Genocide memorials

Trip Start Jun 08, 2005
Trip End Aug 18, 2005

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Flag of Rwanda  ,
Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Day the Thirty-fifth - in which we are left speechless in the presence of death.


Like the student backpackers we are, we ate leftover Chinese for breakfast. My trousers have gotten so grubby that I was forced to take them to the laundry this morning - kind of extortionate but hey.

Then we got a taxi dude to take us out to Nyamata, about 30km away. It is the site of a massacre, 10,000 people crammed into a church because they thought they would be safe there. The ceiling was peppered with bullet holes and the walls still had dark blood stains on them, one place was from where babies were brained. It was harrowing. We were shown around by a woman called Chantelle, a survivor, who was 11 at the time. This really struck a chord with the both of us, since we are the same age as she is. She survived by hiding under the dead bodies. She lost her entire family there. She showed us the coffins, the shelves and shelves of skulls and bones, many with machete slashes and spear holes in them. It is utterly incomprehensible.

Chantelle was quiet and well spoken, with good English, and performed the tour with incredible dignity. It's hard to imagine being so well adjusted after going through what she has.

Ntarama was next, again the site of a massacre, and here the room had been left more or less as it was found. The skulls had been mostly moved, stacked on shelves, but the floor of the tiny church was littered with bones, fragments and whole, scraps of cloth and shoes.

About 5000 people were murdered here, whole families in many cases. We passed abandoned houses on the road and our driver explained that with the families decimated there were often houses with no owners, fields left to rot, and bodies too, with no-one who knew the people left alive to bury them.

A sombre day. At the museum in Kigali that we went to afterward, in the room of dedications with the hundreds of pictures pegged around the walls, I was brought to tears. But at the churches... it was just stunned silence. The enormity of the planning and the evil that went into its execution...

About a million people. In 3 months. And not with a bomb or something mass-destructive. With machetes and knives and spears and rocks. One after the other. 1, 2, 3, 4, all the way to 1,000,000.

And not even some evil dictator dude or anything. No, just normal everyday people. Neighbours. Friends. Pastors. Just took up arms and went on a killing spree. And then stopped and went back to normal.
Crazy shit.

But the people have recovered amazingly. And at least these memorials exist so that no one can say that there was no genocide. You wouldn't know it, looking at Rwanda today, that 10 years ago it was destroying itself.

By the time we got back to Kigali it was time to eat something, but we weren't really hungry. We got motos across to the Gosozi Kigali Genocide Memorial, which had info set out on boards and has displays on other major genocides like the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and Pol Pot's Cambodian terror regime, amongst others.

One of the rooms was about the children killed - it's so difficult to understand any kind of barbaric behaviour, but especially towards children and infants.

We took motos back, picked up my newly clean trousers [ahh, happiness is], and decided we'd treat ourselves to an Indian. 'Ice and Spice' came highly recommended, but alas - Tuesday night is vege night. Noooo! Ain't it always the way? It was tasty nonetheless, and I think I can say that I'm completely better now.

Before bed we went to the internet café, since we don't know when we'll next have internet. We try and keep in touch regularly, especially if we're about to cross into another country. We really are leaving Rwanda tomorrow. Heading south-east to the Tanzania border and then... we're not quite sure. Hopefully we can get a bus through the Serengeti.
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