When Jen Lemen began planning a trip to Rwanda and in her own magical way began to turn it into an amazing community outreach project, my mind turned back to one of my favorite books, "Land of a Thousand Hills: My Life in Rwanda," by Rosamond Halsey Carr. Here's how Kirkus Reviews captured it:
An intriguing memoir of a European woman plantation owner in Rwanda over the past half-century, written with grace and self-assurance by Carr, with help from her niece. Carr moved to the then Belgian Congo in 1949 in an attempt to salvage her marriage to an English explorer and big game hunter. That particular relationship failed to pan out, but her lifelong liaison with Africa was kindled. She and her husband had stumbled upon the gorgeous landscape that lay along the Rwanda-Congo border, at the time under a benign Belgian territorial mandate, but soon to be a hotbed of contentions: independence struggles, efforts to save the last habitat of the mountain gorilla, genocidal ethnic fighting. She lands first in the Congo, where she runs a pyrethrum (a natural insecticide) plantation, and then moves away from her husband to a similar if more spectacularly situated plantation in Rwanda ... She appreciates the various shades of gray that color her region's circumstances: she provides a neat, crisp summation of Hutu-Tutsi enmity and its cruel consequences over their 400-year association, and she maps Belgian colonial desires in the Congo and Rwanda and Burundi. She exudes common sense and integrity in matters of politics and business (she is invariably on the brink), then softens the story by lacing it with personal relationships (including a rocky but intense one with Dian Fossey) and life at her compound, where bougainvillea twine with the climbing roses, crested cranes rule the sky, elephants are garden pests, and an active volcano lights the night horizon. A quiet and elegant beauty of a memoir, with a dignity that is at once antique and enviable.
Carr died in 2006 at the age of 94. A five-minute documentary on YouTube tells her story in her own voice:
Jen Lemen's recent Rwandan trip is another reminder that a chapter of my life still to be written will include a slow, people-centered journey through Rwanda, Namibia, Botswana, Ethiopia and other places that carry the heart of Africa.