Trip Start Sep 08, 2003
37Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Gisozi Genocide Site is on the outskirts of town, but most taxi drivers are wiling to take you there and wait while you look around
Outside the museum was a huge grave, dug into the hillside, with the gravestones looking across the valley to Kigali. Mass graves around Kigali are still being found, as more evidence is brought forward and arrests made. The bodies unearthed are transferred to a coffin, 8 bodies per coffin and every Saturday, the guide informed me, more coffins arrive to be interred here. The guide leant forward and pulled a huge iron sliding shutter off the ground, and peering underneath into the darkness, I could make out row upon row of coffins. I knew the statistics of Rwanda - 800,000 people died during the genocide, although Rwandans estimate it to be nearer one million, and watching as more coffins arrived, I thought it may be true - the dead are still being counted. At present, it is three times the number of Jews that died during the Holocaust, and the biggest mass killing since the Atomic Bomb of Hiroshima. I couldn't contemplate how many people that was, as I looked over the shelves of skeletons, and still can't imagine the volume of people that died
From Gisozi, we took at minibus to Butare. Butare is a university town, which still carries the wild-west theme of wide dusty streets, and is about 2 ½ hours from Kigali. There are many hotels and cheap hostels for travellers, although it is also possible to visit in day and return to Kigali on the last bus. The genocide site here is in Murambi, a 45 minute taxi drive from Butare. You can get the majority of the way by dalla dalla, but the road is deserted and long, and I was glad of the comfort of taxi. I knew the site was going to be upsetting enough, without any trauma involved in getting there.
This site is housed in a deserted school. Rows of single story temporary classrooms reminded me of my primary school in England. Inside are the bodies of 50,000 Tutsi people. In 1994 the people were told that the school would provide sanctuary, and families walked for miles in an attempt to save themselves - it was all a trick. This was repeated in churches and schools around the country, as in previous conflicts churches had always been a safe haven - now they have become memorial sites. What makes Murambi different is that the bodies of the people were left where they died. No mass burial. To preserve the bodies, they were coated in a thick white paint. It covered the clothing, and even the hair, fixing the position of their bodies and the look of terror on their faces.
I stepped nervously into the first room, where the smell hit me first and forced me to cover my mouth and nose with the sleeve of my top. Later I was glad that part of my face was covered, as tears fell down and hit the soft material of my sleeve. Some of the bodies are intertwined as couples hugged at the last moment, often with a child in between them. Wedding rings still shine through the darkness of the rooms; the bodies had not been looted, but many were missing hands or feet. After 4 rooms, I knew I would not be able to visit all 13 rooms, and then I entered the baby room. The guide suddenly disappeared, his own voice catching as he explained that this room housed his own child and he would not enter. I noticed the machete scare running across his forehead and wondered how he had survived. The white painted bodies seemed ghoulish and walking around the Butare craft market later that afternoon, I couldn't look at any of the masks for sale. The blank faces reminding me of the white painted children, whose faces had also been frozen in time.
The site has a guestbook and I flicked back through the pages reading the comments left by hundreds of visitors before me. "Never again" wrote one, "sleep well" said another. I couldn't bring myself to sign it; for once I didn't have any words. While I waited outside for the others, I chatted to the taxi driver, who told me that two years after the genocide, a hundred thousand children were looking after each other in homes without any adult supervision. Behind us on the hillside, some 5 year old boys were playing football, too young to be affected by what I had just seen, but it was a stark contrast watching children playing happily, and leaving behind those that would never play again.
The bus back to Kigali was silent, with everyone deep in their own thoughts. We had decided to go to Kibuyu for a few days to rest and unwind, before tackling getting back to Tanzania. Kibuyu is like the Lake District in England - a beautiful area of countryside, lush and green, nestling in between large mountains and terraced fields. The road was long and windy, and most of us got Matuatu sick on the 2 ¼ hour ride. "It's only a lake" muttered Stuart with his head out of the window. For most of the ride we couldn't see any lakes. Visiting the lakes had been my idea! However, even he gazed open-mouthed as we rounded a corner and there was Lake Kibuyu, shimmering in the afternoon sunlight. Tourism hasn't yet kicked off, so the dusty track through the village leads to one hotel on the right and a guest house on the left. We chose to stay in Bethanie Guest House - much cheaper than Hotel Kibuyu - and due to being higher I think has better views! The lake looked as if it stretched to the end of the earth, and as I sat out on the terrace writing my diary and doing some sketching, I contemplated the wealth of emotions I had experienced over the last few days. First meeting Gorillas, then seeing the devastation of the genocide, and now watching the sun go down over beautiful Rwanda. I was glad I had come here; I had learnt so much, and what an experience!