David and Lili's World Tour

RWANDA

May 2005 - Kigali, Butare, Nyungwe, Cyangugu, Virunga, Kibuye, Kivu

Even the most remote roads are full of people, with even the steepest mountainsides cultivated (except for the Virunga volcanoes and the Nyungwe forest). Rwanda is crowded. We arrived in Kigali, a city rebuilding itself after the genocide of ten years ago. Scars from the war can be seen in people missing limbs, ruined buildings, beggars, and people who are obviously insane. But Rwanda is a safe place to travel thanks to new-found stability, peace, and security. We went to the Volcano National Park to celebrate my 40th birthday with mountain gorillas. Very cool :-) There are only 700 members of this species left, and they're all in the volcanoes along the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda border. The alpha male was huge but gentle, playing with his children in a human-like way. Gorillas are vegetarians.

The monsters of Rwanda are the people responsible for the 1994 genocide, and they are being prosecuted, both by the U.N. in Arusha, and by the Rwandan government (which has the death penalty, and has already sentenced more than 500 people to die). I am generally against the death penalty, but after visiting the horrific memorial to the massacre at Murambi (where many thousands of people were slaughtered as they sought refuge in a school), I can't help but think that maybe the people responsible deserved this fate. I have never seen anything so strongly morbid, and even the caretaker was speechless with tears in his eyes as he showed us around ;-(

People are prone to believe whatever they are told by those with power and authority (often the alpha male), without critical analysis or fact checking, and the less education they recieve, the more this is so. For example, people believe that human beings were created instantaneously ala the Adam and Eve story. Science has overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence that evolution is a fact (the word theory is misleading to non-scientists). Therefore, the way to comprehend what happened in 1994 is to note that human beings are apes, as are orangutans, gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees, and gibbons. Apes committed the genocide in Rwanda. Some apes are trained better then others. That's why it's so important that we improve our schools.

When I asked what motivated people to kill their neighbors, I always received the same response: "Rwandans are subsistence farmers with little or no education. So when rich, educated politicians tell them they can kill and take over the land of the victim, they kill." And this is indeed what happened, totalling about 800,000 dead in 100 days of insanity. There was another crucial factor: Rwanda became so overpopulated that "farms" were too small to sustain the farmers; violent fights between siblings over land inheritance grew steadily in the years preceding the crisis. Overpopulation was the root cause.

Rwandans say that there are no more Hutus or Tutsis, but only Rwandans, so that tribal conflicts will happen 'never again' - except that the Hutu - Tutsi conflict continues in the neighboring Congo, and there are way too many children (and God is against birth control, or so says his proxy on Earth, the Pope). Things are looking up in Rwanda at the moment, but I worry about the future for these children.

We tracked wild chimpanzees in the Nyungwe Forest. Chimps share about 98% of human DNA, have been trained to use human sign language, walk upright when they want to, and have other human characteristics (such as the way they show emotion with facial expressions). They also eat monkeys. And they go to war with neighboring tribes. We got close to a wild group, but they stayed in the tree canopy. It was great to see them in their natural habitat. Chimps have empathy, too. And if you have never heard of bonobos, check them out.

I want to be clear that there is absolutely nothing racist about my remarks. We humans share more than 99.9% of our DNA. The differences between us are cultural, economic, geographic, and political. Differences like skin color are superficial. Religion falls under culture, that which we learn from previous generations. My religion, for lack of a better word, is Secular Humanism. I wouldn't call myself an atheist because I believe in God, a beautiful, amazing mathematical God. I believe in the laws of physics; that is, I believe that the Universe, while chaotic, is also orderly, and the closest we can get to understanding it is through math. Yin-Yang can be found in the math with fractals, trigonometry, and quantum mechanics; and I think Big Bangs and Black Holes follow suit. Note also that DNA has a Yin-Yang symmetry. My contention is that anything that cannot be explained directly by the laws of physics can be understood indirectly as a phenomenon of the incredible human brain. I call this my Trained Ape Theory of human nature. Consider dreams.

We were greeted with hugs in Kinigi, near the Volcano National Park. A local woman said that we were the first white tourists to ever visit their town center. I found that hard to believe. Later, we saw the white apes, rich Europeans trained in luxury but not in human warmth... At one point we had to walk several kilometers with our backpacks. I flagged down a Land Cruiser with 3 white tourists and asked if we could hitch a ride. The driver said he didn't have room. Then, a small van loaded with 18 local people stopped and gave us a lift (apes trained in human warmth but not luxury).

After all the ape tracking, we rested for a few days in Kibuye, on beautiful Lake Kivu.

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