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Aug 6th 2013

Africa with Clinton: Rwanda / South Africa (Day 8)

Kigali CentreEarly call time:  luggage in the lobby by 7am.  Departure from hotel at 7:45am.  These early mornings are killing me.  But thanks to some medication, the back pain subsided enough that I was able to sleep through the night.

Had breakfast with Dawn today.  We agreed that we are both ready to go home.  I’ve only been on the road since last week, but Dawn’s been on the road since July 21 — she joined this trip straight from a basketball recruiting trip to Lithuania.  My new friend, Linda Johnson Rice (publisher of Ebony Magazine), has been on the road since July 25 — she was in Greece before this trip.  We’re agreed — it’s been nice, but it’s time to wrap this up …

Kigali Genocide Museum

First stop this morning:  the Kigali Genocide Museum.  This museum tells the story of the genocide that occurred in Rwanda (pronounced Rhonda) in the early 1990s.  More than one million people were killed in the ethnic violence that raged in the country.  It was Hutus versus Tutsis, with the Tutsis being the underdogs.  While the world watched, a million people were killed, even though the international community had much advance notice that massacres were being planned.

Here’s the irony:  prior to the arrival of the colonial powers in the early 1900s, the Rwandan people has been all one ethnic group.  But the colonialists, in an effort to divide and conquer, created artificial divisions among the people based on economic stratification.  All Rwandans had to obtain an identity card, and Rwandans who owned more than ten cows were labeled Tutsi, and those with less than ten cows were Hutus.  Because of this, it was very possible to have a Hutu and a Tutsi in the same family.  Tutsis, because of their economic status, were considered superior to Hutus, and were given better jobs and more opportunities for advancement.  Over time, Hutu resentment grew against Tutsis, and soon after the colonial powers were finally forced out of the country, a Hutu took power and began to plan the genocide of Tutsis.

Weapons were stockpiled and on a planned, specific date, the massacres began.  Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis — men, women, and children, were beaten, maimed, tortured, and killed.  Women were raped in front of their husbands and/or children.  Entire families were wiped out.  Parents were made to kill their children, and children were made to kill their parents.  Brutal.

Outside the museum, there are fourteen mass gravesites, each one holding the remains of thousands of the dead.  Inside there are exhibits explaining the history of the conflict, how the massacre was planned, the role of the international community, and how they are now rebuilding their nation.  Two exhibits were particularly moving:  one was the “Childrens’ Room” which contains photographs of the children killed, along with comments from their parents about their favorite foods, their personalities.  Each child’s picture tells how the child was killed.

Kigali Ctr Skulls1

In another darkened room, there were three cases filled with the skulls of victims.  And three cases of empty clothing hanging from wires — complete outfits missing their wearers.  In this darkened room, some of our delegation wept aloud.  The Pastor in me was called to duty, and I sat with one woman whose name I didn’t know, put my arms around her, and held her as she wept aloud.  When she could talk, she said to me:  how could people do this to other people?

What’s the answer to that question?  I don’t know.  But I said:  this is what happens when we refuse to see each other and acknowledge each other’s humanity.  This is what happens when we deny that the God that lives in us, lives in others too.  That makes it possible for us to hurt each other, to harm each other, to kill each other — because we don’t see that we are all the same … and that when we hurt each other, we hurt ourselves.

And I said, this, what we have seen today, is genocide in a highly visible and palpable way.  Same as the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the African slave trade.  But you know, we cannot distance ourselves from this and point at the atrocities committed by other people.  The fact is, many of us hurt, harm, and kill others every day with our words, with our detachment, with our callousness.  It is a different kind of homicide, but just as deadly.  “Life and death is in the power of the tongue.”

We sat long minutes in the dark, with me holding her in my arms.  It was a moment.

We all left the museum subdued … (well most of us were subdued).  It was an emotionally draining and disturbing day and I’m glad the next stop was the airport.  The four hour flight to South Africa was definitely going to give me the time I needed to recoup.

Farewell Rwanda.  I’ll be back, I promise.

Next up:  South Africa.

Our plane was back in working order, so we boarded, got comfortable, and settled in for the four-and-a-half hour flight.  I plugged in my daily meditation podcasts, and I listened to a whole week’s worth of daily meditations.  (Here’s the podcast I use:  The Word of God calmed my spirit and soothed my soul enough for me to go to sleep.  When I awakened we were landing.

Headed to the Saxon hotel in Johannesburg.  The Saxon.  There are no words.  CLICK HERE TO SEE MY VIDEO

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Africa with President Clinton

Aug 5th 2013

Africa with Clinton: Rwanda (Day 7)

Not much to report today.  All the bad road finally caught up to me and I had some challenges with my back.  The President’s doctor came see me (the President always travels with a doctor) and he advised me to skip the day’s activities.  So I took the meds, spent some time in the steam room, and lay still for most of the day.

I was feeling well enough to join the group at President Paul Kigame’s home for cocktails and dinner.   President Kigame is quite impressive, and he has done a masterful job of rebuilding the country after the horror of the 1990s genocide that killed 1 million people.  The country is simply beautiful, the people are working hard at rebuilding their community and their nation.

During the horror of the genocide, many women were raped by soldiers and vigilantes who infected many women with HIV.  Because of the devastation in the country following the massacres, the country had little resources to assist the burgeoning HIV+ population with healthcare and medication.  As a result, the disease ravaged a whole generation of Rwandans.

Under Kigame’s leadership, this has all changed as his pragmatic and firm approach to governing has attracted ongoing interest and investment  in his country.  Folks with HIV are now able to get the medication that they need to live full and healthy lives.

For dinner, we sat out on the President’s lawn, which had been set with tables of 8.  Many of the Rwandan cabinet were there and we got to talk with them directly.

