We arrived in Uganda last night.  I’m here to finish installing the Knowledge Management Portal (Knowledge Tree + Joomla) that I put together over the past few weeks and help train the local staff. Following are my first impressions of Uganda.  Keep in mind that I arrived after sunset and am staying at a nice hotel so my first impressions are especially limited.   Still, using my time in Rwanda as a frame of reference, I do have a little insight. During the drive from the airport in Entebbe to Kampala, I kept thinking of how I could describe what I’ve seen so far here in Africa.  My first thought was that much of it is like many rural areas of the U.S. during the early 20th century.  But there are a lot more cars and more electricity. Then I thought about the government in Africa.  The “Wild West” seems to work a little better, then.  The West with electricity and cars.  And paved roads. Of course, I wasn’t yet in Kampala when I was thinking about all this.  What I saw of Kampala last night, and from what I can see today, Kampala is fairly modern.  Short, modern office buildings, plenty of paved roads.  We’ll see if my impression changes once I actually get a chance to drive around today. Speaking of roads: In Uganda, they drive on the left.  In Rwanda (the other land-locked country just south of Uganda), they drive on the right.  I wonder what happens at a border crossing.  Oh, and they use yet-another-power-connection.  I had to pay 15,000 UG Shillings for a new adaptor today.  Highway Robbery, I tell you! I suppose you can tell exactly which European country colonized which African nation by looking at their power plugs and on which side of the road they drive.  Uganda is clearly a former British colony — left side driving and British power plugs — wheras Rwanda, with its power plugs and right side driving is clearly a former Belgium colony. One more thing before I start work.  International flights are about the most fun you can have (if you don’t sense sarcasm there, let me point it out for you here). Take Amsterdam, for instance.  I hopped off my flight from Philadelphia, went through customs once to enter then country and then again to hop on a flight to Uganda.  Hurrah!  At least this was better than transiting the U.S. where they make you grab your luggage even if you’re just catching the next flight out of the country. Customs (long lines, lots of waiting) and switching flights (long layovers, long lines, lots of waiting) mean that I left Philly at 6:30pm Tuesday and, after hours in airports and whatnot, arrived in my hotel in Uganda at 9:00pm Wednesday.  Not much jet lag, though.  I seem to have a knack for sleeping on planes — even in the cramped economy class conditions.

Forgiveness is the final form of love.” — Reinhold Niebuhr I went and saw “As we forgive those” tonight. It is an amazing account of the process of reconcilliation that some people in Rwanda are going through. The documentary focused on two different genocideres and the reconciliation that they sought with the surviving members of their families they attacked and murdered. Two women whose families had been killed struggled to forgive the men who had killed their families. The process of reconcilliation in “As we forgive those” covered what happened after the Gacaca courts.during reconcilliation workships run in cooperation with the Prison Fellowship in Rwanda. One of the projects the former genocideres participate in is building homes for victims of their crimes. This is especially poignant since they often destroyed those homes during the genocide. (I have to admit that I only saw the last part of the movie. The listing of screenings gave a contact email and said it was being shown by Church of the Apostles in Fayetteville, NC. I sent an email, got a response, found the date posted on the site was wrong, and got a showtime. But no location. So I naturally assumed it was at the Church of the Apostles. No one linked to their website. If I had gone to the website — or even known it existed — I would have realized it was showing 20 minutes away from the church. Anyway… if you post information, make sure it is all connected.) Besides the excellent message of reconciliation instead of retribution, the Church of the Apostles seemed to be using the film as a sort of evangelism. The minister.stood up after the film and said, essentially, “See what Christians are doing? You might have a bad impression of the church, but We ain’t all bad!” I thought it was a bit too pathetic. Still, I think this is a great film for any church to show or sponsor. And it’s great for people outside the church, too. The message is universal.

Forgiveness isn’t human. It is divine. (from the trailer)

It was only because I read about the award that I even found out about the documentary “As We Forgive Those“. The documentary covers two widows facing their families’ killer’s and asks “Can survivors truly forgive the killers who destroyed their families? Can the government expect this from its people? And can the church … fit into the process of reconciliation today?” The last bit seems the most poignant to me. I’m not sure this sort of national reconciliation would work at all if it was merely a civic duty. I’m hoping to see this next week.

