Author: Kirstine

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Always remember, never forget

2019-01-07 | Rwanda | 6 Comments

Wall of names of some of those killed during the genocide

It was friends, neighbours, family who run amok and within 100 days killed 1.000.000 people in 1994 in Rwanda – at that time I was pregnant with Sofie.

Babies, toddlers, children, youngsters, men and women where tortured, raped, molested and killed in the most horrendous ways – slaughtered by machetes, shot, drowned in latrines. It’s hard to believe that the nice and friendly streets of Kigali where I am today was filled with blood and bodies 25 years ago.

Today I visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre where 250.000 people was buried in a mass grave. It has been an emotional day, me crying several times looking at videos with survivors’ testimonials on how they watched their family members get killed, looking at the remains of those killed, seeing a superman bed sheet, one shoe from a child, the countless pictures of victims.

I get tears in my eyes writing this – a special part of the exhibition shows pictures of babies and kids who were killed with notes regarding each of them mentioning their favourite food, favourite sport, favourite song but also their age and how they died.

Devastating. It is difficult to grasp how human beings can turn into monsters who will do horrible things to their friends and families. They lived peacefully together, were married into each other’s families, were godparents to each other’s children.

History shows that genocides doesn’t happen overnight even though it might look like it. It wasn’t the case during the second world war, it wasn’t the case in Rwanda or the Balkans. It begins with an increasing division, an increase in dehumanising other groups (whether it is ethnicity, religion, politics etc.).

Like in Germany and on the Balkans, it was the people in power who planned the genocide. It was carefully planned in order to wipe out the Tutsis. Women were raped by HIV infected men on purpose to destroy future generations. Like the survivors from the genocide the kids from these rapes are traumatised.

Rwanda has done a lot to overcome the collective trauma – rebuilding the country, prosecuted those who planned and those who committed the killings, supporting the survivors. It will take many years, maybe even generations before some of the wounds have healed.

We must never forget how genocides happen – we must never forget that ordinary people can turn into monsters when they are manipulated and feel threatened. Dehumanising other people just because they look different or think different is the first step towards genocide.

I sometimes fear that we are going down this road again – the dehumanisation of those who are slightly different than ourselves. The talk about ‘them and us’ creating distance between – creating the illusion of ‘them’ not being human.

I do not know how we can stop this from ever happening again – but we must insist on trying, keeping our humanity.

Goodbye Uganda

2019-01-06 | Uganda | 2 Comments

Baby gorilla

Today I’m leaving Uganda after two weeks of both hectic activities and idleness – a bit like the everyday life here. The hectic streets of Kampala with thousands of bora boras, hundreds of taxies (i.e. 14-person minivans), street sellers, beggars. The streets buzzing with the sounds of sellers offering chicken on a stick, rolex (an omelette in a ‘pancake’), fried bananas or corn and drivers offering their boda boda or taxi to all who passes by. The smell of the city – the mix of trash, gasoline, food and other undefinable smells.

In contradiction the green green mountains, the national parks and Victoria Lake which offers a tranquillity which is difficult to find elsewhere. You find your self staring into infinity, zooming out, just listening to the sounds around you – the monkeys in the forest, the insects on the savannah or the birds on the lake.

Before I came, I only remembered learning about Idi Amin and the Entebbe kidnapping in school, but it happened many years ago. The country has been peaceful for more than 30 years. Improvements has been made – more children go to school; the economy is better. But there are still many that can’t read, many are poor, the population is deeply religious which means children goes to religious schools. Some places in the country they still believe in which craft. The life expectancy is 55 years (!) – 20 years less than in Denmark.

I have met only kindness and curiosity from the people I have met. They speak English, many very good, are polite and wants to talk. They are also world champions in soup – the best soups I have ever tasted was in the Bwindi mountains. Overall the Ugandan kitchen is great and there is plenty of it.

Ugandans must abide by the weather. If it rains it rains and you must wait it out – it would put a strain on a Danes patience, but you’ll learn. While we were in Mbarara a rainstorm hit Kampala causing large parts of the city to be without power. Trees and large billboards fell cutting down powerlines.

I have experienced so much in such little time it is difficult to describe all of it.

I will miss driving through the country passing village after village with kids shouting ‘muzungu’ (European) and waiving.

I will miss meeting all the great humanists, talking to them about their life, their visions and great work. I admire what they do – it is not easy being a non-believer in a very religious world.

I hope this will not be a goodbye but see you soon

From Voltaire to the Matrix

2019-01-04 | Uganda | 2 Comments

Peter – Viola – Kato

I’ve been a bit busy interviewing 11 humanists in only 3 days. Two of them in another city and the bus ride there took more than 5 hours – each way! I’m a bit exhausted and need some time absorbing all their stories.

But it was worth it meeting Kato, Peter, Viola, Andrew, Don, Ronnie, Max, Manzi, another Peter, Louis and Solomon and it has broadened my mind. They all grew up in a country which was and still is very religious. It cannot more different and far away from my upbringing in Denmark – we are not very religious, and religion is not that big a part of many people’s lives. In school we are taught critical thinking – in Uganda it’s not part of the curriculum.

