Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Why Rwanda?

I have been asked many times, particularly during the past week, why I came to Rwanda, and return so many times.  The first thing that come to mind is how clean the place is, both in physical cleanliness of the environment, and in government.  There is no garbage, in the city streets, in the ditches, in front of and behind houses, … and in the countryside.  

In terms of the corruption index, a perception of the cleanliness of government, Rwanda is comparable to South Korea, and much better than China, South Africa, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Kenya, Cambodia and Myanmar - countries whose GDP per capita are much higher than Rwanda’s.  

The weather is great.  Even though it is right on the Equator, the average temperature is a cool 22 degrees Celsius, with many sunny days.  Perhaps mainly because it is moderately high in elevation, at around 1,500 meters.  

But what I like the most is the people.  The country is clean because the people keep it clean.  The government is clean also because the people keep it clean.  

Most people dress neatly.  Many men, even drivers, wear long sleeves.  The women wear colourful dresses and head wrappings, even when walking around in the countryside.  I am amazed at how the women keep their clothes clean, when water is so precious - people often walk kilometres with 20 kgs of water in jerrycans on the heads to take water home.  

There is a very strong strength of character reflected in the reconciliation after the genocide.  There have been similar tragedies in many nations.  But few display such honesty and positive energy in moving forward.  They face the evil squarely, establishing many memorials, and commemorate it every year with week-long activities in the kwibuka.  Yet the emphasis is on reconciliation.  There is no more Hutu and Tutsi.  Instead, all are Rwandans.   This year, the theme of kwibuka  is “remember, unite and renew”. 

There is a quite dignity and self-confidence to the people. even though they are still desperately poor.  The per capita GDP is only 711 US dollars, 1/2 of Kenya’s, 1.4 of Egypt’s, 1/7 of South Africa’s, 1/40 of South Korea’s and 1/80 of the USA’s.  Yet I do not feel a sense of inferiority among the people I met.  They look you in the eyes, shake your hand firmly, and treat you as an equal.  They even laugh at my clumsiness in climbing up and down mountains, knowing full well that I will take it in stride.  

When I go out running the morning, many fellow runners and even non-runners wave and smile at me.  And I do likewise in return.  

There is much to learn yet from these amazingly warm Rwandans.  

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