I recently watched that movie made in the 1980’s called Out of Africa with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep.
Oh Meryl, she is eternal.
Why I say that is, it reminds me of the time I went to Rwanda, back in 2013. On a Cultural Intensive trip with my fellow students of Liberty University.
Instead of Out of Africa. I was trying my best to get to Africa, but that wasn’t as easy at some would seem.
As the only Canadian student on this American based school trip, I met the others in Washington D.C. for the first time as we planned to meet the team, check in and board the plane to Kigali.
Doing a Master’s in Global Studies at the time, I was eager to meet other students interested in social justice, missions, culture, specifically to a nation that had been through a horrific genocide almost 20 years ago at this point.
Of course travel doesn’t necessary goes as planned. As we got ourselves situated, the remainder of the team came together and check in, making their way to the gate . When it got to me, the airline hostess said I couldn’t board this plane.
I didn’t have the necessary visa to travel to Rwanda.
What about anyone else?? I thought.
You see, every one else was American. Apparently Canadian travellers needed a specific visa to enter the central African country.
Crap. So now what? I’m stuck in the airport made famous by Die Hard, with out visa, and without hope and without the help of Bruce Willis. I’m I actually going to make it to this trip?
yes, Out of Africa
Of course the trip leaders were extremely sorry, extremely confused and extremely lost at what to do. Phone calls were made to main campus about Canadian travellers and the best they could do would be to put me up in a hotel for the night, and try to contact the Rwandan embassy to speed up a visa process for me. Being Saturday night, the hopes of that happening was pretty low. Their offices probably wouldn’t be open until Monday, and that’s Africa time where nothing is really rushed.
So, out of Africa I was, stuck in D.C. where I went back to the hotel by myself, and wondered what to do. I called all my family and friends, not to freak out or worry but simply pray as I am stuck in the American capital with no word weather I will be going to Rwanda. Everyone was sympathetic, but I kept tight to hope as I thought how my team would be over the Atlantic by now.
The amazing thing about this story was the support and community that came around me as I was in the hotel. A couple from the University and Global Department Head and his wife came up through the state, took me out for dinner, and toured me around D.C.! An amazing friendship was made through this couple and I couldn’t help think it would lead to bigger and better things. (link to Israel blog)
Sometimes when your plan gets shot, there are bigger things on the horizon.
The couple made me at home in D.C. and not long after this delay I heard early Sunday morning that the Rwandan Embassy approved my tourist visa and I’d be able to join my team Monday evening.
My new friends drove me to the airport, and continually blessed me, almost like a set of parents, but I knew God was seriously taking care of me.
My first leg of the journey began to Amsterdam. Good-bye America, good by Bruce Willis and hello Europe!
My layover was at the Amsterdam airport and with a few hours to kill I took my time wandering around the shopping centres. Amsterdam is known to have some of the best airport shopping in the world!
Browsing the fine food section a girl caught my eye. Wow that looks a lot like Katie Holmes...
Man, I think that’s Katie Holmes!!
Dang, Katie Holmes is in the fine food section sniffing out great cheeses. Instantly I had to take a non-creeper-esque photo for my friends.
I can’t remember if snapchat was a thing back then, but I found the nearest wifi to spread the start sighting.
I never seem to find myself in a place of the stars, except that time Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz were buying gluten free products at my local Whole Foods. Right place right time I guess.
Where is this trip going I wondered. Finally I got to my gate, and 8 hours later arrived in Kigali for the first time. I got out of the tiny terminal and wondered how I was going to meet up with the group. It was a dark night, there was hardly any lights, everything was so brown and simplistic. There was nothing flashy, I felt like I got dropped off in a desert. I picked up my bags and let the new place and faces sink in. Everywhere smelt like campfires, but a clean air smell. I felt so nervous! Everyone was typicallyyoung working at the airport, tall skinny and black. I saw a tall girl who was looking at me, she started speaking broken English and showed a sign that said Brittany. Seems right I thought! Really hoping I followed the right person, I got into the car and hoped they were taking me to the Liberty group and didn’t have plans to kidnap me. I stopped my mind for wondering, I’ve gotten this far. As we buzzed through Kigali it brought me back to Nadi, Fiji. Women walking around with large baskets on their heads, youth walking around the street, open aired windows and doors, not as poor at first glance yet the city spanned further than I expected.
