We arrived at the Kigali International Airport around 4 PM. Since we were early, we waited at an outdoor cafe for an hour. I sat at a table with Sonia, Min, and Makka. Inside the airport, I bought a bracelet for my grandmother and a neck pillow for the trip home. Sadly, I forgot to buy myself water before we went to our gate. I didn’t realize that you’re unable to leave the gate once you enter it. Sonia and I were assigned to sit together on the flight to Kenya. Upon our arrival in Nairobi, we had to rush to our next gate. Unfortunately, there was no time to buy food or water for the long journey, but at least there were restrooms inside our gate. Like in Rwanda, we were unable to leave the gate once we entered it. I was assigned to sit between Rachel and Makka on the plane. I managed to sleep for the first six or seven hours of our fourteen-hour flight. Halfway through, I had a negative reaction in the air. My breathing was shallow and I felt like I might lose consciousness. I had a similar experience in 2019 on a plane ride to Holland from Tanzania. This time, I didn’t panic. I stayed calm and eventually the feeling went away. I drank the airplane beverages but sparsely ate. We landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport at 7:30 AM. We didn’t realize it then, but our 10:30 AM flight to Buffalo had been changed to 9:30 AM. We were delayed in the cabin for an extended period of time. After we were allowed to exit, we got caught in a long line at the passport station. Two kind travelers let us go in front of them once we learned our boarding time had changed. At the baggage claim, our luggage was delayed for nearly an hour. Finally, I found my suitcase and ran to terminal 5. Out of breath, I arrived at the Jetblue counter. Unfortunately, we all missed our flight. There was a lot of tension as we tried to figure out our next steps. Ultimately, I was booked on a 6:30 AM flight the following morning. Sonia, Makka, Min, Rachel, and I teamed up to spend the night together at JFK. Our first decision was to find lunch. I hadn’t eaten since we left Rwanda and I had a craving for Shake Shack. We ended up going on a wild goose chase–boarding a shuttle to terminal 1 instead of taking an AirTrain to terminal 4–before we discovered a Dunkin’ Donuts. I bought myself a water bottle; a bacon, egg, and cheese croissant; hash browns; and donut holes. We sat down in a seating area and relaxed for a while before we received a text from Jim offering to buy us all dinner at the TWA lounge. Around 4 PM, we made our way over. The side entrance–a long hallway with a red carpet, white walls, and a brown ceiling–seemed very familiar. A passerby confirmed it was featured in the movie ‘Catch Me If You Can’ with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. The 1960s interior of the TWA lounge was glamorous. There was a ‘pit’ with red couches and a huge glass window overlooking a vintage plane outside. In front of the window and the main entrance were two automated ‘departure and arrival’ boards. There were three floors with two cafes and multiple seating areas. We stayed on the second floor with our luggage. Above us was a bridge and an analog clock. A continuous playlist of classic songs played through the loud speaker. I enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere of the lounge. Trish and Jim ordered us pizzas and soft serve ice cream from the Paris cafe. Min bought us water and soda. Jonise and Magdaline, who were staying at the TWA hotel, joined us for dinner. Afterward, Rachel, Trish, and I walked upstairs to view the fashion exhibit of vintage flight attendant uniforms. The rays of sun seeping through the window made them look spectacular. Magdaline and I went outside to explore the vintage airplane, and then we stopped by the ice rink next to it. There were life-size chess pieces on the fake grass, so we decided to play a game together. Even though I lost, it was a lot of fun! Magdaline bought me a ginger ale. We sat at a table inside the lounge and met a humorous employee named Donna who cheered us up. Around 10 PM, a nice woman announced that everyone was allowed to sleep at the TWA lounge for free. Sonia, Makka, Min, Rachel, and I found spaces to sleep. I laid down on the periphery of the pit, put my neck pillow on, and rested on my carry-on. As I was drifting off to sleep, Sonia kindly gave me a blanket. My phone alarm woke me up around 3 AM. We gathered our things and departed the lounge at 3:30 AM. We were surprised by the amount of people at the Jetblue counter so early in the morning, then again, it was July 4th. We checked our luggage at the bag drop and went through security. After we arrived at our gate, we searched for breakfast. I bought a blueberry muffin and a water bottle. Makka and I sat next to each other on the plane to Buffalo. A woman sitting next to me recognized the book I was reading and we chatted about it before takeoff. While this experience was a first for me, I was grateful to not be alone. It was kind of exciting to spend the night at the airport and I felt like our group truly came together as a “village.” We worked as a team, looked out for one another, and supported each other through it. We landed at 8 AM in Buffalo and immediately went to the baggage claim. After I found my suitcase, I hugged everyone goodbye and walked outside to locate my grandmother’s car.
