I have always loved the 4th of July as an annual celebration to remember the sacrifices people have made for our liberty.Yet this year, the 4th of July was a once in a lifetime celebration, because we got to celebrate two holidays. Before I flew to Rwanda, I realized that I would miss the parades and fireworks in the US this year. Little did I know that July 4th is also a HUGE holiday here: it’s called Liberation Day, and commemorates the last day of the genocide, when the Rwandan Patriotic Front overcame the Hutu powers who carried out the mass murders. Rwanda’s Independence Day also happens to fall during this week, on July 1. So this year, more than ever, was a joyous occasion to celebrate peace, freedom, and liberation from evil.
A popular activity for the 4th of July here is to attend the national commemoration event at Amahoro Stadium. Amahoro means “peace” in Kinyarwanda, so their national event venue is truly indicative of their commitment to a bright future. Our friend Prosper was set on bringing us to see the event, and we were very happy that he was there. As I should have easily predicted at this point, the event was much more of a fiasco than was necessary.
The event began at 10 AM, but Prosper insisted that we leave our guest house at 7 AM in order to enter the stadium. When we arrived at the gates around 7:30, there was already a giant line from the stadium extending into the surrounding neighborhood. It was a free event that was filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. I suddenly realized that the ticket is a novel invention. However, tickets are apparently not a concept here. After waiting in line for almost an hour, the crowd suddenly started running towards the gate, and the orderly line collapsed into a mob scene. Prosper helped us escape, and we headed towards another gate. This gate had another huge line, albeit more orderly than the last. Yet it turned out that there was a separate line for women! After moving to the front of the women’s line, we realized that we had to enter through the front gate because we had cameras. At the third gate, we were greeted by national militia men who checked our cameras with a bomb dog, and then instructed us to pass through an airport security scanner. It also just so happened that this gate was the VIP entrance, so for the second time in a row, we took our seats in the VIP section of a national genocide remembrance event.
At 10 AM, scores of militia and police marched into the stadium to the beat of a marching band. We were so happy that the event finally started after such a long morning! Yet it was too good to be true! In genuine Rwandan fashion, the event halted to “wait” for the distinguished guests to arrive. The distinguished guests happened to be the presidents of Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo, and the VP of Burundi. (No big deal!) So at 11:30, after a packed stadium sat patiently with no food, little water, and many in direct sunlight, the event started again. I think I had anticipated an action-packed entertaining event, which didn’t happen. It mostly consisted of marching militia, slow and steady marching band tunes, and speeches from the presidents of Kenya and Rwanda. There were a few traditional dances, but it was overall a fairly somber celebration of 20 years of post-genocidal peace and liberation.
The event ended at 2:30 pm, as a brigade of Toyotas picked up the distinguished guests. It was an extremely long day, but I was so grateful to see how another nation celebrates their blessings of liberty today. Ultimately, I think this was one of my favorite 4th of July celebrations. I couldn’t have been happier to celebrate my own country’s Independence Day than with a nation that understands the implications of liberty better than I could ever fathom.