Last time I wrote it was the eve of our Rwandan adventure and now as I sit in Kigali on our last night in Rwanda, it is difficult to get my head around the week we have spent here – never mind to try to put it into words.
After an epic 10 hour bus trip that brought us from capital to capital – Kampala to Kigali, we arrived exhausted and exhilarated. The drive through northern Rwanda south to Kigali is spectacular and it was clear to see why this place is called ‘the land of a thousand hills’. I lost count within the first hour. Densely cultivated countryside sprawled across the hills in a patchwork of every kind of green imaginable. Mud huts clung to the edge of steep valleys as women and children carried all kinds of things on their heads around the winding roads. Stacks of terracotta roofing tiles, jerry cans full of water, a spade head, giant bunches of bananas, huge clay pots, two-metre long lengths of sugarcane, an uncountable number of giant sacks of potatoes, a man in a tiny village dressed immaculately in a suit with a briefcase on his head, another man carrying a 4-foot high sack of firewood – sitting vertically on his head… The list goes on.
So the first thing that hits you about Rwanda is its overwhelming beauty. However, this is quickly undercut by the unspeakable horror that took place here not so long ago. On day one, Kirsty and I went wandering only to stumble across Hotel des Milles Collines aka Hotel Rwanda. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, it documents a local Rwandan man who managed the hotel and during the genocide gave refuge to over a thousand Tutsis, ultimately saving their lives. We entered the immaculate foyer and ended up in the most beautiful gardens sitting beneath umbrellas sipping coffee. It was hard to try and picture the scene here in 1994 when people lived in constant fear of death and were so desperate they drank the swimming pool to stay alive.
The following day, Cherie joined us from her gorilla trekking experience and the three of us went to the Kigali Memorial Centre – a museum dedicated to the genocide. It was truly horrific. The museum is incredibly well done and gives a build up to the genocide, trying to offer some kind of explanation as to how something so unthinkable could have taken place in a world that had so clearly denounced genocide after the Holocaust. There is a very moving quotation that states:
“When they said ‘never again’ after the Holocaust, was it meant for some people and not for others?”
The pictures and stories deteriorate into a scene of absolute horror as the genocide takes hold of the country. Over 800,000 Tutsis were murdered in 100 days, a rate of death that I still cannot begin to get my head around. The complete apathy of the international community is chilling; the world literally stood by and watched as people were slaughtered, mostly with machetes, all over the country. People were sending messages to the world, reporters were sending stories to editors but the world was not interested. America had recently been embarrassed by a major blunder in Somalia and didn’t want to get involved again. The press said people were ‘sick of Africa’ and, besides, Princess Diana and Prince Charles were getting divorced – that was what sold papers.
I am in the middle of reading an incredible book called “We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families” by Philip Gourevitch, an American journalist who came to Rwanda after the genocide to try and find some answers. That night, lying in bed, images of horror still fresh in my mind, I read about massacres that took place in a church in Kigali called Sainte Famille. Realisation hit me – we were staying at the Sainte Famille. I lay in bed looking around me, trying to take in stories of thousands hiding in these very rooms as the massacres took place outside the doors. There were lists of names of Tutsis to be killed and the Father of the church actually helped the genocidaires to locate these people from within the church. Needless to say, I did not sleep that night. Continue reading →