Murakaza neza (Welcome): First Day In Kigali--Salisa
I have never felt so welcomed in any space, Rwandans really know how to make you feel special, like family. I am happy to say that the joy that I felt overtaking me as we landed in Kigali last night is still floating around my stomach and spilling from my smile. I am so happy to be here, so happy. I am constantly trying to control my urge to scream and sing and dance. I'm in AFRICA, the Motherland.
Today we took a two hour tour around Kigali which is where we will be staying for a good chunk of our stay in Rwanda. It was pleasing to hear Rwandan history from Rwandans first hand and not simply from books or people who have studied or lived in Rwanda for short durations. Giselle (one of our guides) told us a bit about pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial Rwanda as well as pre and post-genocide Rwanda. Our guides are kind people who smile and laugh with us and thank us a lot. I try to thank them at least as much as they thank us, they have to put up with 14 inquisitive Americans for the next two weeks so I appreciate them.
I was very conscious of looking and feeling like a tourist today so I was extremely happy to be received so well by so many. As a Black American woman, I have made Africa very much a part of my identity, and yet there is that subtle fear that the love that we, as African Americans who were stolen from Africa and know only America as home, have for Africa will be only a romanticized dream of a home that was lost so long ago. After today I know more now than ever that this is not true. When I look at the beautiful people of Rwanda I see people who look like me, people who look like those that I know and love back in the U.S. And when they see me, many of them see an African woman, not unlike their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, and friends, which is what I am. While I know and understand the differences and the cultural context that is at play (because I know that I am not Rwandan and that I was indeed born in the U.S.) I no longer fear that Africa is not for me to call home, my ancestors called it home and I will never trade that for the title of "American" alone. So much has been confirmed for me today and my heart is the fullest that it has ever been.
While on our tour we visited the Belgian Troop Memorial where 10 Belgian troops were killed in 1994 which was very moving and unsettling at the same time, as well as the Hotel des Milles Collines where approximately 1,200 Rwandans were saved and where the movie Hotel Rwanda is set. We will be returning to the hotel on Friday for the afternoon. One thing that I appreciated about the Belgian Troop Memorial was a display of global genocides that was hung on a wall inside. This display illustrated all global genocides that they recognized, and it included North America on the list of genocides beginning in 1492 and with no end date. I appreciated this because in America we are often quick to turn our noses up and look down upon other nations with difficult histories yet in my opinion we have so much of our own mess to be concerned about before passing judgement on others.
After the tour of Kigali we visited Les Enfants de Dieu which is a youth center for Rwandan street boys. That organization was so amazing. They greeted us with a dance and pulled some of us in to dance with them. The little girl that I danced with had the smile of an angel and when she grabbed my hand I felt like I was flying. There we learned about the history of the center from their project manager, a man with so much joy in his eyes that I instantly liked him. We met the students and were welcomed by one of the eight youth ministers before we had lunch with the boys and some of the girls who came for the dance.
We met so many wonderful young men today. We talked about everything from Nicki Minaj to Kobe Bryant to nationalities. Many of the boys were taken aback that I, a Black woman, was also American and even more so that I was born in the U.S., and even further more so that my mother was also born in the U.S. One of the young men, the minister of administration who welcomed us to lunch addressed Jasmyne and I in Kinyarwandan which is the native language of Rwandans. He assumed that we were Rwandan and one young man even exclaimed, "But you're Black, aren't you African?!" To which I replied, "Yes, I am, I'm African American." Identity is oh so interesting and I learned so much from these young men today.
We had dinner at a beautiful Italian restaurant close to our hotel called O Sole Luna and finished the night with a nice walk around the area. The night was beautiful, the day was beautiful, Rwanda is so beautiful.
Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!
From the Land of a Thousand Hills,