-  My first impression of Rwanda is of its incredible green beauty…  -

November 4, 2011

My first impression of Rwanda is of its incredible green beauty and gentle rolling hills, yet despite these calm surroundings, I feel great trepidation. Having heard so much about the 1994 genocide, I wondered what kind of society I would encounter, would the land feel saturated with blood?  Will we be able to work in this environment?

TAG has been tasked with establishing an agricultural project in Rwanda that will make the best use of Israeli technology in the field. But the issue of land in Rwanda is a contentious one. Where 90 percent of the population practise subsistence farming., competition over land was implicated in the Rwandan genocide – those who had bigger plots where amongst the first targeted by genocidaires. Because of this weighty social context, our project will also include an element of community building.

Our first meeting with government ministers and governors make it clear that  TAG will be working in an environment where the government has an articulated vision and control. I am amazed with the openness and eagerness expressed by officials to work with us newcomers., and it assuages my fears of working in Rwanda.

I go into meetings not intending to mention the genocide.  After all, a country and its people are more than a terrible tragedy that occurred over the course of a few months in 1994. Surely, I reason, Rwandans do not want to be known only for that part of their history?  Soon, however, I hear our local counterparts mention it as a way of measuring time. “After the genocide we still had attacks in town, so that it is only since 2000 that the ministry has been able to operate.”

I begin to understand that in Rwanda, there was one life before the genocide and another life after it. When I ask a new acquaintance the innocuous question, “where did you go to school?”  He responds, “ before the genocide, I was at secondary school in Kiyovu. After the genocide, I could not go back to school, I had too many responsibilities, I had to look after my brother’s children..”

Again, unsuspectingly, I asked some colleagues how they knew each other, and he replied,” we are part of the Student Survivors Association. We shared a house for many years and had the same adopted mother and father. “

John Cleese in the series Fawlty Towers may have told his staff about his German client, “ just don’t mention the war,”  here it is mentioned in every conversation.

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