Rwanda is not far from one of the places we stayed in Uganda, so we did a day trip to visit the capital, Kigali. The city looked quite modern compared to other African cities. A lot of foreign aid donor money came into Rwanda after the war. We went to the Rwanda Genocide Memorial, which as you can imagine is a sad place. There were exhibits with testimony from survivors and rooms full of bones.  During 3 months in 1994, around 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda. The Children’s Room is particularly hard to take – it has photos of children with details about their lives and hopes (favorite food, what they wanted to be when they grew up) and then how they were killed.

Philip Gourevitch’s book, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families is one of the saddest I’ve ever read and outlines some of the events of the genocide. As usual, a lot of the blame for how things turned out in Africa can be put on the Europeans – in this case the Belgians and French. The Belgians created social divisions in colonial Rwanda, encouraging hatred between the Hutus and Tutsis. When the Belgians left, the rivalries intensified. The French helped train and continued to supply arms to those committing the genocide. After the Hutu president’s plane was shot down (most likely by Hutu military leaders who wanted to spark the genocide) Hutu forces executed as many Tutsis as they could find, along with Hutus opposed to the genocide. This led to Tutsi rebels in Uganda invading Rwanda, taking power and then invading the Congo in pursuit of fleeing Hutu forces. This led to the downfall of Mobutu’s dictatorship and the fracturing of the Congo state.

We also visited the Hôtel des Mille Collines (Hotel of 1000 Hills), better known as Hotel Rwanda. This is the hotel where the manager hid more than 1200 people, saving their lives. The story is featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda. (The actual hotel looks nothing like the one shown in the movie). As far as I could see, at the hotel now, there are no monuments or mentions of what happened during the war. It seems the hotel doesn’t want to be remembered for those events. We had a buffet lunch at the hotel (which was the best meal I’d had for a couple of months). It is an odd experience to enjoy such a lavish meal at such a sad place.

We also visited the memorial to the Belgian peacekeepers who were killed protecting the Rwandan prime minister (a woman who was assassinated because she was a moderate Hutu and opposed the genocide). Again, it’s something I have mixed feelings about. While of course, it’s good to remember people who died during their job, it does seem unbalanced to single out the 10 foreigners when so many other people died.


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The Sweet Life – PodCastle

I took this photo yesterday.

I know which way I’m going. Welcome to the bear trap.

Today my story, The Sweet Life, which originally appeared in Every Day Fiction was published in audio format in a special bear-themed issue of PodCastle.

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Gorillas in the River

After Tanzania it was on to Kenya where we visited Nairobi and did some more wildlife spotting.


Then it was on to Uganda and Kalinzu Forest Reserve. We went on a walk to see the chimps, but the most I saw was a faraway blurry black shape in the trees for a couple of seconds. We had some baboon visitors to our camp site though.


Fortunately the gorilla trek at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest was more successful. Permits to see the gorillas are expensive ($600 US), but it turned out to be the highlight of my Africa trip and one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. Tourists are divided into groups of 8 and assigned a gorilla family that has been habituated to human visitors. A couple of trackers set out ahead of the group and go to the location where the gorillas where the previous day, follow their trails and then radio back their location. We had a couple of guides with us and a couple of guards armed with machine guns (due to the threat of poachers and encountering other wild animals. Eight foreign tourists were killed in the forest by rebels in 1999).

Since the gorillas move around you don’t know how long the trek will take, but we were warned to prepare for a long walk and to bring plenty of water.


It took us 3 hours of walking through the forest, climbing up steep hills and crossing creeks, but we made it to our gorilla friends. They were moving around a lot and with the vegetation, it was difficult to get good photos of them, but it was wonderful to be so close to them. There was a silverback, a couple of females and a three-year-old baby. At one point the baby ran up and touched the knee of one of the girls in our group. We also saw two of the adults mating. The baby jumped on the back of the silverback while this was going on. Afterwards the silverback was about a metre away from me and the guide used his machete to lower some of the vegetation. The silverback had been about to eat that vegetation and he roared in disapproval. Having a wild silverback roar when it is standing a metre away from you is an interesting experience.




I also went river boarding on the Nile. The rest of the group went rafting or kayaking, the guide and I rode through the rapids clutching our boogie boards.


IMG_27901IMG_27905Ugandan Car-B-Que.IMG_27867

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