As our bus ascended to Nyungwe National Park, I felt a bit dizzy. I checked the compass app on my phone and saw that we were around 8,050 feet. At first, I felt anxious because the last time I was at this elevation in 2019, I felt like I was going to pass out. Thankfully, I had acclimated enough that my dizziness disappeared after five to ten minutes. Upon arrival at Nyungwe National Park, we ordered our lunches prior to our hike so that we could take our food on the road with us to Kigali. Walking downhill through the rainforest was easy, but I knew walking uphill again would be very difficult. The path was narrow and uneven so I had to watch where I walked. When we stopped for breaks, I gazed out at the lush, green vegetation. Then we arrived at the canopy walk…I am embarrassed to say that I neglected to prepare myself for this portion of the itinerary. I overestimated my ability to emotionally handle heights by a long shot. The canopy was a narrow bridge with a metal floor and heavy ropes on either side. The height of the bridge from the ground was death-defying. It reminded me of when I was in fourth grade and my school took me on a trip to the Shenandoah Valley. I went rock climbing, zip lining, rope swinging, and more. I won a trophy for being adventurous and challenging myself to try every activity. Even though I didn’t get to keep the trophy, I framed my certificate as a reminder of my potential. I guess I assumed my fourth grade self would take charge on the canopy walk, but she was nowhere to be found. What replaced her was fear. Fear of dying. Fear of losing control. Fear of failure. I was calm until I walked halfway across the first, short bridge. Then I stopped. I felt physically stuck, like my legs couldn’t move. The group at the first tower coaxed me forward, and I reluctantly complied. Once I stepped onto the platform, I felt tears well up in my eyes and I started to whimper. I was scared, nauseous, and dreaded crossing the long bridge. I was afraid I would freeze or start screaming. I could imagine my mother and grandmother scolding me for my fear, so I started repeating a popular quote from Dune, “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that leads to oblivion…” I was appreciative to all the people who came over to comfort me–embracing me and breathing with me. I decided to wait until the last group to go. I tried following after Drew and Soso, but I immediately asked to go backward. I felt very disappointed in myself. Then Tim, one of our guides, said he would walk behind me across the bridge. I swallowed my fear and followed after Kerri. I remember looking straight ahead and upward at the sky. I walked slowly—putting one foot in front of the other. I prayed profusely in my mind. When it became too much, I closed my eyes or stopped for a second. I was convinced I would collapse into tears when I reached the end. Halfway across, I became very focused and calm. I appreciated Tim’s encouragement on the bridge–it helped to take my mind off of my anxiety–but when he suggested we stop to look at the view, I shook my head and said “Uh-uh.” I was elated when I made it to the second platform! I was so proud of myself and thankful to everyone for their support. I shook Tim’s hand and thanked him directly. Trish and I clapped hands. I was beaming and feeling more confident in myself. I had fulfilled my potential and proved to myself that I could overcome a physical obstacle. I walked forward and realized there was a third, short bridge to cross. This time, I walked across it without fear–with a smile on my face and an enthusiastic stride. I was finally on solid ground, but I could see myself doing it all again now that I knew what to expect. I hope my fourth grade teacher, Miss Thorogood, would be proud of me too. My favorite quote from Carrie Fisher is “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will flow.” I think this quote speaks true to my experience on the canopy walk. As I suspected, the hike uphill was very challenging. By the time we reached the top, I was out of breath and sweating with flushed cheeks. Lunch–a chicken quesadilla and a lemon cake–was a rewarding treat.