So, it was fascinating to hear how they despite the lack of teaching in critical thinking at some point in their life started questioning the religious teachings. How they all became more and more aware that they did not believe. How they were inspired – and this is were both Voltaire and the Matrix plays a role as inspirations for both Kato and Louis. You will be able to hear more when I have edited the interviews and published some episodes.

In a country where non-believers are considered to be worshippers of Satan and a lost cause, it takes a lot of courage to openly declare yourself to be a non-believer, a humanist – they have all lost friends, some have been shunned from their families. But they still consider it to be worth all the challenges and the risks, because it is important to create a community for non-believers and to fight for everybody rights to ask questions, be critical thinkers.

I admire their courage.

Happy New Year

2019-01-01 | Uganda | No Comments

University Guest House – Kampala

I said goodbye to Sofie two days ago and has checked in to the University Guest House in Kampala. I will stay here the rest of the week. Tomorrow I will interview the first humanists for the podcasts. Uganda has a thriving humanist community with many organizations for humanists and freethinkers. I look forward to meeting them all.

Looking back at 2018 it has been a crazy year with huge changes in my life – I decided to sell everything I owned (besides my tiny car), my job was moved to another country and my daughter Sofie & her boyfriend Rasmus decided to move to London, luckily it meant that I could sublet their apartment – and finally I decided to take a year off and travel around the world.

Happy New Year to everybody.

Monkeys, monkeys, monkeys

2018-12-29 | Uganda | 2 Comments

Spending many hours on the roads you start noticing different details, what looks like unattended wilderness is fields with clearly marked boundaries of hedges. You will see fields with tomatoes, climbing beans and sweet potatoes. There are banana fields and fields were the cow’s grass. Even the steepest hills are used for farming.

On the short ride to Kibale National Park (only! 3 hours) we saw baboons on the road – they will steal food out of your hand if they get the chance. They are quite aggressive.

At the Kibale Forest Camp we had an early lunch with an amazing soup (again) – in Uganda you get the most amazing soups everywhere you go. I don’t know how they do it, but sauces and soups are fantastic.

After lunch Sofie went on chimpanzee trekking. They followed the chimpanzees for 3 hours – it was an amazing experience. I had to pass since my legs were still to sore after the gorilla trekking in Bwindi. It’s crazy but both my big toes have injuries after the experience. The nail on my left big toe has turned blue. My right big toe has been broken twice and the toe is a bit swollen where it used to be broken.

Well – this is what happens when a Dane from one of the flattest countries in the world thinks she can climb steep mountains without any training first.

In the afternoon we went on a guided walk through a swamp where we met a lot of different monkeys – red-tailed guenon, red colobus & black and white colobus. We saw monkeys everywhere, when you know what to look for, they are suddenly all over, in all the trees, jumping and eating.

Our last night together before Sofie will fly home and celebrate New Year’s with Rasmus in London.

We love elephants

2018-12-28 | Uganda | No Comments

From the top of the mountains to the savanna in Queen Elizabeth National Park – from gorillas to elephants. On the bumpy roads we passed volcanoes, villages, farms on the steep hills, mosques, churches, tea plantations – all over we see ongoing constructions of petrol stations and houses.

We arrived early at the Simba Safari Camp and had time to relax all afternoon. On the evening game drive, we saw a tree climbing lioness with her cup and a lot of antelopes. During the next morning’s game drive, we saw two lions and a lioness in the distance, not pictures were taken since they were to far away. We met waterbucks, antelopes, vultures, eagles and a group of elephants with a tiny baby elephant maybe only one month old.

You spend so much time starring and searching for the animals that your eyes gets tired. You stare at the grass, the cactus trees and the bushes in the hope of seeing an animal. When you finally spot an animal it’s like winning, a victory, a rush. I could look at these amazing animals for hours.

In the afternoon we went on a boat ride on the Kazinga Channel – filled with elephants, hippos, water buffalos and crocodiles. Amazing, so many animals and birds – eagles, storks, pelicans and our favourite the kingfisher (and many many more). The boat ride was a nice smooth break from the usual bumpy rides. We could have stayed there for many hours just slowly passing by the many animals and birds, watching.

Gorillas in the mist

2018-12-26 | Uganda | 2 Comments

On the road again for 7 hours between Lake Mburo and Bwindi Impenetrable Nation Park – an ‘african massage’ on roads that gets washed away during the rainy season. Incredible what can be transported on these roads. Arriving at the Rushaga Gorilla Camp with sore bodies we got a massage and could enjoy our ‘tent’ in the middle of the forest. Not like a tent I have ever seen before, the most luxurious tent with a porch with a view over the national park and the steep hills with farmland. We are 2.000 meters above sea level.

Early next morning in the mist we set out to find and get close to the mountain gorillas – a group of 8 tourists, our guide, 2 rangers with AK47’s (just in case) and several porters. Armed with walking sticks and the help from our porters we began walking downhill on the steep and slippery slopes. Taking only small steps on the hillside with 30-60 degrees drop.

