They call Rwanda "The Land of a Thousand Hills." Small mountains and knolls blanket this tiny country, from north to south and east to west. No matter where you stand, your feet are never on level ground — you are always either going up or going down.
Those hills never felt more real as when I was clinging for dear life onto the back of a motorcycle taxi as I traveled to meet one sister or another, the government-mandated green helmet clanking on my head. With a driver going much too fast, we would climb up and up amid stunning vistas, hills rippling toward the horizon, or zoom down steep embankments where rice paddies squeezed into valleys or buildings rose from the capital of Kigali's pulsating downtown.
Rwanda, roughly the size of Vermont, is a land filled with highs and lows. Inescapable, of course, are the lows of almost 23 years ago, the genocide between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes that killed more than 800,000 people in 100 days. The genocide demolished 14 percent of Rwanda's population, and left the country completely in tatters.
Then, however, are the highs that came afterward: the way the country has built itself up, mud brick by mud brick, bean field by bean field, to a place where women make up 64 percent of the Parliament, ribbons of asphalt connect the country with smooth highways, and internet startup companies dot Kigali, birthing a strong middle class.
The sisters, too, are part of these highs and lows.