Today we experienced a day in the life of a rural Rwandan household through Azizi Life. We were welcomed by a group of women with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and purple flower petals. We entered one of the women’s homes and sat in her living room. They prayed for us and introduced themselves. In turn, we each introduced ourselves to them. They gave us skirts and scarves to wear while we worked. My fabric matched—a pink background with burgundy flowers and yellow pistils. Then we went outside to where the women were preparing food. I picked up a sweet potato and a knife and attempted to peel it. One of the women stopped me to show me the right way to peel it, and then I got the hang of it. I had difficulty chopping the spinach with a knife against a wooden spoon. Afterward, we each picked up a plastic jug to fetch water with. In middle school, I was required to read “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park and I never forgot it. A decade later, I am embarking on a long walk (around thirty minutes both ways) to fetch water. We walked downhill and sang songs as a group—watching where we stepped so we didn't trip—until we arrived at the field where the water hole was located. The view of the field from the path was breathtaking and I saw many people working. The water hole was a single pipe with clear-looking water flowing from it into a murky puddle. A mother and her children were fetching water first. One of her children was filling their rainboots with the murky water and I noticed a dead mouse floating nearby. When it was my turn, I bent down to fill my jug with the running water and then I screwed the lid back on. The jug became quite heavy. At one point, a cow appeared and began drinking water from the puddle. The walk back to the house was challenging. I was sweating and out of breath as I climbed uphill—alternating arm positions while carrying my water jug. Rachel had a good idea to balance the jug on her shoulders, so I did the same. Halfway back to the house, we took a short break to drink our own water and rest. When we resumed, I kept wanting to stop, but I focused on putting one foot in front of the other. I was the fourth delegate to reach the house. Although the endorphins from the trek felt good and the exercise was well-needed, I have a newfound appreciation for my faucet and clean water at home…It is not enough to read about it—I believe every person with clean, running water in the United States should experience fetching water from a far distance to truly understand the privilege of it. Water is a human right, but sadly there are obstacles everywhere in the world, even in some regions of the U.S. After a short rest, we each selected a hoe to cultivate the host’s garden. We dug out most, if not all, the weeds in her garden. I lost my energy during this activity. My legs are a lot stronger than my arms. Lunch was delicious! It was sweet potato, beans with spinach, and avocado. I went back for seconds. During our stay, we danced with the group of women, and at the end we participated in crafts. I weaved two different colors of straw together to create a bracelet that I placed in a pile of bracelets when I was finished. Before we left, the women asked us to sing for them and we decided to chant the Buffalo Bills anthem. Lastly, we drove to the Azizi Life store and I bought a small, glass cube of honey to bring back for my mom.
