Running in Rwanda
“Twenty-five years and my life is still trying to get up that great big hill of hope for a destination.”
4 Non Blondes
Here there is no need for an alarm. Before first light an aviary aria begins with the shrill cry of an Ibis that pierces through what remains of the night. It is closely followed by the low of cows let out to pasture in the fields on the other side of the creek. Before long the bleating of goats rises above the hushed voices of farmers whose days have already begun. Cacophanous, melodic, chaotic and serene, these are the diurnal noises of Rwanda that indicate that it is time to wake up. The athlete inside of me knows this so I climb out of bed, lace up my sneakers and make my way to the road.
Living on the middle of a hill I am faced with only two choices; to go up or to go down and whichever way I choose the opposite becomes true on the return. But no matter which direction I go I am always called geka, or slowby those already out on the road.* The city of Musanze, with a population density of roughly one thousand people per square mile, ensures that, even on these “quiet” morning runs, you are never alone.
On the way up I am passed by men, young and old, riding their single speed bicycles. Sometimes they are alone and sometimes they carry passengers, but always, the evenness of their pedalstrokes fails to reveal the burdens they bear. Those that transport foodstuffs from Musanze to their villages above smile as they push their way up the incline as if the job of ten men being accomplished by two was no Herculean feat.
On the way down I am joined by schoolchildren in uniforms of green and white. The girls laughing and the sound of their slippers flipping and flopping against the pavement matches the thumping of my heart and lungs. When the boys join in it becomes an unofficial race; me unwilling to admit that I am more than twice their age, them unwilling to concede victory to a Muchechu.**
For the first few days I tried to differentiate between those who are Hutu and those that are Tutsi.*** But you can only do this for so long because it is enough to drive you mad with fear, sadness and grief. Somewhere along the road I stopped trying to guess who was a Tutsi and who was a Hutu because they are all Rwandan and they are all, in one way or another, survivors. This is not to detract from the violence that claimed the lives of almost one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994 and the years that followed, it is merely an observation that after the genocide everyone in Rwanda, whether guilty or innocent, was tasked with rebuilding a nation whose very foundations no longer existed.
Twenty years on Rwandans must continue to live together side by side regardless of the past. In order to do so they must forgive the unforgivable. Running along these roads I question my own capacity to forgive and I fear that I hold on more often than I let go...
This is only my brief encounter with a reality that Rwandans face day in and day out. For this is where they live. This is where they work. This is where they pray. And these hills are are where they bring forth new life everyday in the hope that history will never, ever repeat itself.
Along these roads there are lessons to be learned: There is no going back. There is only going forward.
And like me, these Rwandans are just trying to get up the hill.
*I want to make excuses, to tell the ones that called me slow that the elevation that I now found myself at was a mile higher than the sea level that my body had grown accustomed to on the east coast of the United States but excuses serve no purpose on these hills.
** Muchechu is a Rwandan term of endearment designated to old women. Let it be known that at the time of this writing that the author is thirty-three years of age and while no means old, has perhaps past her prime as an athlete. Also, the spelling for these Kinyarwanda terms my not be accurate as I do not have an English-Kinyarwanda dictionary.
*** As an outsider it is nearly impossible to tell the difference and it makes you wonder how and why there were ever “officially” separated in the first place.In this region of Africa the distinction between Hutu and Tutsi has always been in place but it was exacerbated over the course of Belgian colonial rule when measuring systems were implemented in the name of science, which only further separated these two groups. Author's note: It has always been both shocking and fascinating to me how haphazard lines drawn after wars won and lost in distant countries forever altered the fate of the African continent.