Tuesday, March 14, 2006

3/12 - First Impressions of Rwanda

Nairobi airport: We’re in Africa – the “mother continent.” We’re still dazed because of all the time differences. We’re now headed to the goal – Rwanda. You can stroll through the airport and feel all the different countries and kingdoms that this continent is home to. The ornamental clothes, the head dress, the skin – in different shades, different patterns, different wrinkles.

The duty-free stores are filled with American items/products. We made our way to the Rwandan Express terminal. There’s probably one jet in the fleet, and we we're going on it. The man at the gate saw my passport and greeted me as “bishop.” I explained that I was a priest. He smiled and took me through this very light security detail. I think there was no x-ray machine – they just put our luggage through a machine – but I don’t think there was anything being scanned. It was very relaxed. In fact, one of the machines didn’t even have a person on the other end – the bags just went through!

We walked over to the plane. All of the luggage we had check in at LAX was out on the tarmac next to the lane. We had to identify our own – if we did, they put that piece of luggage on the plane. If no one claimed the bag – I guess it stayed there. We were all excited. The moment was a good one, we were getting close to our destination. It was Don’s 60th birthday. One of the ladies from USC – Beth – got the pilot to announce the birthday, and they brought over some champagne. It was a nice surprise. Anyone who would want to celebrate their 60th birthday in this type of environment certainly deserves a lot of recognition.

The champagne came in glasses with stems. I think my suspicions about no x-ray in the machine were right. This was just a relaxed way to fly. We arrived in Kigali – the capital of Rwanda – an hour and ten minutes later. They distributed small questionnaires as a prelude to the customs routine. It asked “Surname” and the second line said, “Christian name.” Nice touch – especially considering that baptismal names sometimes don’t stay throughout life. (Hmmm… the passport situation wasn’t going to leave me alone, even here!)

We went through customs. They stamped our passports and we were on Rwandan soil. The police/military were around. No weapons showing, but the bourees were a nice trademark. Outside the terminal our hosts – from Solace Ministries – had gathered. They shook hands, some hugged, all smiled. They took our luggage – wouldn’t let us touch or be burdened by baggage. We got into a Toyota van and took off to the hotel. It was the same type of van Paul drove in the movie Hotel Rwanda. That movie was our tour-book up to this point and soon we would get the real thing.

Driving to the airport – people were on the streets. I remembered it was Sunday. People were walking, moving. They were dressed up. They were dignified. It as a town full of life! It was happening. The homes/huts would signal poverty by all of our standards, but you couldn’t say that about the life on the streets. It was rich life. Of course, it was my first impression – just driving through. We got to the hotel. There was small video store next to it with a poster of Don Cheadle – advertising HotelRwanda. It was the only mention of the hotel. You would think there would be a marking on the wall – something to say that here the brave and heroic acts took place just 12 years ago. It was a hotel, with front-desk, with computers behind the desks and ellhops ready to take our bags to our rooms. We checked in. Freshened up and so began our first day.

© Fr. Vazken Movsesian 2006

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