Oct, 2019 back to Sep, 2010: (nothing)
I'm going home.
Flying away makes me examine my experiences. I reflect and reflect until I worry the mirrors inside me will shatter from over-thought.
To the countless greens of Rwanda, the dusty infinities of Tanzania, the blissful bananas of Uganda, the recently-peaceful politics of Kenya, the picture-perfect beaches of Zanzibar and the friends and strangers who unify and diversify the land with all with your culture, beauty and warmth: kwa heri.
Warning: this entry is graphic, but it's not illustrated and it's not happy. I suggest you skip it if you don't like morocity. Morose-ness. Whatever.
I've promised myself I'd keep pristine memories many times: my first kiss, my first visit to a refugee camp, my first near-death experience, and just last week, my closest view of a death.
But even this latest one is blurring already, just like all my other memories.
It was on an express bus from Kenya to Uganda, and I can't remember which country we were in. I was in the front row. The bus slowed as we approached a village, and we saw crowds up ahead. I remember colours: women wearing colourful vitenge and buildings wearing colourful cell-phone advertisements. I can't remember which colours or which cell-phone companies.
Aug, 2010 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: