Ladies and Gentlemen. I have been deceived. Born in Bangladesh where cyclones, monsoons and other natural disasters occur and where the country is semi- permanently ebbing in and out of water. Raised in Canada where fresh drinking water comes out miraculously out of little taps in bathrooms and kitchens. (I count Montreal and Toronto’s foul- tasting water as fresh). Having fallen in love with both coasts of the country where the ocean extends as far as the eye can see. And, having been told that 80% of the world is made of water, I have believed in the deepest subconscious of my mind that ours, is a water world. It is thus with shock every morning that I discover that water, in actuality, comes out of yellow jerry cans that have been transported by my little sister Nadia from deep down in the valley. And it is is with the deepest sense of respect that I bathe nowadays, using not more than a litre from a little basin and discovering how best to wash myself without wasting a drop.
Musambira, the village where we live, is situated in the centre of this tiny country, surrounded quite literally by a thousand hills that have all been carved out of the countryside and are filled with crops of maize, sorghum, cassava, potatoes and bananas growing on their steep hills. However, in an attempt by the government, to make use of every possible inch of land, marshes and rivers have been transformed into agricultural wonderlands in the middle of these valleys. Deep down where there should be running water or at least some sort of a water- logged ecosystem, there are now crops of maize, rice and cassava growing in small plots. The soil that erodes from the hilltops makes these valleys extremely rich and fertile and productive. The people are happy as they now have a way of getting more and more food. However, I can’t help but wonder at the long- term effects of changing the hydrological systems of almost the entire country. The water that comes out of Rwanda is used by the entire Congo- Nile Basin for its agricultural uses– all the way down to Egypt. I also wonder what the effects of global warming will be on Rwandan agricultural productivity. In a country where despite fertile valleys, intensive agricultural practices are driving erosion and increasing temperatures are making water levels drop, but where the population is growing and the entire country is getting more and more “developed”– where will the water come from for this increased development? Two of my fellow group members have families whose closest wells have dried up. They now resort to walking for at least 40 minutes down steep cliffs to get water at a “river” where water trickles down and takes at least as long to fill up a jerry can. How far do the people who live downriver have to travel to be able to continue to survive?
We spent the past week in the beautiful town of Kibuye on the shores of Lake Kivu- one of the largest in Africa. In the (very far) distance, we could make out the peaks of the DRC. After a 2 hour journey through gorgeous countryside, terraced hillsides and many, many curbs on the road, we saw Lake Kivu shining from between the hills in dark blue splendor. Leaving my bags in our dormitory, I ran down the steep path, through perfectly manicured gardens and exquisite views and all I could think of was water. And in I plunged, capris, shirt and all, drinking in (but not literally) the cool and fresh sensation of being completely emerged. The lake is clean and clear. We played in the water and by the banks for a few hours. The sun was shining, there was nobody around. Water is peace for me. But this very Lake is the center of quite a bit of international pressure. Bordering the DRC and Rwanda, it has seen its fair share of atrocities. During the genocide, this beautiful little town was at the center of the worst mass killings in the country and it is estimated that approximately 7 out of 10 Tutsis were killed. Many were killed inside the church close to the guest house we were staying at and bodies were dumped into the lake. And so, even in this water that refreshed me and purified my soul (which has been craving for the sight of a large body of water for the past month and a half), there has been violence and atrocities. But, it is so everywhere you go in Rwanda. We forget that the village we live in has a terrible past, that the city streets we walked were the scenes of atrocities.
Instead, we focus on the horizon ahead: On the schools being built (trying to forget that during construction of too many of these building, workers come across mass graves and the work must stop and a new site chosen), on the elections ahead (trying to forget that they are certainly not very democratic and we already know who will win and that opposition leaders are being thrown into jail), on the fact that there is now a newly installed pump in my courtyard and that my sister does not have to walk so far to get to fresh water. We focus on the calm surface of Lake Kivu and try to forget what lies beneath but forever cautious because apparently, there are bubbles of methane that can make their way up to the surface and suffocate everything in its path.