Our time here has certainly brought with it many cultural lessons. Our Kinyarwanda teacher one day taught us the history of the word “abarubindi”. It technically means “eye glasses” but literally means “those which fell into the pot.” There’s a story, says our teacher, in which a Frenchman wearing eye glasses came across some local Rwandans taking (drinking) beer. Traditionally, beer was served in a single large pot called a “rubindi” and everyone drank their beer from a straw stuck into the same pot.
April 7, 2018 marked the 24th year since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. A short overview for those who are unfamiliar, understanding that history is biased and everyone has opinions on how to narrate this history in particular: Rwanda’s history has been full of ethnic exploitation by colonizers and local leaders both, resulting in ethnic cleansing several times in their history. Hutus were considered inferior during early rule by Rwandan kings and were exploited by colonial powers; years upon years of hardship and inequality led to ethnic killings against the Tutsi in 1959 until the balance of power shifted with independence in 1961. A Hutu government took control and reversed many of the policies that favored Tutsis; inflamed by years of oppression, the extremist government incited ethnic hatred against the Tutsis, culminating in the 1994 genocide where approximately 1 million people were killed in 3 months. The current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, assisted in the military overthrow of the extremist government, ending the genocide, and carried out retribution killings against Hutu folks while pushing them out of Rwanda into Congo. Kagame then rebuilt Rwanda over the next 24 years, an amazing feat when glistening, beautiful Kigali is compared with a city like Goma in DRC, which barely has water or electricity and sports only a few paved roads.
Over Easter weekend, I finally made it to DRC, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the place on which I wrote my undergraduate thesis and where I epically failed to go the first time in 2013. To give you an idea, my thesis focused on contextualizing a rebel movement called M23 operating in the eastern Congo. The Kivu region in Congo has experienced incredible violence and unrest for a long time, exploding in 1994 when the folks who organized the genocide, as well as thousands of Hutu refugees fearing retribution, fled to Congo and set up camp just across the border from Rwanda. Congo is roughly one third the size of the US, with the world’s second largest rainforest separating its capital from the eastern regions, meaning that the (corrupt) DRC government cannot meaningfully govern vast portions of the country, including the east. Myriad rebel groups have sprouted up as a means to survive the corrupt landscape and control the region’s resources.