It's a tiny little country that no longer draws much attention, but there were points in time when the tiny country of Rwanda was all over the news. Virtually none of the news was good for a good many years, and as a result, people sometimes get the wrong impression of this tiny African country. Through gorilla poaching, the killing of Diane Fossey, the AIDS epidemic, and the genocide during the 1990's; this little country had a lot going on for it's size. But did any of us really understand this country? And what is life like there now?
Let's start with Kigali, the nation's capital. This city has gone through a lot. But, they are becoming very modern. The city is coming into the 21st century in a big way.
1994 brought about the genocide that we all heard about in the news. Being in America, it was sobering, yet it seemed so far away that it was like it wasn't real. It was real. 259,000 people were killed in only a few months in the Hutu attempt to wipe out the Tutsis. Today in Kigali there is the Genocide Memorial. It is believed that several thousand people are buried in the space that the memorial occupies. As with any memorial of this kind that I have visited; it feels real when you see it up close and personal. The good news with this abysmal piece of history is that the people are getting past it. I would love to say that they are all over it, but I can't believe that it's that simple. Out of respect, if you visit the country; you should visit this memorial. I always say that you should learn some history when visiting a country.
Another site to see in Kigali is the former Presidential Palace. This is the other side of the war. This was once the home of Hutu former President Juvenal Habyarimana. There are several exhibits at what is now called the State House Museum, including pieces of the former President's plane which was shot down killing the President. It's an interesting look at pre genocide history. It's one more thing that helps us to understand the complex history of a fascinating country.
The Tutsis were at the epicenter of the genocide and once again, they are a complex bunch. The Hutu people and the Tutsi have long since been enemies and after the assassination of the President, war was on. Decades later, the Tutsis invite tourists into their villages and teach them about their culture. It's a far cry from the lives that they once led. It's amazing to see how they have survived.
But the biggest tourist draw in Rwanda still remains in the world of the volcanoes. Volcanoes National Park is a beautiful park full of wildlife, trails, flora, fauna, and cultural experiences. You can take any of a number of safaris in this park and see all kinds of animals. You have all the animals that you would expect to see on an African safari like Giraffe, Antelope, Zebras and yes, Monkeys and Gorillas.
"Gorillas in the Mist" was the movie that we all saw that taught us about the plight of the Mountain Gorillas of Eastern Africa. They were hunted nearly to extinction. They live in the cloud forests of not only Rwanda, but also Burundi, Tanzania, DRC, and Kenya. This forested area that falls in these countries is the only place in the world where these animals exist. Back in the 1960's, Diane Fossey took up the cause to make sure that these majestic animals could live safely in the forest. She worked tirelessly her entire life to make sure that these animals could be safe and flourish in their home. She was killed in 1985, but her work lives on through the Diane Fossey Foundation. In Volcanoes National Park, you can learn all about her work.
What else can you do there? You can book a guided walk into the world of the Mountain Gorilla. The walk is one of the most memorable experiences you will ever have. The gorillas after many years of being protected and seeing humans, have become far less shy than they used to be. Mothers will let their babies play right in sight of us humans. It's a great time to go and see these amazing animals. The walk can only be taken with a guide, and it does take a few hours to do it right. It's worth it.
If you do take the time to go into the forest, make sure you keep an eye out for another famous resident of the forest, the Golden Monkey. They also only live there.
Rwanda is an amazing country that has overcome some great atrocities to come into the 21st century on the right path. The Tutsis are thriving, the cities are improving, and the gorillas are getting used to being looked at instead of shot at. I've only mentioned a very few amazing things that you can see and do in this incredible tiny country. Rwanda has gone from one of the most dangerous countries to one of the safest. Take an incredible journey and see a place that is nothing like it was 20 years ago. See the result of a people that decided that they had had enough and that it was time to move forward and make it better. Come and meet the friendly, outgoing, empowered people of Rwanda. And don't forget to visit the cloud forest and the amazing wildlife that lives there as well. Enjoy!