You know what? I like the way Rwandans do bureaucracy — completely open to the world. We walked right into the Ministry of Health and found the person we needed to see. No bothersome identification checks. No screening. Just plain trust. Contrast this with our visit to the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda. A squat building built to be impervious to almost any attack. Two ID checks. Two metal scanners. No laptops. Bah! Well, some journalism interns from Canada are in Rwanda and, when one decided he needed a contact at the Ministry of Infrastructure, he was a little surprised:

Jean Pierre, our program assistant here in Rwanda, suggested we just go to the Ministry offices and ask around. I was skeptical; surely security wouldn’t even let us through the door without a contact or an appointment. But much to my surprise we walked right in the front door and after asking around I found a man who has worked in road safety for over a decade: the perfect expert.

So, I didn’t get to visit the gorillas, but the reporter for this story saw them. What caught my eye, though, was this description of the Gorilla’s Nest Lodge where we stayed:

That evening, as the sun was setting over the valley, the gardens of the Gorilla Nest Lodge resounded with drums and chants. In the magic of an African sunset, the garden exploded with sound and movement as a troupe of dancers rushed on to the lawn. There were lithe young men in long wigs resembling lions’ manes, exuberant young women and beaming little girls in white Communion-style dresses. As they performed traditional Rwandan dances, they tossed their heads, gyrated, twisted and jumped with ecstatic abandon, to the accompaniment of a hypnotic chant that echoed long after they had gone.

I should point out, If you’re interested in the stuff I write about here — Orthodoxy, Rwanda, Emacs, Linux, etc. — I’ve got a few link over on GotNoBlog.com. Why there and not del.icio.us? Because I want to do something useful with the domain besides let it be turned it into yet another empty site of spam. And this use (link and comment) it is similar to what I first saw the name GotNoBlog suggested.

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So, I didn’t get to visit the gorillas, but the reporter for this story saw them. What caught my eye, though, was this description of the Gorilla’s Nest Lodge where we stayed:

That evening, as the sun was setting over the valley, the gardens of the Gorilla Nest Lodge resounded with drums and chants. In the magic of an African sunset, the garden exploded with sound and movement as a troupe of dancers rushed on to the lawn. There were lithe young men in long wigs resembling lions’ manes, exuberant young women and beaming little girls in white Communion-style dresses. As they performed traditional Rwandan dances, they tossed their heads, gyrated, twisted and jumped with ecstatic abandon, to the accompaniment of a hypnotic chant that echoed long after they had gone.

I should point out, If you’re interested in the stuff I write about here — Orthodoxy, Rwanda, Emacs, Linux, etc. — I’ve got a few link over on GotNoBlog.com. Why there and not del.icio.us? Because I want to do something useful with the domain besides let it be turned it into yet another empty site of spam. And it is similar to what I first saw the name GotNoBlog.

As many Rwandans say, forgiving is an effort that one makes in order to make life livable, especially since victims and the ex-prisoners have to live together as neighbors again. (— from Reconciliation still a major challenge

Rwanda has too many guilty people for “classic justice” — it just “didn’t meet expectations”. Classic justice is having trouble dealing with the hundreds of thousands of genociders that will show up in court. The guilty and the victims are everywhere. So Rwanda has implemented public confession, after a fashion, in the form of its Gacaca courts. Confess, and your sentence will be reduced. Still, as the quote above hints, it isn’t always easy. Victims and perpetrators have to live next door and they can be a danger to each other.

Describing the experiences of living in the same communities, some survivors said that despite having forgiven and reconciled, they found it hard to look each other in the eye.

Tonight, after confession, my priest told me “Confession is easy, relationships are hard”. I immediately thought of this article. Confession, giving voice to your sin, seems so easy, but we have to do it so often. Screw up, confess. Screw up, confess. Repeat ad infinitum, it seems. Because confession is so easy and does not, in and of itself, mean change, it is nothing compared with going back and reconciling with the one you wronged. When I’ve hurt my wife, she isn’t satisfied that I’ve gone to confession. She wants real change. When the man who killed your family confesses to his crime and has his sentence reduced or forgiven completely, you aren’t going to be satisfied when he moves in beside you. You want real change. (And probably, if we’re honest, some “classic”, retributive justice.) Confession is easy. Reconciliation is hard.