When I got to the place we were staying, I cried when I entered the room as the entire group was there waiting for me with open arms, they screamed as I walked into the door from my flight. What love, girls are introducing themselves to me left and right it couldn't feel more like a family. With a combination of tiredness and overwhelming love it brought me to tears, I sat down to a quick meal after eating non stop on the plane, it was fried banana, chicken, bread, rice, and french fries.
Jumping into the itinerary our first stop was the widows village, and then onto a jail to visit with children of incarcerated parents. Rwanda is one of the most cleanest and safest countries in Africa. A lot has turned around since the genocide.
With their history, I believe the Rwandan people are the biggest examples of conquerors.
Workers will tell you there are 8 points of reduction that are the focuses in Rwanda:
- death of children under five
- death of women who are pregnant
- education for all
I remember visiting the villages, the orphanages, some mothers would ask me to give them money for their kids. How could I give to a whole village. My heart was stumped.
I found myselfuneasy at times because I didn't know how to handle the cultural difference.
I wish I knew why they were so touchy, but I was told many kids lack affection, as the women lack resources. They can't get to town, they have no husbands. We could potentially be their only hope for education.
They kids kept petting my hair and my skin! The were obsessed with red hair. The language barrier was difficult but some of them knew French, and only the kids that were educated could speak English. They were fascinated with my camera, practically stealing it off my neck. Their faces lit up when you would show them the photo you just took, most of them have never seen anything like it, or even a mirror image of themselves!
Exiting the villages, we went into Kigali. A different lifestyle. Not everyone is Rwanda is without, the city is full of workers and students who look very civilized and professional. Most buildings are gated, some with barbed wire. Entering the mall and large public buildings are guards with rifles and they check every bag you bring in. The locals reactions are usually pretty neutral. I think I've probably only seen 2 white people. We have a translator named Justin who is in his mid twenties, his entire family was killed in the genocide, he says he remembers parts of it. When I pass older people I wonder if they too lived through it.
Our trip encompassed much learning, much dialogue, presentations from village elders, dancing, and a heavy look at the effects of the genocide. Many sacred places of churches, fields, villages and memorials are not to be filmed but kept sacred.
Majority of Rwanda's population is rural and lives with family among the hillsides outside of the city. Kigali, being the capital of Rwanda has over 600,000 inhabitants with industry focused on shoe paint and varnish, radio-assembly and tanning factories. During the genocide of 1994, more than 800,000 civilians were killed and over two million Rwandans, both Hutu and Tutsi fled the country. The country faced and still faces trial for many people who were involved in the killings of the genocide. As of 2002 the government proposed trying cases through a different judicial system: gacaca courts.
Our trip turned. As we let all we learned sink in, it was time to experience a natural beauty in Africa. Akagara National Park (link) via Safari.
Everest is our travel guide, who loves to sink. We roam the African plains, sinking and thinking constantly of Lion King. I wouldn’t be truthful if I said the ride was easy. It was off-roading at it’s finest. With muddy landscapes, endless savannahs, wildlife sightings and also getting stuck in the mud.
I’m serious this story never ends. We were stuck in the middle of the African plains, really hoping nothing would immerge from the bush and attack.
One can only hope Robert Redford was near by!
After an 1 and a 1/2 of waiting, getting in contact with the additional tour guide, we pushed and dug our way out of the muddy plains, injury free. Just a lifetime of memories.
Hippos, Zebras, Water buffalos, Giraffes.
I’m glad our trip leaders acknowledged to us that our time in Rwanda is an exposure, it’s an education, we aren’t going to change the world in 2 weeks. They reminded us this short term trip is for purpose, you are meant to be here for a reason. What will you do with what you’ve experienced?
What can the world learn from Rwanda?
To not forgive: you loose twice.
I’ve learnt nothing is unforgivable. Unredeemable or without healing.
Forgive and redeem the whole you again.
Hope can be found in the least likely of places. Even when you think you won’t get a visa.
We were made for each other, relationships and community. Let the people that surround you be the ones who lift you up, and shape your lives around a cause and a purpose, not of yourself, but of selflessness. Being consumed about the care of the world, the care of your community, for that is where fullness of life is found, and that is what Rwanda has taught me.
I have to be consumed by what I think will benefit others.
- Bishop John (LINK)
As I flew back with the team to Amsterdam, the fog lifted and I saw dazzling Christmas trees peeking through the windows of the airport. What a culture shock from where I just was.
Turongera Rwanda, thank you.