Genocide reminders and colobus monkeys

Trip Start Aug 31, 2005
Trip End Aug 25, 2006

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Flag of Rwanda  ,
Monday, December 12, 2005

First Impressions
We managed to cross over into Rwanda with no problems (except for having to part with $60 cash for the visa...grrrrr).

We tried in vain to catch a lift with private cars heading to Kigali - so took the boring option of a minibus. We sat waiting for the bus to fill up as we snacked on local food and spoke with the locals. First impressions were good, very good in fact. The locals were extremely friendly and welcoming, and there weren't any other tourists about. The bus left before long and we had a most enjoyable trip as we sped towards Kigali. The landscape was stunning - tea plantations in the valleys and farmer plots in the rolling hills. More enjoyable than the scenery however were the passengers on our bus who most unexpectantly broke into song, which they continued the entire way to Kigali.

Kigali was also an unexpected surprise. It's a small city built on several rolling hills, so as we arrived and drove through the city at dusk, all we could see around us were zillions of fairy lights - houses above us in the hill overlooking ours, and below us in the valleys. It was lovely. Kirsty and I both took an instant liking to the city.

Up bright and early the next morning we started to assess our options. We trekked into town to check out the shops (awesome cheap souvenirs!!) and the tourist office before heading down to the main Genocide Museum. The museum was completed only a year ago, to coincide when the UN first recognized that the atrocities which happened in Rwanda were in fact, genocide. The museum is free, and in a lovely location in one of the valleys of the city.

The main section taking up all of the downstairs area, is about the genocide in Rwanda. I didn't know a lot about what had happened in Rwanda or the background behind the killings until quite recently (thanks to 'Hotel Rwanda'). The museum filled in the gaps, tastfully. There is quite a lot to tell about the genocide, so those wanting to know more, please read the section at the end of this page!

The museum consisted of a section downstairs of the Rwanda genocide. The display was visually stunning and extremely informative. In between panels were silent video displays showing some of the atrocities. Through four different videos we were also able to follow the stories of 5 different Tutsi of about our age, and their experiences (and how they survived) during the genocide. The last room was a large room filled to the brim with photos donated by relatives, of those who had died. I walked into the room with tears pouring down my cheeks.

Upstairs, there was a display of all the other genocides committed in the 20th century - the Jews during WW2, the Albanians and a Namibian tribe at the beginning of the century, Cambodia, Yugoslavia.... how do we keep allowing this to happen??!?

The last room was dedicated to the children who died in Rwanda. Larger-than-life last photos of a child was shown with a short profile, something along the lines of:

Name: Francine Ingabire
Age: 12
Favourite Sport: Swimming
Favourite Food: Eggs and chips
Best friend: her elder sister Claudette
Last words: Save me mumma
Cause of Death: Hacked by machete

The museum then lead to an outdoor garden area, covered with large concrete slabs hiding in amongst the flowers. These slabs are infact the mass burial site of the remains of 250,000 Rwandans killed in Kigali...

Feeling quite stunned by the horror the world still lives in, we walked with deflated hearts back into the city, and caught a minibus to the west of the country.

Colobus Monkeys
After a good night sleep, the next morning we headed across country to track down the elusive colobus monkey. We travelled on several minibuses (only getting ripped off on one occassion) deep into the Nyungwe National Park. We were dropped off at the park headquarters, a small office building next to a canteen. The place was of a much smaller scale than we expected. We were the only people about and the only food for miles about was a can of tuna and water. We ate what we could and with heavy hearts forked out $50 to enter the park and track the monkeys.

We were not warned how hard the trek would be. We headed right down the side of the mountain, deep into the valley below. After 1 hour, we were lead off the track into even trickier terrain. We stumbled and whined for the next 2 hours and nearly gave up completely on several occassions. Miles harder than gorilla tracking!

Eventually though, 400m directly down the mountain, our scouts lead us to the tail end of 600 colobus monkeys making their way through the forest. We sat on the slope (exhausted) and watched them for an hour or so, jumping (and occassionally falling) from tree to tree. Delightful wee things! Needing to leave the park before it got too dark, we decided to head back. After much puffing and grunting and pushing and pulling, we eventually arrived back at HQ, and sat on the side of the road waiting for transport to take us back to Kigali.

We waited and waited. No minibuses or buses of any form went past and it was already getting dark. So we decided to take the next vehicle heading our way, no matter where its destination would be. 5 minutes later we flagged down a car - a business man and his driver who were heading west (to the border with Congo) who would be DELIGHTED to give us a lift. We bundled in and chatted about wheelbarrows (his business) all the way to Cyangugu.

Congo (nearly)
The countryside on the way to Cyangugu was breathtakingly beautiful. Rwanda is, as they say, made up of a thousand hills, but I suspect its more like 10,000 hills. The entire country looks just like hobbit-ville! The scenery got richer and richer as we approached the border with Congo.