Any mention of Rwanda seems to evoke the Genocide there fourteen years ago. Since then, we’ve had at least a couple more (Darfur, Kosovo), but before Rwanda, there was Cambodia. Dith Pran, the Journalist from The Killing Fields said on his deathbed: One time is too many. Genocide pops up in the strangest places. Reading this travel account of a couple of Jewish backpackers in Germany is telling. It starts out easy enough.

There was a great divide between my generation and the ones that had lived through the Holocaust. It was their identity. To me, it was a history lesson.

But ends with this haunting image:

Near the exit was a beautiful bronze sculpture that read, “Never again.” Beyond the sculpture sat fifteen orange tents. There were fifty Rwandan refugees sitting in the dirt and cooking lunch. There was a cardboard sign in front of them with the words: “You said never again.

Is Dith Pran’s dream impossible? Will we always have genocide? I don’t know. I’m pessimistic enough to think that people will always suffer from irrational hatred. I suspect that the institutional intolerance that Rwanda is currently using is not the right way to get fix the problem in the long term. Now-a-days, Rwanda sacks officials for believing the wrong thing. It may work for now, but as long as people continue to believe the “genocide ideology“, it won’t matter if they lose their jobs, the beliefs persist and people will continue to elect people who think the wrong thing. Here we are, sixty years after the end of WWII, and Germany still hasn’t managed to cleanse itself of racists. I suspect it takes something more subtle. And it takes more time. There is one comment on that last link, though, that gives a note of caution: “He who says he knows the way, does not know the way.” — Lao-Tze

Since going to Rwanda, I’ve been more interested in keeping tabs on what is going on in the country.  I set up a Google Alert and have been getting some interesting things.  I’ve been letting these build up, so it is time to clear out my browser.

  • Bikes to Rwanda and Wells for Life were two charities working in Rwanda that I found.  While I like the Bikes charity, the video in this blog post is filled with familiar yellow water containers that I saw rural Rwandans lugging along the road.
  • This journalist goes to see some gorillas in Rwanda and mentions the Mountain Gorilla’s Nest hotel that we stayed in to see the golden monkeys.  He describes it as “an unsympathetic mishmash of a place”, but I prefer their rates to the £347 (US$687) a night in the posher hotel he used. Did I mention Rwanda isn’t cheap?
  •  Can the Congo Save Itself? talks about the fighting along the Congo-Rwanda border. I met a couple at the Serena who traveled around Africa quite a bit. They were the first to say what others have confirmed many times since: Rwanda is a one of the safest, quietest places in Africa. “A good place to start” was how they put it, with vivid examples from other countries to reinforce the idea.  Even though it is fairly safe, the guards we had on our trip to see the monkeys hinted at the dangers along the borders.
  • What is Unspoken in Rwanda talks about the beauty of Rwanda and the constant awareness that some of these people are former genociders. This isn’t the chaotic Africa I am used to!I just can’t comprehend how everyone can be so friendly but capable of genocide. The genocide is everywhere and nowhere. How do people go on?
  • Then genocide in Rwanda 14 years ago are something Kenyans and Zimbabweans are thinking about.  Evidently along the lines of “Do we have to get that bloody to get democracy?”:
    At one point, a stunned delegate from Rwanda was even asked whether the genocide in Rwanda had been worth it as it had paved the way for a more democratic and open society that was based on progressive, egalitarian laws. He responded by saying that the price Rwanda had paid for its peace and democracy was too high, not just in terms of the cost of reconstruction, but because it was written in the blood of hundreds of thousands of his country’s men, women and children.

  • A Catholic Priest was convicted of participating in the 1994 genocide.. His participation was particularly gruesome — he had his church, which was filled with 1500 parishioners — bulldozed.  Of course, there are many people who don’t like the institution of the Roman Catholic church and they jumped on this case as further fuel for their hatred.  This is the sort of person who will tell us that Mother Teresa is evil and the pope is a Nazi.  Many of these people misunderstand the purpose of the church, but, there are those who understand it perfectly well and are just opposed to it. Arguing with willful ignorance is just as futile as attempting to persuade those who understand but disagree they they are wrong, so I won’t attempt either here.