National Heroes' Day
There are surprisingly few national holidays in Rwanda, one of which is National Heroes' Day, which is basically Veterans' Day. The entire town collects in the local stadium for speeches, dances, music and a parade.
Wanting to learn and experience as much as possible, my boss and I decided that morning to go. The walk was long and hot, so we put on jeans and t-shirts and made the hike. Drenched in sweat, we dragged ourselves to an entrance, where we were immediately escorted to the main grandstand, where another of our staff members had been inexplicably waiting for us.
We were seated in the second row of the VIP section, directly behind the most important people at the event--the governor, top Army officials, top police officers, etc. Everyone, EVERYONE, was dressed to the nines--full suit or fanciest dress. My boss and I, again, were in jeans, right in the center of the second row. Somebody tried to move us, but when he realized that my boss was the head of office of one of the biggest international organizations in the province, he relented. It was hilarious.
So, whereas we had expected to be spectators like everyone else, we got the best seat in the house.
The event began and concluded with the national anthem. Then a band with 6 too many members began playing music that was at times so cacophonous that I couldn't help but smile. It was exactly like karaoke--the background music was great, perfectly rhythmic, but the singers were so off-key and off-beat (and SO into their music) that the comparison was unavoidable.
Traditional Rwandan dancers then came out--the men wore loincloths of colorful fabric and wore bells around their ankles. They jumped and turned and did amazing acrobatics with their bodies, all without breaking a sweat or even breathing hard. The women then joined. Fewer of them had bells and I wondered if that was traditional or if the women just didn't have enough.
Then the parade began. Every school child and university student marched by the grandstand, holding a handmade banner from their school. The smallest kids, surely told to march like military men, swung their arms so hard you thought they might fly. Then the handicapped group followed, with their hand-cranked bicycles. Following were the bankers and money lenders, waving 5000 Frw bills. Then the bakers walked by, waving their bread. The cleaners waved their brooms; the weavers did a special dance; the men at the mechanic shop marched by; then the Boy and Girl Scouts; then each of the hotels and restaurants, large and small; the Rwandan Red Cross; a Mutzig truck with men wearing Primus shirts in the back; the taxi-motos; and all twelve of Gisenyi's taxis. There were more. Each group wore the same kind of outfit, and many were loud and colorful. It was such a sight.
The national pride, particularly in light of everything they've been through, was really beautiful. I can't think of any other word. It was just beautiful.