During the summer of 2007 I went on a life changing trip to Rwanda. I went with Immaculee Ilibagiza and a bunch of other brilliant, wonderful, giving people. I learned so much. Not just about geography, but about the history of the world, human nature, forgiveness. In 1994 Rwanda was the scene of a genocide. We didn't hear much about it here in The States. I'm not sure we cared that much. Too much other stuff going on. O. J. Simpson's trial. You know, really important stuff. In that genocide well over a million people were murdered. In ways almost too unspeakable to write. Immaculee was a genocide survivor. She wrote about her life in a book called Left to Tell. If you haven't read it, you should. You will be sad but you won't regret it. I have chronicled my trip on a blog called "White Boy in Rwanda". From time to time, I'll cross over and take some of that blog/notebook and reprint it here. This little piece was written on my way to Rwanda. I had just met the group I was to travel with. We were all pretty exhausted but, as always, I couldn't sleep on the plane...
Thirty five thousand feet in the air. Humans have only been flying at all for 105 years. Now we are cruising at thirty five thousand feet above Nova Scotia. By the time we land in Rwanda we’ll cross six time zones. Three continents. Three hundred people, cruising at seven miles above the earth, going six hundred fifty miles per hour, getting ready to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s 7:39PM where we took off in New York City. It’s 1:39 AM where we’ll land in Brussels. I’m looking at a monitor that shows our progress as we cross the ocean. A tiny picture of a plane with a dotted line showing our direction, where we’ve been, where we’re going. Soft drinks, coffee, TV shows, magazines, ear buds, multi-channels in our arm rests, overhead lights, flight attendant call buttons, reclining chairs, fancy little pillows, portable DVD players, MP3 players, headphones that cancel flight noise, laptop computers, expensive hardcover books bought in the airport, battered paperback books, the Bible, The Koran, Skymall catalog. Perfume, a baby crying, laughter, playing cards, adolescent boys punching each other in the arms, irritable stewardess, lovers holding hands.
Humans are amazing. Onemilliononehundredseventeenthousand deaths in the Rwandan genocide (that we know of so far… rounded to the nearest thousand). The US fussed about whether or not it was genocide. We watched. We knew. We did nothing. Humans are more than just amazing.
Clinton and Albright apologized for not trying to stop the genocide in Rwanda. Sincerely. How long before we apologize for not stopping the genocide in Darfur? Digital watches, iphones, ipods, handheld videogames, in flight movies, CBS Sports on TV, sitcoms with canned laughter. Flying seven miles high over the Atlantic Ocean.
Onemilliononehundredseventeenthousand Rwandans were killed in one hundred days. Over ten thousand a day. Humans are amazing. Onemilliononehundredseventeenthousand stories. It’s almost too big to imagine, too big to believe, too immense to even think about.
FREE PARIS HILTON. That’s what a sign said at the nursery and garden center by my house. FREE PARIS HILTON. Humans are amazing.