This morning we checked out of St. Paul’s hotel at 8 AM and drove to the Kigali Genocide Memorial for our full-day ‘Peace and Values’ training. We started the training with a kinesthetic warm-up. Then, we were given hand-outs to coincide with each section of the training, such as the ‘Continuum of Violence’ by Ervin Staub and the ‘Continuum of Benevolence’ by Thomas Vincent Flores. For the Continuum of Violence, we split into groups and matched ten stages with their definitions. During our discussion, we drew parallels between the stages of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi and current events in the United States. I have heard many human rights activists posit that the United States is in the later stages that occur before a mass atrocity. Verbalizing the amount of danger we are in is startling. We listened to a short video about two boys, Martin and Jacques, who were best friends during the genocide. Jacques lived with Martin and his family, despite their initial hesitancy and bias. Soon after, the two families became close friends. We each received a slip of paper with one of the stages in the ‘Continuum of Benevolence.’ Mine was “7. Connection: when a person feels a positive relationship with someone else.” I was asked to identify where in the story this stage correlates to. Next, a presenter narrated three stories of children during the genocide—a survivor, a witness, and a rescuer—using a poster with illustrations. Once we saw and listened to each story, we were asked to identify a lesson we learned from them. Afterward, we formed a circle and collectively took a few breaths together. Then we moved outside to the balcony to engage in our final exercise. We were given slips of paper with real scenarios of survivors, perpetrators, and descendants on them, and then asked to imagine we were that person. Mine was, “I am 21 years old living with my siblings, my parents were killed in the 1994 genocide.” This scenario struck a chord with me because, although I am an only child, I am 22 years old and the thought of my mom or grandparents being killed greatly distresses me. A list of statements were read to us about forgiveness and we were asked to take a step forward, backward, or in place–as the person in the scenario–depending on if we agreed, disagreed, or felt neutral about the statement. It was interesting to see where people stood at the end of the exercise–we were all in different places–and how our responses differed to those given the same scenario. We were told that forgiveness, while central to Rwanda’s reconciliation process, is a patient and nonlinear process that is encouraged but never forced. At the end of lunch, I decided to continue my tour of the Kigali Genocide Memorial and ventured into the Children’s Room. I was saddened to see all of the children’s photographs and epitaphs. A few inscriptions stood out to me, one of which was a 17-year-old boy who was killed at Nyamata, the church I had visited the day before yesterday. I was horrified to read how children–infants to teenagers–were killed with machetes, burned to death, or had their eyes gouged out. Later, I went to the gift shop with Magdaline and Jonise to look for books about the genocide. I purchased a book titled, “Rwanda After Genocide: Gender, Identity and Post-Traumatic Growth” by Caroline Williamson Sinalo and an English-to-Kinyarwanda phrasebook. Afterward, we returned to the bus and traveled to our new destination, Muhanga, which is Buffalo’s sister city! We took an evening tour of Urukundo Learning Center and met Mama Arlene, the school’s founder. The sunset from Urukundo’s barn was pretty and their cows were cute. We stayed for dinner before returning to our new hotel, the Splendid.
Our group was introduced to Prince Moses and another man who explained the Prison Fellowship to us. During questions, I asked him, “What is the role of the descendants of survivors and perpetrators in the reconciliation process?” He told me that descendants have an important role in the reconciliation process. The legacy of genocide weighs heavily on them due to generational trauma and shame. Many descendants work to educate about the genocide and advocate for human rights. The descendants of perpetrators try to persuade their parents to repent and reconcile. After the presentation, our plans changed from the reconciliation village to the Nyamata Genocide Memorial. Rwanda’s public memory is very different from the United States in that their sites of memory have been preserved exactly as they were discovered. I was apprehensive to continue with the study away program after I learned about this part of AFP’s itinerary in Fall 2022. How could I preserve my sanity, my peace of mind, my love of life, or my faith in God after witnessing the