 still haunt Rwanda, although it amazed me just how much people have moved on.  How can you see your neighbors, family, friends, etc butchered in such a brutal fashion, and just move on?  I’m not sure I’d be as brave as these people, and I have to admit I kind of fell in love with Rwanda.

Those of you who have seen the movie Hotel Rwanda will remember the Hotel des Milles Collines which was featured in the film.  After that movie, we couldn’t help but stay there.  I wasn’t in Rwanda when it happened, and to me this movie was the best impression I had of what 1994 meant in Rwanda.  Honestly, based on the hotel, you’d never have a clue what happened there.  I highly recommend the movie – we watched it again after the trip, and it really hit home.  The historical accuracy probably isn’t perfect, but I could feel it when I watched it, knowing I’d been there – it was a really cool experience unlike anything else!

We decided to hire a driver for our one full day there to really take us on the highlights, since they were a bit spread out.  It turned out to be the same hotel driver who’d picked us up from the airport the night before – and I honestly give high recommendations to the Milles Collines staff – they really arranged a top notch tour for our very short time there!

The first stop we made was the church at Ntarama.  I’m going to get the numbers terribly wrong, but at this church some thousands of people were massacred.  The idea was that once the genocide started, people fled to the church, feeling the church would protect them from the Interahamwe militias.  This didn’t happen, and thousands were murdered in the most horrific ways:  machetes, long wooden poles shoved into women from underneath until they went out the body/head, babies swung around in circles with heads smashed into stone walls, etc.  It was horrible, gruesome, and the bones are still piled in the church as a reminder.  It was honestly the most disturbing thing I think I’ve ever seen – but at the same time perfect.  It helped to give just a little glimpse into what had happened.  A few shots from the outside – to preserve the dignity of the victims filming inside the church was not allowed:

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Jan 082012

…but then again, I’m not right in the head. I was probably dropped as a child, or something similar, but something clearly isn’t quite right up there.

You might remember the last two years where I spent New Years Eve…yes, Iraq and then Iran/Afghanistan. I was taught in High School that things always seem to happen in threes…some sort of natural law thing. I had a good friend working in Djibouti, and that got my head to spinning…what’s perhaps the only place worse than Iraq and Afghanistan in the mind of most? Could I…I mean, Somalia is only about 20km from the capital of Djibouti!

Of course, when planning, that wouldn’t be enough. That would just be two new countries. I had to add more…and they couldn’t be boring. So, the final trip came out looking like a place of 8 years that normal people don’t spend new years:

1. Djibouti
2. Somalia
3. Ethiopia
4. Rwanda
5. Burundi
6. Kenya
7. Egypt
8. Yemen

Now, I admit normally a couple of these are a little tame. But Egypt’s been more than a little exciting lately, and Kenya is all a-twitter about Al Shabaab reprisals. So that made things a little more exciting. Things got more exciting when Yemen pulled my transit visa…boo hiss! Must find another way from Addis to Cairo. A normal person would have booked the direct flight even though it was at 3am. Nope, that wouldn’t do.

So Yemen was replaced with the world’s newest country: South Sudan!

Sit back, buckle up (well, unless you’re on the one of my flights that didn’t have seat belts, and prepare for a very very wild ride!