Hundreds of jubilant Rwandans were blasting air horns, cheering, and dancing greeted the Reconciliation's Reach at the Kigali international airport today. Boys with bright green wigs and gold jerseys alongside men with elaborate masks and children pounding drums all stood by as we exited the airport into the 80 degree dry, dusty sunshine.
While the crowd awaited the return of their victorious national soccer team, recent winners of a tournament in Sudan, we left to enter the heart of the capital city. Our driver Kalisa, from Nyamata Rwanda, dutifully answered most questions with a bright smile and a sincere, “no problem” as he wound his way through Kigali's hilly streets to meet our translator at our hotel for the night. After several stops and starts, an unexplained stop at the gas station, a chat with policemen (former colleagues) and a call for directions, we found Dora Urujeni. Dora is a presence, with her long flowing hair of tightly wound braids greeted us like old friends with hugs and welcomes.
Immediately, it's clear she can take charge and get things done. Dora, a former member of Parliament, shepherded us around the city expertly to take care of business, checking out apartments for the month, changing money, buying a cell phone (remarkably cheap and easy, 10,000 Rwandan Francs, about $14) and a visit to the national soccer stadium. The renovated green, yellow, and aqua stadium looks much like any other in the U.S. and it houses the Ministry of Sport & Culture. Inside, fortunately the Minister's assistant remembers our many emails and conversations and will deliver our film permit tomorrow. As anyone who visits the third world will tell you, rarely does anything happen fast here.
Over “African Tea”, a sort of chai with ginger, we learn that Dora, like nearly every Rwandan has a remarkable and tragic story of her own. She was born a refugee in the Congo, her parents fleeing to escape pogroms in the 1970s. She was only able to return to Rwanda after the genocide in 1994 when she was 17 years old. Numerous members of her family were killed. Now she works to teach young people, aged 15-34 how to build peace and transform conflict. After studies at SIT in Vermont she is now completing her practicum on that topic. We can tell there is much more to Dora's story that we will surely learn in the coming weeks.
After a very long day photographer Scott Ippolito, producer Bob Koenig, and I shared a dinner of roasted goat brochettes, delicious grilled fish—probably talapia, served whole with a pile of onions and a fiery hot sauce that left us all groping another sip of our 75 cent beers. Following nearly 24 hours on planes and about 2 days without good sleep we are ready for some sleep under our mosquito nets.
Tomorrow we'll visit the National Genocide Museum here in Kigali, where hundreds of thousands of victims have been laid to rest. We will continue to update you as much as possible. The internet is intermittent and slow, we hope to be able to transmit pictures soon!
--Adam Mazo, Director, Reconciliation's Reach