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Will Ferguson recalls road trip at centre of his new book

Ferguson trades tales of Rwanda now and then.

Author Will Ferguson’s buddy Jean-Claude Munyezamu stands in front of the ruins of his brother’s home in Rundu village. It was destroyed during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda.

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Author Will Ferguson’s buddy Jean-Claude Munyezamu stands in front of the ruins of his brother’s home in Rundu village. It was destroyed during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda.

Reading Will Ferguson’s recent book, Road Trip Rwanda, is almost exactly like being in Rwanda. I know — I lived there for 25 years before coming to Canada.

From the seriousness of law enforcers to the mundane activities and the craziness of an entire nation about soccer, the Giller Prize-winning author managed to beautifully capture it all in a 350-page memoir that hit bookshelves early this month.

So when I recently sat down with him and his friend and travel guide Jean Claude Munyezamu — a Rwandan native currently living in Calgary, the man at the origin of the trip — it felt like three old friends talking about a neighbourhood they knew only too well, even though Ferguson had only spent three weeks in Rwanda.

Ferguson: My purpose for writing this book was to convey to western people that Rwanda has been enormously affected by the genocide. But Rwanda is not the genocide; just the same way the Jewish culture is not the Holocaust. For most people it’s as if Rwanda stopped in 1994. I hope this book shows that there’s more to Rwanda than just the genocide. People are living their lives, falling in and out of love, worried about their education. It was important for me to make that clear.

And you managed to do that by mixing humour, jokes and serious observations on how the country’s people are not just coping but thriving, right?

Ferguson: Yeah. I think road trips are inherently fun, even when your travel buddy doesn’t drink beer!

Munyezamu: He tried many times to convince me to join him for a drink. I have never had a drop of alcohol in my life.

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You should have taken me! All jokes aside though, in the book you talk about visiting genocide memorials, offering rides to the people on the streets and seeing the gorillas. What’s one thing that surprised you the most?

Ferguson: One of the most amazing things for me was seeing how Rwandan women could balance anything on their heads. I watched them for three weeks and never saw a thing falling off. And they’re doing this walking up and down on steep hills. They carry everything on their heads.

It’s not just women though, because I remember growing up and carrying everything on my head and walking miles and miles on every trip. Rwandans live on foot, man!

Ferguson: And there are people everywhere too. You know, I didn’t even make an attempt to drive when we were there. There are just so many people on the roads, highways and small roads. Every street is full of people, and they don’t fear crossing. I couldn’t believe it. They say Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, but that statistic is misleading. It makes you think of Rwanda as Mumbai, but it’s not. The country is so beautiful with hills, forests and rivers. But Rwandans use the roads like hallways.

I had the opposite reaction when I got here (Toronto) for the first time. I think my first question driving in from Pearson airport was: “Where are the people?” Anyway, tell me why Rwanda is a trip worth taking.

Ferguson: First of all, it’s beautiful. People are warm-hearted, it’s safe, it’s such a small country and there’s so much variety. You never waste your time in Rwanda. And for me the most important and powerful place we visited is at Nyange Memorial. This is a school where children refused to separate themselves according to their ethnic groups, and the militia killed them altogether. It’s only there that I realized the cycle of violence is broken in Rwanda forever.

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