Before I visited Rwanda, this horrific event was about all I had heard about the country, besides the fact that some of the world’s last wild mountain gorillas live here. But the time I spent on Lake Kivu gave me a new, vibrant picture of Rwanda and its people.
As we rode to Gisenyi in a local bus, we saw minibuses passing us filled with young men shouting and cheering, blowing vuvuzelas (long, loud, noise-making horns), singing, and wearing blue and white T-shirts. Some men had powdered their bodies, and they wore white clown wigs. A fellow passenger informed us that the wild men were fans of Rayon Sports, the most popular soccer team in Rwanda’s capital of Kigali. They were heading to Gisenyi for an important match with the Etincelles, another national league team. We decided that we had to go, too.
Inside the stadium, nearly every space was filled, from the standing-room-only section across from us ($1.80 per ticket) to the cement benches we sat on ($3.30 per ticket). In front of me were two men in wheelchairs. One of them was missing his legs, a possible sign that he had been a victim of the genocide. I also noticed a couple young men who had severe burn scars on their faces and necks. They would have been children in 1994.
The crowd was at first relatively quiet, with a few collective sighs for missed goals. But then Rayon Sports scored, and their fans stood up, threw their hands in the air and hollered. We were in a section mainly filled with fans of the Etincelles, the underdogs. When they scored, the people around us burst into cheer, gave us big high fives, and jumped up and down. A young woman in front of us did a hip-shaking dance. Little boys ran into the grass below us, imitating the goal-winning kick.
Eighteen years ago, many of the people in stadium would have been personally affected by the genocide in some way. Today, they are able to enjoy a soccer game together in peace. The match ended in a tie, and the stadium poured out to local bars to have Primus beers and beef skewers.
The next day, I witnessed another kind of celebration. This time, in a church. (Continued in my next post.)