The Land of A Thousand Hills-Rwanda

Exactly a year ago today, I was on a plane to Rwanda, Africa with minimal expectations, not anticipating the immense impact this trip would have on my life.

When you think of Africa, what is the first thing you think of, honestly? What picture do you have in your head?

It may be the starving children that television is keen on showing you or crumbled houses and filth or if you have had the privilege of going to a country in Africa or choose not to be ignorant, you may have a different image.  But what I imagined before going was along the lines of what I mentioned. And that may be the reality in some places in Africa, but thats the reality in a whole bunch of other places in Europe, Asia, The Americas, its not just Africa. They want us to label Africa as a place of filth and hunger, to make black people ashamed of where they came from, ashamed to claim what runs through their blood. And I have never been more proud. I visited and my first impression was wow, this place is clean. And as someone who lives in nyc, it was immaculately clean. They do not even let plastic in their countries because they cannot decompose.

20151231_091453The trip was 2 and a half weeks long with a group of people from my school. I always wanted to travel through my school but wanted to avoid study abroad. When I traveled, I wanted to be immersed in the culture as much as possible and didnt really want to focus on my studies whilst there. And this trip was exactly what I wanted and the people I went with made it even more incredible. Our goal was to put on a play to the groups of people we visited, encouraging other people to share their stories and share their voice for something good in hopes of changing and having a positive impact in this world.

I’d share a few of my highlights as we did so much in Rwanda.

We visited Azizi and visited the homes of some nearby women in the village. We cooked with them, made our own bracelets, danced and sang, fetched water and ate. I think I made the most connections at Azizi. The girl on the left is my long long sister (not actually), Bora. And she is a year older than me. We instantly connected, was doing little dances with each other and one moment, she was helping me make my bracelet and said, “I’m so glad that I met you.” And that will always stick with me. She was so sweet. She jotted down my email but it was also on a really old phone so Im not sure if she was able to email but I was always have this girl and experience in my heart.

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We also went monkey trekking and to a safari. We went monkey trekking the day after it rained so it was so difficult trying to trek up hills, especially with jeans on. But the experience was awesome.  We went to the safari twice and the bliss was unbelievable. My best friend and I lucked out and got to ride in the only truck that had a rooftop where we were able to sit on and that was my favorite part. No barriers, no boundaries, on top of the car, watching the animals in their natural habitat in glorious weather and the beautiful sunset. It was magical and if you ever have a chance to go on an African safari, I highly recommend.

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The last experience I’ll share was our visit to Rwanda’s TIG prison camp. There are so many prisons in this country and other countries that can be reformed. But I had been so used to America’s prison system, I didnt know there was any other way.These prisoners were working when we got to them, out in the open, not trapped behind bars. We put on the play for them and had conversations with them after.  These men were perpetrators during the 1994 genocide. We all have connotations of murderers, rapists and criminals. Speaking to these men helped personalize their stories. Not by any means does it justify their actions, but we often forget these people are humans, fathers, sons, uncles who experience emotions and feelings. We often dehumanize criminals but this system is focused on rehabilitation and reconciliation and these men help rebuild the land they destroyed. To specify, this camp is specifically for those who have confessed to their actions and apologize to the victim’s families for for their wrongdoings during the genocide. These men can go home several times a year for weddings, funerals, and to visit their family. That was incredible to me because in America, we assume if we let out criminals out for a second, they will flee but these men always returned, knowing this camp was helping them. And my outlook on our prison system was completely changed.

There was one moment when Drew, the gracious man who was in charge of the entire trip, was informing the prisoners of America’s prison system and how dehumanizing it is. How these men are trapped behind bars, abused physically and mentally, and treated like animals.  And they said something along the lines of, “Im sorry, we have hope for you.” And these men who brutally murdered innocent people during one of the biggest genocides was telling us Americans that he had hope for us that we can be better. This is when I learned what it meant to be forgiving, to learn from your past and how to be a better person and live with intent and purpose. Additionally, in the hostel we stayed, at the woman who worked there said, “they have served their time. Let them go.” This was a woman who had her family killed by the same people and she felt bad that they were still in prison. This type of forgiving nature and understanding was so unfamiliar and unbelievable to me.

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I often find it incredibly difficult to put into words my experience but it gave me so much insight and helped me look at my own country in a different way. I have shed my egocentric view of America being the best, have learned to be more personable and understanding and not feed into information Im immediately fed. I often feel I left my heart in Rwanda with the people I’ve met and the experience  I’ve had.

One of the spoken word pieces I wrote for a presentation I did about Rwanda:

The core of most issues in the world is the lack of recognizing another’s humanness

From police brutality, bullying, murder is because peoples dont recognize this

We may not know everyone in the world and not like everyone but we are all human

All skeletons with skin and flesh

It sucks that we may not see how lucky we’re blessed

We’ve been placed on this Earth and all have purpose

With compassion and openness, that purpose will surface

But barriers and roadblocks stop us along the way

We get distracted and blinded of our purpose and it causes a delay

Violence may stir from anger and jealousy or it may be we’re guilted into it. Or emotions get the best of us.

We need to have a foundation of love and trust

But how far can trust go, because Rwandans trusted each other and the genocide still took place

but it was the fear to embrace what you’re being told is different.

We have some of our police killing unarmed black kids because of the color of the skin, saying, “he was a threat”

They’ve been conditioned to have an intolerant mindset

To feed into these stereotypes and assume theyre right and kill those they dont like.

There was life on this planet before humans and there will be a life after.

We have claimed this world as ours as if we’re the headmasters

We disregard people, hurt them for greed and bites off the hand that feeds our  very being.

We need to be accepting and loving of those who are different

We tend to not accept what we dont know and dont understand

But thats not a reason to get out of hand and demand a man rid himself of this land because this world is grand enough for us to coexist.

There was a quote in the Belgium memorial in Rwanda that says, “It a crime against humanity to be accused of being born”

It is not my fault that my skin is brown, its not his fault that the system is rooted against him.

But people with privilege and power need to use their power and privilege and voice for those who cant

Because we are better than this and capable of more than this and can change more this this, if we defy barriers and recognize each others humanness.

 

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