The small border town of Cyangugu was spectacular. It was set on the bottom edge of the lake and the land all around was lush and beautiful. Kirsty and I couldn't believe our eyes - one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. (The photo here just does not do the place credit, but believe us, it is stunningly beautiful!)

We checked into a posh hotel and had room service on our balcony overlooking Congo. We briefly flirted with the idea of trying to enter Congo, but quickly realised that without our backpacks (stored at our hotel in Kigali) we wouldn't get very far and so gave up (reluctantly) on that!

We headed back to Kigali the next day, via the National Museum in Butare. The museum was interesting, but what caught my attention was the handicrafts being sold at ridiculously cheap prices. I could resist the temptation and bought several largish statues, and had to carry them around for the next few days.

We arrived back in Kigali at 11pm to find our hotel full - no rooms left for us. In true Hannah and Kirsty style, we sweet-talked the receptionist into giving up his locker space, put down our sleeping mats, and slept on the hotel reception floor! A very cozy sleep!

Wanting to see the most of Rwanda we could in the limited time we had, we headed far north the next day to see the volcanos. Cheapskates we were we didn't want to pay money to go into the national park itself, and instead spent a couple of hours wandering around the small town of Ruhengeri before heading back again to Kigali.

Hotel Rwanda
It being our last night in Rwanda, we decided to splash. We headed into town to MilleCollins Hotel (otherwise known as Hotel Rwanda) where we paid ridiculous international hotel prices for very 2nd rate (microwaved pizza) food while listening to 80s live music. A bit of an anticlimax, but at least we can say we went to Hotel Rwanda!

Onward bound - destination: TANZANIA
The next morning we headed to Tanzania, enjoying the luxury of travelling by minibus and the company we met. We met not only the cutest kid in the entire world and a soccer team of young fit men, but also a lovely girl called Vestoo who lost her entire family in the genocide. She is lonely and wanting a mzungu (white) boyfriend... any takers? Please contact me and i'll give you her contact details!

Genocide in Rwanda (as told by Hannah!)
The Germans came into Rwanda in the beginning of 20th century as the main 5 world powers (and one bizarre individual, the King of Belgium who bought Congo (Zaire) for himself!!) started to carve up Africa how they pleased amongst themselves. After World War 2, Rwanda was ceeded to the Belgiums. Until the Belgiums came along, Rwanda was, for the most part, one large race. The Tutsi/Hutu differences were only of a social economic nature. The Belgiums decided to make the differences more of an racial divide, spliting the entire nation into either Tutsi or Hutu and putting their new 'race' on their identity cards. Hotel Rwanda explains that this was done by choosing the more "European-Looking" Rwandas (based on nose size and skin colour) as Tutsi, and the others, as Hutu. The museum explained the segration based on how many cows one owned - more than 10 cows made one (and their children to follow) a Tutsi. Less than 10 cows, a Hutu. The Belgiums chose only those from Tutsi race (about 17% of the population) to help them run the country, thus leading to a greater racial divide.

As independence in Africa become commonplace in the 60s, the Belgiums started to pull back, and tried to reverse the damage they had done by trying to bring more Hutu into administrative control. The most dangerous act was to make the army close to 100% Hutu dominated.

The Belgiums pulled out of the country, granting independence, but as was commonplace in all of Africa, without having educated or taught the population the necessary skills to be able to run their own country. The Hutus took control, and slowly began a campaign to rid the country of the Tutsi. Machetes were stock piled and boys were recruited into the "killing camps" where they learnt the necessary skills to kill all the Tutsi 'cockroaches'. Slowly, and very obviously, the population were brainwashed into believing that the Tutsi were a threat to the future of the country.

The West had some idea of what was happening (a high-up Hutu army officer reported on the killing camps and then mystically disappeared), but as Rwanda doesn't have any valuable natural resources for us to plunder, the UN (including Kofi Annan himself) chose to ignore all the warning signs.

In April 1994, a Hutu leader and his Tanzanian counterpart were shot down in their airplane coming back from peace talks. This was all that was necessary to trigger the genocide. The killing started in Kigali and quickly spread through-out the nation. The museum made clear that the genocide was both planned and systematic. Within hours of the plane crash, road blocks were set up and individual Tutsi were being targetted and killed.

The genocide took 100 days, in which time more than 1 million Tutsi were (for the large part) hacked to death while the west chose to ignore what was happening. The genocide only stopped when rebel Tutsi forced fought back, driving the Hutu back.

It is absolutely disgusting that we can allow such atrocities to happen in this day and age - this only happened 10 years ago! I felt the shame of the west on my shoulders... will we never learn?
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off_road_clara on

Hi Girls.
I've been readng your travelog. I just wanted to say thanks for posting such an insightful commetary on the impact of the genocide in Rwanda. I think travelpod can be used for more than simple 'where we went' stories, and yours is one of the best.

Thanks for taking the time to open my eyes.

If you find yourself in my neck of the woods (Pretoria and around - see my pod off_road_clara), there's some grub and floor space waiting. Or at least I will try!

Have fun and safe travels,

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