Over the past few weeks I have been working my way through Road Trip Rwanda: A Journey Into the New Heart of Africa by W. Ferguson. I originally picked this book up because it was based in East Africa and although I travelled parts of East Africa I rarely learned of the history beyond the cities I have family in or had personally visited. In fact, my general historical knowledge is limited at best.
W. Ferguson, a Calgarian, and his friend Jean-Claude, also a Calgarian but originally from Rwanda, travel to Rwanda post genocide (1994). I had heard about the Rwandan genocide but truly never absorbed how said events have impacted millions of individuals. What I found shocking was that the genocide was occurring during my early to mid grade school years and that we were never taught about it. A genocide rooted in ethnic, tribal, and cultural rivals seems to be a critical point of understanding the challenges of diversity, immigration, and so forth that each of us is currently experiencing in one way or another. I believe it would be hard to find someone that does not know an individual who has immigrated to a new country, who has refugee status, or who has lost someone in war.
During my own travels in East Africa, I was constantly frustrated and in shock as to how many Asian workers were located in Tanzania and Kenya. Ferguson, also accounts for their involvement in the Rwandan community. But, in a more positive way then I had ever looked at their involvement, he states, “Europeans had always expected Africans to learn their language; the Chinese were the first to meet them halfway…These were cultural outposts we were passing, where Asia and Africa met…” (p.164). Rwanda, as noted in the book, has become a highly functioning community with great creativity, resources, and business sense. Less than 20 years ago a country that was brought to mere dust is now thriving; Rwanda is an African country to look up to and model after.
The core of the book is regarding the genocide, an experience many wish not to speak of, especially those that some how escaped. Being a Tutsi during the genocide was a declaration of death. The Hutu’s had the upper hand. I could not wrap my head around the fact that thousands (if not more) sought safety at local churches without realizing that church, military, and government members were involved in the genocide killings. Thousands were buried alive in collapsing churches while a few attempted to escape into the deep forests of Rwanda and surrounding countries (Tanzania and Uganda). Although I am now more than curious about the personal narratives of my friends and others who share space with me in Canada but have come from Rwanda, I can not bring myself to ask them to share their stories. As I read along, near the end of the book, Jean-Claude tells Ferguson that one does not ask a Rwandan their story but if they want their story to be known they will share it themselves. The tension I had carried with me throughout the book came to an ease in that moment; I am not privileged to these narratives for a reason bigger than I can understand.
And while I did enjoy the various antidotes of Ferguson and Jean-Claude’s travels through Rwanda, at times I felt they were lengthier than necessary. At moments I wanted the story to bring itself back to the purpose of the book. Other moments I found myself chuckling along with the behaviours and thoughts of Ferguson. Yet, I cannot stop thinking about how much of Ferguson’s experience in Rwanda was based on the fact that Jean-Claude and he continuously told individuals he was an important journalist. Although Ferguson is a journalist, I wonder about the articles and journals beyond this book that he has written, that the individuals in Rwanda have seen and read, and if at times it was an unfaithful way of gaining access. I imagine that great knowledge has come out of Ferguson’s travels, for I alone learnt a lot, but I cannot stop thinking about the ethics. Throughout the book Ferguson places ‘important journalist’ in quotations and almost mocks its use, which allows me to believe at some point he stopped to think about the ethical use of such privilege (even power).
Overall, the book has widened my understanding of the struggles faced by those from and residing within Rwanda, has awaken a desire to travel to Rwanda but left me with questions regarding the ethics of such travels, and has reminded me that as a counsellor and researcher I am still not necessarily privileged to others narratives, that I need to be welcomed into others stories versus requesting entrance. Road Trip Rwanda has left me with lots to think about and a tight rope to walk along while engaging in my own counselling practice.