aftermath of genocide? I had a long conversation with Drew that encouraged me to continue. Although one cannot truly be prepared to witness such sights, I spent months working with my therapist to prepare myself as adequately as possible. As an undergraduate student focusing on the prevention and education of genocide, it was important that I visit this site. The journey to Nyamata was thirty minutes long. My ears popped and I got a mild headache as the bus climbed up higher into the hills. I carried my hat and water bottle and left my bag on the bus. Our tour guide instructed us to read the signs outside the building, which explained the history leading up to the church’s massacre. I stood at the entrance of the church and observed the exterior. A grenade had damaged the gate, leaving a shallow crater, widening the metal, and sending shrapnel through the roof. As someone with a Christian background, it is horrifying how people were brutally tortured and murdered in this church—a ‘sacred’ place. Drew once told me that it is still sacred, but in a different way. I stepped through the threshold into the church. The entire floor was covered in what I believe was dried blood and there were several small craters in the floor. The roof is covered in holes and light seeps in from them. There were short, wooden pews with folded piles of discolored clothing on top. One that stood out to me was an infant’s pink babydoll dress covered in blood. There were dozens of caskets draped in white cloth side-by-side with each other. The alter cloth was splattered with blood and a statue of Mary had specks of blood on it. It is haunting how this statue, a figure of the divine, ‘witnessed’ the massacre. A glass case of the victims’ belongings are present in the back of the church. There is a crypt that was created in the church’s basement. I was one of the last people to walk down into it. My legs felt like lead as I walked halfway down the stairs to peer at a large glass case of bones and skulls—many of which had marks on them. A coffin underneath belongs to a young woman who was gang raped before being impaled with a stick until she died. I could not bring my legs to walk down further, so I walked back upstairs. We walked outside to the mass grave, and again I was one of the last people to walk down into the crypt. Drew steadied my hand as I climbed in. I managed to walk down to the bottom until I became too overwhelmed by the narrow corridor and dozens of coffins—each with a name and photograph of the victim—on either side of me. It felt surreal, like an out-of-body experience. I was surprised that I did not cry after everything I had just experienced. I felt guilty that I couldn’t. This year is my first year of studying genocide and it has been very distressing. I gained weight, my hair fell out, I had frequent anxiety attacks, crises of faith, doubt, crying spells, and insomnia. That being said, I frequently journaled about my feelings, put in a lot of work during therapy, and had a strong support network that helped me through it. I can say that I did feel adequately prepared, but I will need time to process it in therapy when I return home. Next door to the memorial was a school with children playing during recess. One of their teachers was playing soccer with them. The juxtaposition of the two buildings next door to each other was unusual but hopeful. We lingered outside the memorial for a long time before walking over to view the reconstructed church. Afterward, we visited the reconciliation village. The village is inhabited by survivors, perpetrators, and those who fled but returned. A survivor and a perpetrator gave us their testimonies. Recently, two of their children married each other. I asked two questions for Prince Moses to translate. The first was, “What is both of their definitions of forgiveness? What is forgiveness for both of them?” The perpetrator explained that, for him, forgiveness is absolution. The survivor explained that, for her, forgiveness is peace of mind, healing from trauma, and seeing the good in the perpetrator. My second question was, “Have the children of the perpetrator experienced generational shame and have the children of the survivor experienced generational trauma, and if so, how did they cope with it leading up to their marriage?” The perpetrator said he had a responsibility to tell his children the truth about his involvement during the genocide. The survivor said that by forgiving the perpetrator, she showed her children a model of forgiveness. She requested her family to collectively forgive the perpetrator so they could live as neighbors alongside him. Prince Moses explained that the reconciliation village is an example of restorative justice. I bought two ‘peace’ bracelets from the village.