When you walk like this your toes gets pushed to the front of your shoes making your toes ache. Your legs are shaking trying to avoid falling. Your brain is overloaded trying to focus so much on keeping your balance. After spending a couple of hours walking down and down and down everybody was tired, almost exhausted.

Luckily the Nkuringo gorilla family was not far away and within a few minutes we got so close to them we could almost touch them. If we hadn’t been so tired after the walking, we would have cried. I was the most fantastic experience I have ever had. The family has 14 members 2 of them silverbacks and 2 baby gorillas. They didn’t care about us, hardly noticed us.

We stayed at least an hour with these beautiful creatures before we had to leave them and say goodbye. They are endangered and must be protected, only a few permits are given every day to visit them.

After a short break for lunch we began the walk – remember we had to climb the same steep slopes we came from. Already tired from the walk downhill it was a struggle for many of us. I had to give up halfway up the hills. Instead I was carried out in a stretcher.

Amazing team – 12 men came running (running!) downhill on the same slopes we had walked on with baby steps. 3 teams of 4 men took turns in carrying me uphill. They walked fast and switched places without even stopping on the way. Sofie’s work as a waiter in a 4-storage building turned out to be the best preparation – she completed the climb uphill and wasn’t even exhausted, only a bit tired. Impressive.

A hippo Christmas

2018-12-24 | Uganda | 1 Comment

After a long journey with 2 different planes leaving Copenhagen Saturday evening we arrived in Kampala, Uganda Sunday afternoon. Our guide Morris picked us up in the airport and got us checked in to a nearby hotel. Monday morning, we started the long drive (6 hours) to Lake Mburo Nationalpark.

When driving these distances on bumpy roads at some point you get into a zen-like state looking out the window, watching the landscape and villages passing by. It’s a bit like meditation, in the beginning you try to organise your thoughts, but at some point, you stop thinking and just follow the flow – waving to the kids waving at you at the side of the road. Occasionally dozing of while your kidneys gets a good shaking on the road.

When driving these distances on bumpy roads at some point you get into a zen-like state looking out the window, watching the landscape and villages passing by. It’s a bit like meditation, in the beginning you try to organise your thoughts, but at some point, you stop thinking and just follow the flow – waving to the kids waving at you at the side of the road. Occasionally dozing of while your kidneys gets a good shaking on the road.

After a late lunch at the Rangeland Mburo Lodge we go for a game drive – meeting tree climbing lions, zebras, vultures and the best of all meeting the one hippo greeting us – my daughter’s best Christmas present so far. Celebrating Christmas this way is the best way.

1 week to take off

2018-12-15 | Denmark | No Comments

Plane in Kastrup
– Airport of Copenhagen

The departure date is getting closer, all the final preparations need to be done. Long check lists have been made – booking transport and accommodation, planning with many people, making sure all vaccinations and medication are in place and so on.

I now where I’ll be staying until the 13th of January – Sofie (my daughter’s birthday). We will leave Copenhagen on the 22nd of December arriving in Entebbe, Uganda on the 23rd of December. We will start a roundtrip and hopefully see a lot of nature, animals (mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, hippos etc.). On the 30th of December Sofie will fly back to London to celebrate New Year’s. I will then be on my own staying in Kampala for a week.

The 6th of January I will fly to Kigali, Rwanda and stay there for a week. On the 13th of January I will fly to Nairobi, Kenya. This is what I have arranged so far. The rest of the planning will happen later – I know I want to stay approximately 1 week in each country. I also know I would like to spend time understanding the history of each country, visiting interesting site, experiencing the nature, tasting the food, talking to people.

First of all, I look forward to spend a week with my daughter, just the two of us, talking and being on an adventure.

My Crazy Idea

2018-12-08 | Denmark | 4 Comments

The Happy Human 
– logo of the Danish Organisation

For some years I have been active in the Danish Humanist Society (Humanistisk Samfund) a humanist life stance organisation. Our foundation is humanism and human rights. We offer humanist rituals (confirmations, weddings, name giving’s and funerals), work for equal rights for all life stances & a secular state. I have mainly been involved in the political and international work.

After I decided to take a year of and travel around the world, I got the crazy idea to create a podcast telling the stories of people from the humanist movement in the countries I visit. There are more than 150 organisations around the world representing humanist, freethinkers, atheists and other non-believers.

I’ve met many of them at our general assemblies in the international organisation IHEU (International Humanist and Ethical Union). In many countries non-believers are facing prejudice or jail, some are even risking their lives. Their struggles and stories are worth telling.

I’ve decided first to visit the African countries south of Equator. My idea has been received very positive and all the organisations would like to participate. It is amazing that my crazy idea will come to life.

So far, I will visit Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. Even though there are organisations in DR Congo and Burundi as well, but it is to risky to travel to those countries for me. Zimbabwe is also a possibility but could be risky. I’ll need to decide at a later stage.

I’ve invited my daughter to spend Christmas with me in Uganda. We have travelled all over the world and like spending Christmas in other countries. This will be a good start on my journey. I plan to be back in Denmark in March.

The first episode of the podcast will hopefully be published in January… stay tuned.