One hill crashes into the next, as if not enough space has been allocated within this tiny country. The topography is a crumpled car bonnet, rising and falling like an aggressive symphony of volcanic earth.
Like the land, the people of Rwanda are resilient, varied and welcoming. On the one hand, Rwanda is a breadbasket of Edenic proportions. On the other, it is a place of toil. The rich, rugged soil carries many of the scars of its past, also etched paradoxically into the smiling faces of its people.
You are better off coming to Rwanda with few expectations because they will all be swept aside anyway. Any images of genocide is not what you will find. Rather, the life that springs forth after death. A seedling.
But you'll have questions. The name Rwanda has connotations that are not easily dismissed. This is where 'We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families' comes in.
As well as having one of the longest titles in literary history, it provides the best overview of how a country can reach the point where its citizens begin slaughtering each other. Published in 1998 though, only four years after the Genocide, it provides but a glimpse of how Rwanda would be resurrected, becoming a jewel of Africa. The least corrupt country, with a visionary leader acting in its citizens interests.
Somehow this book rises above reportage, even its chilling subject, to achieve an immersive experience. The Genocide was something beyond a tragedy but somehow the book is entirely human, yet unsentimental. As horrific as every anecdote is, they leave you better informed on the nature of the human heart and an almost equally complex nation.
This book needs to be read while you're on the ground so it doesn't put you off coming. It is genuinely that challenging. I promise though that you won't meet friendlier people anywhere in the world. As you navigate the well built Chinese road systems or jagged mountain trails voices will scream the word, "Mzunguuuuu......." (Basically this means White Person. Not derogatory, I promise.)
Major tourist draw cards like the silver-back gorillas, their volcanic homes, vast lakes, Akagera Safari Park and the cosmopolitan cafe scene of the capital, Kigali, are all worth the journey. Yet, it's getting away from these things and engaging with the people that will really connect you with this place in an eternal way.
Read the book to remember, experience the people and place to erase it.
Note: This book was recommended to me by a Rwandan mate, Rwabigwi, as the book to read on the Genocide. His own story is deeply impacted by the Genocide and he runs a youth literacy program to provide a voice for Rwanda's burgeoning youth population. Check out his site www.youli.org.rw to learn more.