Yes, there is a Heaven in Rwanda. It’s actually a bar and restaurant that I happened to stumble upon the last night of my trip. I was sitting there by myself, looking out over the city, struggling with the menu. I wanted something local, but didn’t know what to get. The owner then came to my table and we started to chat. He’s from NYC, lives here with his wife, he started to tell me about his book, but had to step away quickly after giving me some recommendations.
The food was delicious (I got sambaza fish- these little fried fish that I was grateful were so fried because I’m pretty sure they had eyes and fins still) and intrigued, I decided to check out the book after dinner. Had I known who I was talking to, I would have followed the man around his restaurant asking him questions all night. He’s kind of a big deal in public health. In fact, he moved here with his wife from NYC to lead the Millennium Development Village in Rwanda- like I want to be him when I grow up. The book is also amazing if you’d like to know more about Rwanda, development, public health, or just his story.
The next morning I went to the Genocide Museum. I was hesitant about going, but I felt like I needed to go- I wanted to understand better what had happened in this beautiful country to these beautiful people. The Museum was incredible sad and equally insightful- I read every plaque and looked at every picture. I cried, got angry, felt compassion, and thought- how could people do this to one another?
Hutu and Tutsi co-existed peacefully together up until the point where Rwanda was colonized, when they were then politicized with a mandatory identity card. Colonial powers played one against the other and made Tutsi out to be superior over the minority Hutu. The genocide ball was set in motion then and political propaganda allowed it to snow ball into a full fledged genocide in 1994. I don’t think it’s helpful to place blame or finger point, but over and over we see the effects of colonization in civil wars, caste, and poverty within developing countries.
Heaven in Rwanda in not just a restaurant. It represents growth, a community that is committed to rebuilding together, eliminating corruption, and honestly talking about that happened and how to move forward. I truly can say that Rwanda is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, it’s hilly and oh so charming, which makes the book title so appropriate- A Thousand Hills to Heaven.