From Harare we took a 2-1/2 hour flight to the Rwandan capital of Kigali to meet our friends the Smiths for a big two-week adventure together. The idea was hatched a year ago when we spent a couple days in Barcelona with Dan and Lorraine. They would work with their travel agent to plan a perfect two-week trip to Africa, and we would work the rest of our Africa itinerary around it. To their surprise, their two young adult children, Ruby and Angus, quickly signed onto the plan as well. This will be kind of a blowout trip, featuring stays at some of Africa’s best game viewing lodges, something Jim and I have never yet done.
We arrived in Kigali a day ahead of the Smiths and spent a day discovering a charming and surprisingly modern city. Compared with other African capitals we couldn’t believe how many well-built modern buildings graced the city center.
But then our adventure took a very unexpected and painful turn. Two hours before the Smith party landed in Kigali, we got an email from Jim’s brother Victor with the subject “Bad News.” Since Victor is the grandfather of 11-year old Dexter, who is rapidly losing a 4-year battle with cancer, we expected the worst. But it was worse than we could imagine: Jim’s sister Marie, who happened to be visiting Victor and Dexter and family in Duluth, had just learned that her 33-year old son, Kevin, had died, unexpectedly and of unknown cause.
Jim almost immediately decided he needed to get to North Carolina to help provide comfort to Marie and her family. After all, much of her family is already tied up in another tragedy they can’t escape from. I’d go on with the trip with the Smiths.
The next day was my birthday, frankly one of the crappier ones I remember. We spent the morning furiously researching flight options to get Jim to North Carolina and then somehow back to Africa to pick up on our travels in two weeks. Turns out he’ll meet us all in Nairobi several hours before the Smiths head back to the US.
As the unreal news of losing two nephews sank in, and as Jim got ready to leave our big journey, I committed myself to making the most of the existing plans, and I headed out with the Smiths for the first visit on our official two-week tour — The Rwandan Genocide Museum. Perfect.
The story of the Rwandan genocide is utterly horrifying and heartbreaking. In just a three-month period in 1994 the Hutu majority of Rwanda slaughtered as many as a million Tutsi countrymen, all orchestrated by the Rwandan government. But the story continues with a surprisingly successful period of reconciliation and rebuilding. All those attractive modern buildings in Kigali are testament to how the global community rallied around Rwanda in the aftermath of the horror.
Our welcome in Rwanda has been warm and wonderful, despite all the heartbreak.