By Marie Collins
I can’t help but reflect today, April 7, 2017, on the impression Rwanda and her incredible people have made on my life.
Back in 1994 I became fixated with what was happening in this tiny country in the heart of Africa. There was not a lot of news coverage but I absorbed all the information that was available. I could not believe what I was seeing! It really broke my heart.
Little did I know then that 15 years later I would be walking on the streets where that horrific slaughter had happened. As I sat on the balcony of the hotel Novotel Umubano (formerly Le Meridien) I struggled to not visualize what so many had been forced to experience… it was very difficult.
As I paid my respects at the Gisozi Genocide Memorial Centre I was overwhelmed by what I saw and learned and the fact that almost 250,000 souls are buried in that one site alone. It was gut-wrenching. I cried every day that I was in Rwanda that first time.
It was surreal to have lunch on the patio at Hotel Milles Collines where so many had taken refuge from the slaughter. And contrary to what you may have seen in the movie “Hotel Rwanda” Paul Rusesabagina was no one’s saviour… he was collaborating with the genocidal leadership!
I met many wonderful people on that trip and knew I would return to this amazing little country. Two years later I was back in the country I had fallen in love with and got to stay with my dear friend Cathy Emmerson for over 3 weeks.
It was different this time… I wasn’t just a tourist, I was actually living in Rwanda if only for a short time. Now I was part of the community and meeting so many people who truly found their way into my heart. No tears this time as I saw how resilient these Rwandan people are. I was greeted every day with smiles, handshakes and hugs from so many children… it was wonderful!
Yes, there is still a lot of poverty but under President Paul Kagame’s great leadership the country has risen from the ashes of hell and is really doing well. Rwanda is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited and I love it with all my heart!
Yes, Rwanda is my obsession and I have consumed many, many books about her history, her people and the Tutsi genocide (most of them very heart-breaking to read)… it is a story that will stay with me forever.
I will attend the Commemoration Ceremony at the Canadian Human Rights Museum here in Winnipeg and remember those lost and celebrate the survivors.
Nguhoza ku Mutima (forever in my heart) are the words written underneath my tattoo of the Rwanda flag that I wear with great pride and in honor of the Rwandan people… my friends.