The thing that strikes you about Rwanda is how green it is. As green as we were in March 1994.
Greenness embraced us in a raucous damp as we laboured through bamboo and nettles in the Virunga rain forest. Our guides scanned the undergrowth with radar eyes gesticulating and shwishing in excitement as we came upon a family of mountain gorilla, with a newborn, only minutes old.
Clinging to its mother’s underside the baby was still wet. To the drip, drip, drip of the vegetation we watched in awe as mama gently licked it clean. Alert but non-aggressive even the silverback seemed caught up in the purity of the moment.
So much promise, so much life, was distilled in this singular scene, it cast a spell over us, lulling us into reflection and thought. Everyone fell silent communing with individual gods at the wonder of genesis before us.
It took a while before we realised that the group had moved off - as quietly as a receding hairline.
Only the composting smell of dung gave a clue that these remarkable examples of life’s splendour had been there seconds before.
I felt an ache, a sense of loss, at their departure, as if something integral to my own wholeness had been removed. Yet, despite the hole, I was on a high as we descended the mountain. We had just witnessed creation in the raw – the twenty four carat variety.
We slid and scrambled down to the park offices, and our vehicle, where one of our guides asked for a lift to Gisenyi.
Bumping and bucking over the red earth we made our way back to civilisation. I felt replete. Women carrying hoes walked in single file down the track. This was what it was all about, I thought, first edenic harmony now bucolic bliss.
But the Virunga Mountains are volcanoes. I should have known better.
“Stop, stop,” our guide called as we drew alongside the ruins of a house. The roof, windows and door were gone. It stared out with the empty eyes of a blind cave fish. Soulless.
“Come we go inside. You see,” said the guide.
“See what?” I asked.
“Rebels come from Uganda. They put people inside and burn house. You see skullbones,” he said, like a child wanting to show us a puppy.
I guess he thought he was repaying us for the lift by giving us a private tour. I guess there are people in this world who want to see the remains of people who died in horrific fashion.
In contrast to what we had seen earlier this was a landing of the most violent kind.
It was more than macabre. It was a reminder that paradise and hell can exist side by side. That all it takes is for humans to decide which one will gain the upper hand.
Little did we know that real genocide was just days away.