This morning, I was pleasantly surprised that my sore throat had disappeared. Makka and I walked to breakfast before 8 AM. I got myself a plate of plantain, carrots, a boiled egg, and green tea before sitting down at a table with some of my fellow delegates. Afterward, I applied my sunscreen and sprayed myself with bug spray in preparation to leave on our first excursion at 9 AM. I was quite thirsty and very eager to fill my reusable water bottle on the bus, which we all did. We drove to a bank, where I exchanged a large, pristine bill for a wad of Rwandan francs. I was told to mentally remove three zeros at the end of each bill to determine the dollar equivalent. Then, we drove to Nyamirambo Women’s Center. After disembarking, we filed into a room where we listened to an introduction of how the center was founded and how it operates. The center employs women in the neighborhood as seamstresses and helps them learn to read and write. We were given a card with popular phrases of Kinyarwanda translated into English, which came in handy during the walking tour. We were split into tour groups, and I followed my tour guide, Rachel, to view the seamstresses at work. Then we walked throughout the neighborhood of Nyamirambo. We saw a mosque that had sheltered people during the 1994 genocide. It is also a sight of executions. Rachel explained that its colors, green and white, represent peace and purity. We walked inside and exchanged greetings with a classroom of children learning the Quran. We visited a water depot, where we met a kind elderly woman who gave us all hugs. We gazed at the scenery of Kigali and walked into buildings to see how food items are processed. We walked down a street with beautiful graffiti on its walls. We took pictures of ourselves in front of them—I posed in front of a wall with large butterfly wings. Until this point, the sky had been overcast, but then the sun appeared over our heads. I was very glad that I wore sunscreen and a sun hat since I tend to burn quickly. Our last stop on our tour was for lunch at a woman’s home. All of our groups sat outside under a shade and served ourselves from the homemade buffet. I also enjoyed a refreshing soda. Afterward, we reapplied our sunscreen and walked back to the Women’s Center. I browsed the collection of items for sale and bought two small artworks of giraffes in front of a sunset. We got back on our bus and drove to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Upon our arrival, we went through security and then entered into the building. We were given an English recorder and an earbud for the tour. Then we stepped inside a room for a short presentation on the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi. Once we exited the room, we met our tour guide, Maurice, who is also a survivor of the genocide. After learning the etiquette and format of the memorial, we were allowed to start our independent tour of the exhibits. It was difficult to view the graphic pictures of murdered and decomposed victims at the exhibits. I was reminded of the graphic footage in “Ghosts of Rwanda,” a documentary we were required to watch before our trip. A chill ran down my spine when a toddler at the exhibit started crying. I read the text on the exhibit panels, and learned information I was unaware of. I visited all but two exhibits, the Children’s Room and a glass display of victim’s remains, the former due to time and the latter due to fear. We regrouped in a meeting room. We started by identifying how we were feeling after the exhibit—I said I felt numb. We listened to Maurice’s testimony and asked him questions. Maurice believes that forgiveness is a choice and a slow process taken one step at a time. Drew added that he believes forgiveness is an invitation to begin the process of liberation. After our meeting, we paid our respects to the mass graves outside of the building. Maurice handed me a white rose and I placed it on a grave. Maurice asked us to internally convey a message to the victims during a moment of silence. A tear rolled down my cheek as I did. Afterward, I shook Maurice’s hand, thanked him, and returned to the bus. For dinner, we went to the Repub Lounge and ate several courses of food. The view of the city from the balcony was lovely and I had a lot of fun talking with those at my table.
Around three o’clock on the afternoon of June 16, just after taking my first anti-malaria pill, I received a notification from our Whatsapp group chat that our 6 AM flight from Buffalo Niagara International Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport was canceled. Thankfully, Drew and Jonise were able to find a last-minute solution–a bus ride that would transport us from Buffalo State University to JFK in time for our 1:45 PM flight to Kenya. My mom and I arrived at Cleveland Circle, our group’s new meeting place, by 1:00 AM. We were the first car to arrive, so we parked in the adjoining parking lot and waited until everyone’s cars started streaming in. I unpacked my luggage: two suitcases, one containing school supplies for Urukundo Learning Center and a personal suitcase, as well as a carry-on backpack. Our group–those leaving from Buffalo–stood on the sidewalk and talked to each other. At 3 AM, the bus arrived to pick us up. We