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Rwanda · 2017 three women and a dozen hills
It’s easy to talk a great deal in hindsight, but it’s hard to interpret Rwanda’s today without leaning on its past. Especially, since that past is so unfathomably young. Beneath all the calm, gentleness, tidiness, security, order, art, modernity, and progressiveness that the reincarnated Rwanda was made of, there was a crackling frost, as though an entire nation was walking on frozen eggshells. The shock still reverberated in the collective consciousness, arresting all those melodic African fluctuations and vibrations to a certain degree of caution and hesitancy. The nation didn’t seem to know exactly where it was going yet, but every move was chosen carefully and pointed towards, not backwards. Often on a bicycle. A lesson, maybe the lesson, had been learned the hard way: unity over division. Little Rwanda was the continent’s spleen – a nation that had managed to filter out much of the bad blood European’s had injected. The cultural, political, and economical cleansing was spearheaded by Rwanda’s semi-benevolent de-facto dictator who seemed to do a good job by bad means. By the time I got there, Rwanda had already banned plastic bags, miles ahead of most countries. Good. But with the upcoming 2017 election I also saw a very one-sided, lopsided political stage that was plastered with heavy RPF propaganda and nothing else. Bad. But I’m painting black and white over the colorful canvas that is Rwanda. Mostly green.
glimpse: EXPLOSIVE DIVE | A Lake that erupts is a lake I cannot imagine even with my eyes on it and my body in it. But Lake Kivu is that lake. Literally, counterintuitively, oxymoron-free. Straddling the border of Rwanda and DR Congo, it undergoes so-called limnic eruptions – an exceptionally rare type of natural disaster and lonely fate it shares with only two other lakes. These explosive bodies of water have large amounts of CO2 bottled up in their pressurized depths – think soda bottle – and can release sudden gas clouds when set off by natural events in the area. “Lake overturn” sounds harmless enough, but translates to “asphyxiation for whatever breathes nearby,” as has happened in the 1980s with Kivu’s Camaroonian cousins Lake Monoun and Lake Nyos. Human and animal casualties were in the thousands for Lake Nyos, but compared to Kivu, Nyos is a puddle, out-volumed several thousand times over. Lake Kivu is thought to erupt in millennial intervals, but it doesn’t look like anybody is expecting the end of this round anytime soon. And so the millions of lives around the lake are lived and died ordinarily for now, day in, day out, swim in, swim out.
glimpse: MANMADE THORN | It was when they crossed that fat line between having and having too much that the dread set in. Suddenly, those with nothing looked like they had nothing to lose. The status quo begged for a line to be drawn, between them and them, a twisted barbed wire frontier to keep out those who were the other simply by being on the other side. Scaring off whoever phantom they feared, the fear they instilled was distilled from their own, beginning and ending a cycle as round and vicious as that spool of fencing with its manmade thorns, brutal agents of petty intimidation. Running it along those twigs, they did not try to camouflage the threat, but to conceal the ugliness of their new nature from themselves.
Rwanda · 2017 fleeting figures
Rwanda · 2017 the hills had Kagame written all over them
places / stories
places / stories
Kigali / Unimaginable Realities
Kigali / Rwanda · 2017 fun bunch
Unassuming and soft, I liked Kigali the way one likes spring. It was a quiet and neat place where the crazes and buzzes were most moderate, even when riding the back of a boda boda (moto-taxi). It was as though everybody was holding back a bit. You didn’t have to go to the genocide museum to feel the chill that remained in the air. You couldn’t imagine what had happened, couldn’t fit the dimensions into the mind’s tight faculties, and the heart couldn’t be quite agonized, sad, and heavy enough given the gravity. Only the soul had a firm understanding of it, somewhere deep down.
Kigali / Rwanda · 2017 art in the making
Kigali / Rwanda · 2017 the art of sound
The art was young and fresh, the architecture modest but well-off for the most part.
Kigali / Rwanda · 2017 home, office
Kigali / Rwanda · 2017 houses here, housing there
Kigali / Rwanda · 2017 dance fans
Gisenyi / Congolese Border Misadventure
Gisenyi / Rwanda · 2017 two mothers, two babies, two hundred bananas
I don’t know in which rotten part of my brain the idea had festered, but for some reason I wanted to sneak into the DRC. Just for a little stroll. The Congo, a shade darker, Africa’s conflicted heart, riddled by one episode after another. I did not belong there. That was the point. A visa would have been ballast.
I don’t recall if this was the only reason I had come to Gisenyi, the little Rwandan town that melted into Goma on the Congolese side, but there seems to be no evidence in my memories that I did anything else there.
Gisenyi / Rwanda · 2017 crescent bay
Gisenyi / Rwanda · 2017 lakeside road
On day one I went to the official border crossing to get my bearings. I walked into the building and peeked across the parking lot into the promised land. When I wanted to leave, I got into some mild trouble because I couldn’t produce my passport. A border official wasn’t loving my “just went for a walk.” After some ten minutes he let me go under the condition that I would return to the lake now. The lake. I’d been. You could see the DRC from there. Maybe the easiest way was to swim right in. Following protocol, I left towards the lake until I was out of sight. Then I took a turn and continued north on a street that ran parallel to that strict, concrete border wall. At every cross street I glanced down, and I was sure to have seen at least one street that went straight through the wall without any boom barrier. It was getting late, so I rescheduled my attempt for the next day.
That day I went down one of the cross streets towards the wall. I thought it would join a dirt road that ran right along the wall, but it was just a patch of no man's land, perched between the two countries. I took out my camera to get a shot and as my shutter snapped, I spotted a little border patrol post, and that’s when they spotted me. Three soldiers with machine guns approached and made me explain. Fair enough. I played dumb with a side of naive and the guy in charge was awfully nice about it. He did have to confiscate my camera and call his superior though, who was a different story. When I told him that I was just meandering and that I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the no man’s land and the wall, he called me a liar. Not a good sign, especially since I didn’t have any other truth to offer. Obviously, I denied any intent of crossing the border. Now that was a lie, but that he could believe. Unfortunately, it didn’t help that I didn’t have my passport on me, again.
They climbed up the chain of command a little higher still, but the rough guy’s superior didn’t bother showing up in person. Must have been more of a phone-matter to him. They erased the picture, and some fifteen or sixteen minutes of interrogation later I was allowed to leave: “go to the lake, take pictures, never come back here, or we have to punish you, by law.” That was clear enough. I restored the picture later that day, but part of it was lost forever. Curiously enough, that part is tinted in army green.
Gisenyi / Rwanda · 2017 restored wall
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