The food was very good … I think we saw the last of the Indian influences in Zanzibar (at least until we get to South Africa).  I picked up a couple of bottles of the native hot sauce, piri-piri, to bring home.  Right on cue, just as we were finishing dinner, it began to rain and the staff whisked us inside.  We sat in the President’s living room … until one of our number dropped a glass of red wine on the white marble floor.  You could hear the sharp intake of breath from the Clinton staff  who quickly left the room.  The next thing we knew, the staff came back and announced that the first bus was ready to roll for those who were ready to leave.  I can take a hint, so I got my butt on that bus.

Had to repack the suitcase yet again for an early morning luggage call — 7am.  Thank God for suitcases that expand — and have wheels!

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Africa with President Clinton

Aug 4th 2013

Africa with Clinton: Tanzania / Zanzibar / Rwanda (Day 6)

Soccer, Ramadan, bad curry, broken airplane, and Ethiopia … What do these things have in common?  They were the highlights of my day.

I no longer have any idea what day it is.  Or what time it is, for that matter.  I live by a schedule and I do what the staff tells me to do.  And everything will be alright.


Left the hotel at a decent hour (930am) to head to the airport, bound for Zanzibar via a short, 30 minute flight.  Zanzibar is an island just off the coast of Tanzania;  beautiful country and lovely beaches.  We head for a soccer match and malaria awareness event.  Through the work of the Clinton Foundation, the incidence of Malaria in Zanzibar has decreased from 25% of the population being infected in 2005, to less than 1% being infected today.  Those are amazing statistics.  At this particular event, the Clinton Health Associates performed Malaria tests and also distributed mosquito netting.

IMG_0297It was very warm in Zanzibar, and especially down on that soccer field.  (We watched the game from the sidelines).  Because the predominantly Muslim population is celebrating Ramadan this month, we were asked to respect their observance by not eating or drinking in front of them.  (During the month of the Ramadan fast, observant Muslims refrain from eating or drinking anything from sun-up to sun=down.)  Given how warm it was today (85 degrees), I marveled at the soccer players who played a full game without taking a sip of water.  The President of Zanzibar joined Clinton at the event, and both made remarks to the crowd.  Folks were excited to see Clinton;  his last visit was in 2005.

Next we visited ZAPHA, an organization supported by the Foundation, which support women and children who are HIV-infected and affected.  Lovely visit.

IMG_0329Then we went to lunch at a restaurant in Stone Town, the only ancient African city still in operation today.  The view of the city from the restaurant was breathtaking … or maybe I lost my breath because of those SIX FLIGHTS OF STAIRS that led to the roof.  As I climbed the stairs I couldn’t help but wonder why we weren’t taking the elevator we kept passing by at each floor.  Curry for lunch – the Indian influence is very prevalent here.  And then, yep, shopping!


Dawn Staley struck out together to find good stuff.  Had to get away from the more affluent delegation members who were likely not to want to/ or know how to haggle for good deals.  A local brother latched onto us and took us through the labyrinth of shops.  I gotta tell you, that Dawn is mercenary!  She and my sister, Sharon, or my mother, could shop together anytime.  I hate bargaining – the prices seem low already and I know they are poor people so I always feel bad cutting into their money … But like I said, Dawn Staley is a mercenary and she would not let me pay full price for anything.  We didn’t have nearly enough time for shopping – just an hour, and I really hate being rushed … there are so many vendors and so much stuff … I wound up getting confused so I didn’t buy as much as I’d intended.  I did make sure to buy some spices – Zanzibar was part of the ancient Spice Trade Route.

We finished up our shopping and headed back to meet the group.  And guess who wasn’t finished shopping?  Clinton.  So we latched on to him as he walked through the marketplace, chatting with the local people and stopping here and there along the way.  And that’s when we got the bad news.

After conferring in the middle of the marketplace with the President, the staff informed us that our airplane was having mechanical difficulties.  We would need to remain in Zanzibar another 90 minutes.  So they took us to a beachfront bar to wait it out.  Well, 90 minutes turned into 3 hours.   Time for another update.  The plane would not be able to take up to Rwanda that night.  Staff was researching other options.  Oh boy.  Anybody could see that Zanzibar was not going to have enough overnight accommodations to handle our entire entourage, now swelled with staff and media.  This was gonna be a problem.  We returned to the lunch restaurant for dinner which was the same menu as lunch – except the curry was thinned out and the pieces of meat were few and far between.   Then exciting and hopeful news:

The staff had called around to neighboring countries asking their Presidents for airplanes to transport our group to Rwanda.  I’m not sure of all the countries that sent planes, but I know that Tanzania lent two aircraft and I overheard that Rwanda also sent a plane – small gulfstreams that seat 12-16 passengers. To transport everyone, we needed five planes plus another for luggage.  The planes were coming from all over East Africa so they arrived at the airport at different times.  The staff created small groups and loaded folks onto the airport buses one plane at a time.  I soon realized that I was going to be in the last group with three other people.  Not happy – way too tired.  And then, as I was about to get my full attitude on, President Clinton walks out and says “Are we ready?”   My attitude disappeared completely.  grin

Finally: Rwanda

And we headed for the airport.  The President of Ethiopia sent his own plane for Clinton.  My three colleagues and I boarded the plane with Clinton, his Secret Service detail, his doctor, and his chief of staff, and we headed to Rwanda.  About 90 minutes later, we land in Kigali, Rwanda.  We deplane right onto the tarmac, jump into the waiting cars (also on the tarmac), and speed off to the hotel, The Serena.

My luggage hasn’t arrived yet;  no telling what time it’s coming.  But I’m tired so I’m going to bed if I have any prayer of attending the tomorrow’s  events.

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