loaded our suitcases in the trunk and in the backseat of the bus to make room. Makka and I sat next to each other. She showed me her crocheting project, which is amazing! I thought this bus ride would be a great opportunity to sleep on the way to New York City, but I was quickly proven wrong. The road was bumpy as we hurtled toward our destination. Additionally, there were no restrooms available on campus, so we all had to wait until 6:30 AM for our first rest stop. My favorite part of road trips is scenery and atmosphere. At night, there was a heavy, eerie fog. In the early morning, the fog cast a glowing silhouette over the sun. I enjoyed watching the lush green mountains pass us by. Our driver played “California Dreamin’” and “Crimson and Clover,” which I enjoyed listening to. We arrived at JFK at 11 AM on June 17. After I checked in my luggage, it was time to face the TSA–placing my backpack, laptop, hoodie, and shoes in plastic bins and stepping through the body scanners. My backpack was set aside for checking, but thankfully nothing was taken out. As a group, we made our way to our gate. One of my close friends recommended I check out the McDonald’s at JFK because of how good it is, but unfortunately the line was too long for me to go! I ordered a burrito bowl, a banana, a muffin, and a water bottle from two food outlets to bring on the long plane ride because I really, really dislike airplane food. On the plane, Makka and I were pleasantly surprised to discover we were assigned to sit next to each other again. After several hours on the plane, I was reminded of how claustrophobic it can be. Our flight was around thirteen hours–the longest continuous flight I’ve ever been on–but it felt longer. I took several naps during the flight. Just when I would fall asleep, I would wake up again. I’m glad I brought my liquid IV pouches because, after a while, I started to feel a bit dehydrated. When we landed in Nairobi, I joined everyone in the lounge. I looked out of the large glass windows to a view of the tarmac, and in the distance, birds. It looked like they were dancing–swooping and soaring in sync. I ordered a strawberry milkshake and fries at the food courts. Then we boarded the last leg of our journey! I sat next to Rachel on the plane. The plane’s older model made me feel nostalgic of when I would fly between Washington, D.C. and Buffalo as a child (manual shades on the windows). During the flight, I kept nodding in and out of sleep. When we landed, Rachel and I jumped on one of the buses headed to the customs office. Going through customs and buying visas is a fast-paced and nerve-wracking process. I fumbled with my answers when the passport officer asked me questions, but I ultimately got approved and caught up with the others. I had heard horror stories about previous delegations losing their luggage, but thankfully my luggage came through! After my suitcase for Urukundo was approved, I joined the others outside to load our luggage onto two separate buses. We boarded our bus and made our way through Kigali at night. It was spectacular! The rolling hills of the city were outlined by lights; we drove through a fragrant, tree-lined street; and I watched as motorcycle taxis wearing red helmets passed us by. We arrived at St. Paul’s hotel and were given our room assignments—Makka and I were assigned to the C wing. We ate dinner at the hotel’s buffet area and I put a little of everything on my plate. Unfortunately, the stale plane air and stress of traveling with little sleep gave me a sore throat. When Makka and I returned to our room, I took a painkiller. Makka helped me assemble my mosquito net over my bed, and then we turned off the lights at 10 PM. I had some trouble falling asleep initially. I also felt a twinge of homesickness for my friends and family in the U.S. I haven’t gone without seeing my family for a week since my school trip to the Shenandoah Valley in fourth grade. I steadied my mind, and eventually drifted off to sleep.
My name is Anne-Sophie Hellman and I am a junior at Buffalo State University majoring in History. I was born and raised in Washington, D.C., before moving to Buffalo, New York, in 2015. I am a passionate advocate for the prevention and education of genocides and mass atrocities. Currently, I am an intern for the Anne Frank Project, where I am researching and writing a guidebook for secondary school educators to teach their students about twentieth and twenty-first century genocides and mass atrocities. I am also a member of the United States Action Committee at STAND: The Student-led Movement to End Mass Atrocities. I chose this program because I want to gain a better understanding of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda. By traveling to Rwanda during Kwibuka 29, I hope to bear witness to the testimonies of survivors, perpetrators, and their descendants, as well as sites of conscience, such as museums and memorials. I wish to learn more about the gacaca court system, reconciliation villages, and Peace and Values education. While visiting Rwanda, I am interested in exploring topics of forgiveness, reconciliation, kinesthetic learning, public memory, and oral history. Additionally, I look forward to immersing myself in Rwanda’s food, language, and scenery.