Tag Archives: Rwanda

Ruanda, tierra de las mil colinas

Columna “Fronteras Abiertas”, en National Geographic Traveler Latinoamérica (octubre 2010)

Bellas montañas, gorilas en peligro, la memoria del genocidio y la constancia de que podemos ser brutales… pero también maravillosos

Por Témoris Grecko

Al llegar a uno de los países con peor fama de toda África, y al provenir de una región complicada como es Latinoamérica, no debería extrañar que uno se imagine que la cuidadosa revisión de equipajes, al cruzar la frontera de Uganda a Ruanda, tenga por objeto la intercepción de drogas, armas o contrabando de algún tipo. El soldado ruandés buscaba otra cosa, en realidad: bolsas de plástico. Encontró una en la maleta de un par de estadounidenses desprevenidas y vacío el contenido sobre las manos de las chicas, para confiscar el envoltorio: las bolsas están prohibidas en el país por su carácter contaminante. En cualquier otro lugar del continente, se amontonan en las calles, en los drenajes, en los ríos, y crean tapones que provocan que el agua se estanque y se amontonen los desperdicios. El daño ambiental es muy grave.

Ruanda está libre de bolsas de plástico. No es el único aspecto que la hace diferente de cualquiera de las naciones vecinas: también se ve sumamente limpia; sus calles están bien pavimentadas, libres de baches y tienen buenas aceras; y uno puede caminar por ellas en la oscuridad de la noche sin temer un asalto. Es una auténtica proeza que este minúsculo paisito de 26,000 kilómetros cuadrados, en el que viven 11 millones de personas (es poco más grande que Belice, que tiene 300,000 habitantes), luzca poco afectado por la destrucción ecológica.

Es cierto que los ruandeses son más reservados y menos fiesteros que los otros pueblos de la zona. No sé si este es su carácter histórico o una consecuencia del genocidio que tuvo lugar aquí en 1994, cuando una locura se apoderó de una parte de los hutus, que conforman el 85% de la población, y la llevó a lanzar una persecución extremadamente violenta contra la minoría tutsi, lo que acabó con las vidas de 800,000 personas en tan solo cien días.

Eso ocurrió hace tan poco tiempo que uno esperaría encontrar el país completamente destrozado. El vecino Congo, que adquirió la independencia en 1960, no ha parado de deteriorarse en este medio siglo y continúa adolorido por guerras chicas y grandes. Casi desde que el Frente Patriótico Ruandés de Paul Kagame venció a los genocidas, en aquel 1994, la consigna ha sido acabar con la idea de que hay hutus y tutsis e insistir en que todos forman parte de un solo pueblo. Yo no encontré a nadie que se identificara como algo distinto que ruandés.

El modelo tiene defectos, claro está, y hay signos de autoritarismo en el gobierno del señor Kagame, quien no ha soltado la Presidencia en 16 años. En contrapartida, hay progreso. Los ruandeses aseguran que convertirán a su país en la Suiza de África y hacen lo posible por atraer inversionistas.

Así como por convencer a los turistas de que vale la pena visitar Ruanda. Cuando anuncié que iba a venir aquí, algunos amigos hicieron extrañas preguntas sobre mi salud mental. La noticia es que no sólo se trata de un lugar seguro, sino muy bello: el otro nombre de Ruanda es tierra de las mil colinas, porque todo son montañas de tierra roja, sembradíos verdes y hermosas casitas en los estrechos valles neblinosos y en las brillantes cumbres. Los contrastes de colores tienen un gran encanto, lo mismo en el campo que en las ciudades como Kigali, la pequeña capital.

Lo mejor son sus parques nacionales, sin embargo. En particular la región de los volcanes Virunga, que comparte con el Congo y es hogar de la última población de gorilas de montaña, animales hermosos, impresionantes y mansos en peligro de extinción. Los ingresos por turismo ayudan a preservarlos. Sin duda es más fácil visitarlos en el vecino país, porque van muchos menos turistas, hay más permisos disponibles y son más baratos: 400 dólares en el Congo y 500 en Ruanda). Por este lado, sin embargo, se cuenta con una infraestructura mucho más desarrollada y es, por mucho, más seguro.

