May, 2019 back to Jul, 2010: (nothing)
Julius, Carleton University's Rwandan superhero, invited me to visit his family in Uganda.
Crossing from Rwanda into Uganda, the road becomes unpaved and the border officials and bus ticket vendors happily try and scam you.
The pineapples become tastier, too.
Bananas spring up everywhere. Even Rwandans agree the matoke (mashed banana, Uganda's staple food) carries more flavour on this side of the border.
Peter Erlinder presented his defense with his Kenyan lawyers in High Court on Monday.
As a guest and journalist in Rwanda, I've been trying to find an expert on the Erlinder case who can explain to the world what's going on in court.
There may be such an expert, but I don't know who it is. So here's what I know, having attended Erlinder's hearings.
What is Peter Erlinder's crime?
If you know the president is coming, there are two ways to get his picture:
- Buy an expensive telephoto lens
- Run around like crazy
I'm a very nascent photo-journalist, so I can't do either very well. But I worked on the latter at today's gorilla-naming ceremony.
(Or, yes, you can just walk up to Don Cheadle and ask for his picture. Some Japanese guests and all my housemates did that. But those pictures just aren't as interesting to me.)
Bitenga is about as remote a village as you can find in Rwanda, and I needed to be in Kigali as quickly as possible.
Five hours in minibuses and two hours of uphill walking had gotten me here, but as a journalist I had failed. The village next door had been displaced into Bitenga to make way for trees and chimpanzees, but I couldn't report on it: as I walked towards the villagers' new homes, I was firmly redirected to an official's bedroom, where the dozing authority called his faraway boss and told me I couldn't interview anybody without permission.
Off the record, the village is a journalistic treasure. There are winners and losers, but nobody dares put a name next to a complaint for fear of making life worse. Several people told me, "come back with permission and I'll tell you all about it."
These new homes shelter untold stories. It's a pity I couldn't tell them.
I visited Gihembe refugee camp yesterday, about 50 kilometres north of Kigali. And I took photographs.
The back-story: in Democratic Republic of the Congo, about 100 kilometres west, tens of thousands of Congolese face the same tensions that contributed to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In 1996 violence erupted on that side of the border, and Rwanda hosts over 50,000 refugees from that conflict who fear they will die if they return home. The Gihembe camp houses about 20,000 of those refugees.
(Politics drive the story, but this post is supposed to be about beauty and the very word "politics" seems to terrify millions in Rwanda; so let's ignore all that for today and focus on my fledgling photography skills.)
The refugee camp is perched at a peak that collects a rainy hug as toll from every passing cloud. The weather can swing from glorious to gloomy and back in an hour.
"You are a slow learner, Winston," said O'Brien gently.
"How can I help it?" he blubbered. "How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four."
"Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane."
I relived George Orwell's terrifying scene from 1984 last week.
I was at the border and there were two customs officers.
The government said there were four.
If I try to interview anybody aside from a government spokesperson, I may find out that:
Information obtained from another party is regarded as being unofficial and whoever has given out such information is liable to the likely consequences for the damages caused.
Information ... is delivered through proper channels (so that) we can ensure that the journalists have been given well researched information.
Or as one potential source told me:
At 2 o'clock Sunday morning, in the pouring rain, I took a motorcycle taxi back from the Congolese border to my guest house.
I dismounted before arriving so my moto driver could take on another fare (another white person, even). I continued by foot in the dark, leaping over the rivers made by the rain.
I looked for a doorbell at the guest house gate, but there wasn't one. I rattled the door and waited as the rain delved deeper into my clothing.
The guard must not have heard me. I banged the door again and called the two phone numbers painted on the sign. The first rang ten times with no answer; the second was disconnected.
A gardener works while Laurent Nkunda's wife and lawyer discuss the proceedings.
Outside the courtroom at alleged war-criminal Laurent Nkunda's trial, two gardeners knelt and snipped the lawn with shears.
It was a typical press event: around a hundred friends, family, concerned citizens and journalists crammed into the military courtroom this morning in hopes that Nkunda, held prisoner somewhere in Kigali, would appear. His absence quashed journalists' hopes like a defused bomb.
It didn't stop the gardeners from snipping.
Road in Kimihurura (a neighbourhood in Kigali) at night.
I must have been asked the question a thousand times, but I never know how to answer.
"How do you find Rwanda compares with other countries in East Africa?"
Luckily, this time around I could turn the question back on its asker. Our night guard, Moses, was born in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and has lived in western Tanzania as well. He settled halfway between in his fatherland, Rwanda, after the war in 1994.