When I landed on Monday evening at midnight in Kigali, my view of the city was simply one of hundreds of lights upon a hill. I looked forward to the next morning when I could see the place I had spent so long anticipating before my eyes. The next morning, that time came when, as I walked around the hotel area searching for our breakfast of crepes, eggs, and bananas, and I came upon a balcony overlooking the city.
Kigali is beautiful. My view was similar to one of the pictures I have on this blog (I will post my own pictures soon) but the feeling I got when staring at this sight was something I had never experienced before. The mix of the buildings and greenery was gorgeous. The green stretched forever. Trees. Bushes. Grass. And yet Kigali was so modern too. It was surreal. It was beautiful.
I had expected this beauty having read We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch. But Gourevitch explains an encounter with a Rwandan that disrupts the beautiful imagery he describes:
One day when I was returning to Kigali from the south, the car mounted a rise between two winding valleys, the windshield filled with purple-bellied clouds, and I asked Joseph, the man who was giving me a ride, whether Rwandans realize what a beautiful country they have. “Beautiful?” he said, “You think so? After the things that happened here? The people aren’t good. If the people were good, the country might be OK.” Joseph told me that his brother and sister had been killed, he made a soft hissing click with his tongue against his teeth. “The country is empty,” he said. “Empty!”
My encounter with Rwanda’s beauty this morning was hard to swallow because of the terrible things I know have taken place in the city that I saw beauty in. I realized that I would wrestle with this internal struggle of beauty and emptiness for the rest of the semester and very likely the rest of my life, but I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to be here and wrestle with it. Yes, there may always be emptiness in Rwanda but as my bright classmates, program staff, and I study the progress of the country to move towards peace, I am confident I will continue to see beauty.