El otro gran atractivo para algunos como yo es precisamente la huella del genocidio: los ruandeses han preservado los sitios donde ocurrieron las matanzas y han construido mausoleos, para guardar la memoria de lo que el ser humano es capaz de hacer contra sus semejantes y tratar de evitar que se repita. Uno mira todo con horror y admiración, porque también se conservan las historias de los gestos heroicos y desinteresados de gente simple que arriesgó –y muchas veces perdió— la vida para salvar a otros. Es el recuerdo de que podemos ser brutales… pero también maravillosos.

A year on the road and a birthyear with the Sun

Dear friends:

Last March 2 it was a year since I flew out of Mexico and started this second round-the-world trip. I’m in Nairobi now, which has trapped me just as it did back in 2005. And, as I decided that I will turn 40 once and only once (not tempted to repeat), I won’t have a birthday, but a birthyear with the Sun. Therefore, I’m also starting here a series of celebrations which should follow the fireball in the sky: from South to North as the Boreal Summer approaches and the Austral one heads off, and from East to West as the light chases away the darkness.

In this year I have seen things that have made me feel ever more amazed about our world, its nature and its peoples.

First of all, I watched in big close-up the Iranian Green Revolution. It was a unique chance to witness the bravery, generousity and glamour of a wonderful people rebelling against the military-religious dictatorship that rules them. If it was only for this experience, the whole trip is worth it. As long as the authoritarian regime is in place, I won’t be welcome back in Iran, which makes me very sad. But I believe in the Iranians and trust that they will get rid of that fanatic, corrupt cast of pious cheaters, liars and killers. I wrote a book on what I saw and heard, which shall be on sale in Spain (a little later in Mexico and Argentina) by mid-April. It’s title is “La ola verde. Crónica de una revolución espontánea” and it will be published in Barcelona by Los Libros del Lince. It’s in Spanish, of course, and though you can dismiss the possibility that some foreign publisher would like to acquire it and translate it into English, this is not very likely. As one English writer puts it, “we English native speakers stopped reading foreign language authors since Voltaire was alive”. Hope dies last, of course, so we’ll see.

I’ve also seen the pledge of the Uyghur people from Kashgar, pushed far from their homes as the Old City, a crucial stage on the Silk Road, was being bulldozed by the Chinese government to build huge appartment blocks in its place. I saw huge Buddhas in the Mogao caves and six-hundred metres sand dunes nearby, in Dunhuang. I crossed the snowed Pamirs and the Tian Shan, now in Kyrgyzstan, where my belongings ended in some thieves’ hands. Then, in Uzbekistan, I went to the now-defunct Aral Sea, where ship corpses strangely lie on the sand in the middle of the desert.

Iran was the highlight. But I was almost caught by the police commiting journalistic crimes and had to escape to Armenia, where I made a detour to Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied, utterly destroyed Azeri city of Aghdam. In Georgia, I went up to Kazbegi, a wonder in the Greater Caucasus, in Georgia. Then I took a little holiday. Sort of, because I went to Barcelona to write the book, but my dear Catalina and many other friends, old and new, made me feel the most welcome.

Back on the road, I went to the Turkish Kurdistan and then to one of the most amazing cities on Earth, Istanbul, where I was also warmly received. In fact, this part of the trip makes a big contrast with the Central Asian one, which was tough for many reasons, being the main one a deep feeling of isolation. Now, and for months, I’ve met lovely people in almost every place. Like Beirut, Damascus, Aleppo, Nicosia, Tel Aviv, Accre, Jerusalem, Ramallah… and Mama Africa: it was a coming back home. Uganda, Congo (with it’s volcanic eruptions, an eclipse, gorillas), Ruanda, Uganda again… and now Kenya.

So here I am, reporting on a year on the road… and inviting everyone to join me in this birthyear with the sun…

No time for siesta. Life is fiesta!!!

The celebrations actually started in Kampala’s Backpackers on New Year’s Eve and following weeks, with Sean, Adam, Kate, Clare, The Prince Formerly Known as Frankie, Andy, Rafa, Peter, Rachel and so many more! Nakasero nights, Kololo nights… Kabalagala nights and mornings! What a start!

And then Nairobi, with Laura, Melanie, Waireri, Sheila, Waringa, Cynthia, Peaches, David, Ben, David “Hacienda”, Wendy “Paloma”, “Rodríguez” and again, Adam, who took a few days off to celebrate with me in Westlands, Langata, Hurlingham and… well, not yet, but Madhouse should appear at some point.

What next?

Well, be aware: A party! Coming soon to a venue near you!

