Around Kigali and Camp Kigali

Trip Start Feb 13, 2011
Trip End Mar 14, 2011

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Flag of Rwanda  ,
Thursday, February 24, 2011

Today as planned, Mr. Mundeli came to the hotel in the morning. We spent a good bit of the morning together discussion the situation in the Church in the larger sense, in French Africa, and in Rwanda in particular. The members here are looking forward to being all together this weekend not only for a church service, but also to be able to ask their questions about what has happened. We will combine the two congregations in Rwanda and meet in the village of Giti where most members live.

Mr. Mundeli retired a year or so ago, and Mrs. Mundeli is in the process of retiring now. The Rwandan government decided about a year ago that English rather than French would be an official language (along with Kinyarwanda). Teachers and other government employees were given a short time to switch over. Mr. and Mrs. Mundeli both speak excellent French, but not English. Nearing retirement age, they felt trying to become fluent in a new foreign language in a matter of months, wasn't really realistic.

They have moved house now, to their family house. It’s still in the Remera Zone but farther away from Kigali than they had been. We arranged for me to come visit them on Friday.

Mr. Mundeli had some more work to do in preparation for our meetings on Saturday, but also in preparation to travel to Burundi next week to assist me there with visits to the members in that country. He needs to renew his travel documents, and needed to follow up on that this week. So we finally parted company so he could take care of these other tasks.

By the time we finished it was close to lunch time. I took a taxi into Kigali to change some money. The dollar has gone up against the Rwandan Franc, which is appreciated after a long slump. I told the taxi driver to take to the Central Post Office, which is a zone where one can get a good exchange rate. On the way into Kigali, a stone’s throw from my hotel, he pointed to a branch post office and indicated that was where he was taking me. I told him I wanted to go to the Central Post Office, and he replied that this was it. "What about the one in central Kigali?" I asked. “It is gone” he told me. It was a very large building, so I asked for confirmation. As it turns out, it is being replaced by a new building altogether. “Well” I told him “I need to go where the Central Post Office used to be….” And off we went.

On the way in there were clear signs of efforts to improve Kigali. New roads were being cut, and there was lots of new construction underway. The roads and streets have been improved and beautified with trees. Rwanda is making progress.

But there are still traces of the violent past. On the drive into Kigali we passed the old Parliament building, site of a battle during the taking of Kigali by the RPF forces. The holes made by bullets and artillery shells have never been repaired. This has been done purposely as a reminder that they should never go back to the party spirit that drove the genocide in 1994.

As I got out of the car by the forex bureaus, half a dozen touts ran up to the car, calling me “mon ami – my friend” and telling me they would give me a “friend’s rate” to change my money. When they saw I wasn’t going to change money on the street, they began pulling me toward one of the offices. I looked around, and decided to go to another one where attendants were waiting quietly. If I went to the office the touts were showing me, I’d up paying their commission out of the money I would change. I walked inside the office and we closed the door to work our exchange in private. We negotiated what I thought was a good rate, and I distributed the bills among my different pockets. That’s so if a thief ever gets a hand in a pocket, they only get part of what I carry.

I asked the driver to take me to a nearby Indian restaurant, one of my favorites in Kigali. I paid him off as he dropped me. The restaurant is called Khana Khazana. The food is excellent at a good price and the decor is pleasant as well. The staff has been well trained. It’s always a pleasure to eat there.

After lunch I walked up toward the CHK, the Centre Hospitalier de Kigali. They’ll probably be changing that name over to English if they haven’t already done so. I wanted to see if the head of the dentistry department was in. Dr. Greg Swartz a church elder who is a dentist by trade has worked with her on outreach programs, and she and I serve as board members on Smile Rwanda, a charity presided by Dr. Swartz, and dedicated to improving dental care and the availability of dental supplies in Rwanda.

Rwanda is not called “the land of a thousand hills” for no reason. It is very hilly. With a base altitude in Kigali of nearly 1600 meters (over 5100 feet), and some steep hills to climb on a stomach full of Chicken Tikka Masala, I huffed and puffed a bit on my walk, but I needed the exercise.

On the way to the hospital I stopped at Camp Kigali, the former military barracks where 10 Belgian soldiers, wearing UN colors, were killed by Rwandan government soldiers on April 7, 1994, the day after the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down – the event that touched off the genocide.

After the plane was shot down, violence began breaking out around Kigali. The 10 soldiers were ordered to protect the Rwandan Prime Minister as she went to make a radio call for calm. When they arrived at her home, they were surrounded and Rwandan army soldiers opened fire. They held out for about two hours before the Prime Minister decided to try to escape on her own. She was caught and murdered. The Belgian soldiers were ordered to lay down their arms or be killed. Orders radioed from a superior Belgian officer authorized this. The soldiers were disarmed and taken to the Camp Kigali barracks where the situation rapidly deteriorated. A Rwandan officer accused the Belgians of shooting down the president’s plane and several of the captive soldiers were cut down with machetes, bayonets and rifles. The survivors ran for a building and barricaded themselves inside. A Rwandan soldier tried to force his way inside with his rifle. The Belgian officer in command shot him with a pistol he had hidden and also took the AK-47 the Rwandan had been carrying.

With the two weapons, the Belgians held for three hours. Then the Rwandans dropped grenades in the room, killing or stunning the Belgians who were then finished off.  The building where they held out has been turned into a sort of museum, the bullet holes and grenade marks have been left as witnesses to the violence of the fight. In the courtyard outside there is a monument to the memory of the soldiers, a granite pillar for each soldier each one with horizontals lines on it representing the age of the soldier. It is a sobering visit.

I walked the short visit to the hospital but found Dr. Kamanzi wasn’t in. I’ll give her a call and try to get in contact with her tomorrow. I caught a taxi back to my hotel. The car had its steering wheel on the left side, and I felt it was on its last legs. It shimmied and jumped, and each time we stopped at a traffic light, the driver would have to move his foot back and forth constantly from the gas to the break. He had to keep touching the accelerator to keep the engine from dying. Many of the taxis here wouldn’t pass a rudimentary inspection.

Back at the hotel I continued with office work for the rest of the day. Tomorrow I’ll be out and about.
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jpvernaud on

Nous vous souhaitons à tous un très bon Sabbat

Tommie Briley on

Happy Sabbath day to you, Mr. Meeker. Thank you for taking the time to make your many thought-provoling entries. They are always invariably inspiring and sobering.

Herve Irion on

One day there will no longer be any atrocities such as these. Thank you for sharing your trip with us. Happy Sabbath to you and our brethren there. To bad they are replacing French with English. They need to repent ;-) Bonjour a tous!

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