Next in line are:
Following the Sun from South to North: up to Cairo, by mid-March; Tel Aviv, late this month; and Istanbul, late April.

Then, from East to West: Barcelona, late May; Madrid, in June; and Mexico City!!! in… well, all this is temptative, so let’s say August.

The celebrations will have covered, by then, 8 cities in four continents.

Naturally, Mexico City’s celebrations should be rather quiet, my body will be quite diminished after all this, and well, it’s 40… but I paid everything I owed and was punished for every sin in the deserts of Central Asia and Iran, this is my only 40th birthyear, and that’s my beloved city!

(And the celebrations threaten to connect with the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence, in September… dammit!)

So, as you see, I’m not as serious as you no doubt thought I was. And you are welcome to be as unserious as you can in any, or all, of these fiestas!

Happy bithyear!

Con amor, Témoris

A year on the road

Today, March 2, but one year ago, I flew from Mexico to China and started this second round-the-world trip. I crossed Asia from East to West following the Silk Road, perceived the growing anger in China’s Uyghur inhabitants, resisted repeated police abuse in Kyrgyzstan, climbed ships stranded on dunes in the dissapeared Aral sea in Uzbekistan, witnessed a Green Revolution in Iran, sneaked into a closed military zone in a thoroughly destroyed city in Nagorno-Karabakh, survived a car race on a narrow mountain road in the Greater Caucasus, wrote a book in Barcelona, talked to a former Kurdish fighter in Turkey, got a Muslim name in Şanlıurfa (just the name), attended Friday noon prayers in Damascus’ Umayyad mosque, listened to foreign female domestic workers who had been enslaved in Lebanon, enjoyed tea with Bedouins in Palmyra, walked the ghostly buffer zone in Cyprus, sensed the hopeless hatred in Jerusalem, interviewed Palestinian hiphoppers in Ramallah, got lost in Petra, watched a solar eclipse and a volcanic eruption, and met great men and gorillas in the Heart of Darkness (Congo), felt the sadness of the genocide in Rwanda, spoke to a pious Christian pastor who wants to kill gay people in Uganda, and came to Kenya to visit old friends.

12 months on the road…

France’s criminal role in Rwanda

Sixteen years ago, France armed, supported and helped to escape the killers who commited the genocide in Rwanda. Many of them found refuge in France itself, where they live. Only now, 16 years later, slowly it starts to call them to justice. And still, Sarkozy seems far from ackowledging France’s (and Miterrand’s) criminal role in the genocide.

It wasn’t only the Hutus

Everybody knows that the Hutu extremists killed almost a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. But most people don’t know the role of Belgium and France in this, and these countries have never acknowledged their responsabilities. It was Belgium who created the fatal ethnic divide in Rwanda. It was France who supported and armed the Hutu extremists.

The old Hutu witch

The villagers used to say that the 76 year-old Hutu lady was a witch. When they came to her house looking for Tutsis to exterminate, she threatened them: “Come in and face the evil spirits that will kill you”. They left. And so she saved the 16 Tutsis she was hiding.

Rwandan spiritual guides

Rwanda’s genocide memorial: So many people couldn’t believe that their friends, their relatives, their neighbours would show up with a machete to kill them. Many Catholic priests (there were exceptions) gathered their congregations in churches and then helped to massacre them. Your spiritual guide was murdering you…

Clues on Rwanda

He asked: “What do you when you are in the middle of the war and you don’t understand what’s going on? I thought people would gimme clues but I was wrong”. I replied: “But you must have been only 13 in 1994″. “I was 22″, he said. And looked sooo deeply into my eyes. What was he telling me? Was he a victim or…?

“1994″ on the screen

My Rwandan friend heard of my scar. She asked to see it and I opened my shirt. It’s 10 cms long. It was made by the surgeon who saved my life in Thailand (2006), but it rather looks as the product of a knives fight. She freaked out, starting sobbing, couldn’t speak. She only managed to type on her mobile phone and show me: “1994″.

Dangerous traffickers

Crossing the border into Rwanda, the guards searched my luggage thoroughly. Being in Africa, you would say they were looking for smuggled merchandise… or drugs… or weapons, a good AK-47 hidden in my daypack! Well, no… they were looking for plastic bags! They are banned in Rwanda, a country of clean streets. Two US girls had bad luck and the guards emptied and confiscated their plastic bags just there!