We visited Rwanda for 3 days, so I could trek the endangered mountain gorillas in the Parc National Des Volcans (where Dian Fossey famously researched them) and to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, which remembers those impacted by the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and aims to educate so that it never happens again. It was a visit of extreme happiness (the gorillas) and extreme sadness (the genocide), a visit where we learned and were inspired.
I had been looking for months for a tour including both gorilla trekking in Rwanda (the other options are Uganda - where the trek is more strenuous and you’re less likely to see gorillas as they move around more - or the Democratic Republic of Congo - which I felt was too volatile) and a visit to the genocide museum. I first learned about the Rwandan Genocide watching clips on Comic Relief years and years ago; I couldn’t understand why UN soldiers were standing amongst the death and destruction and not doing anything and the images have stayed with me since.
I finally realised that KIHEFO, who we were volunteering with in Kabale (if you haven’t already, please take a
look at their website http://www.kihefo.org/
), were able to arrange it for me under their small local tour company, Kigezi Tours. Martin at KIHEFO outlined several options (the trip could be custom made) and they were all significantly cheaper than most of the companies I’d looked at. The big tour operators like G Adventure (who I’ve travelled with before and are great) and Intrepid offered reasonably priced trips but involved a longer itinerary. There were more bespoke options but the trips cost almost $4000USD for 3 days. There were cheaper options at $1000 with local tour companies but it was hard to check them out online and I was worried they were cheaper for a bad reason. I trusted KIHEFO and they were fantastic, everything went perfectly. It turns out that things are not always cheaper for a bad reason; I’ve concluded that a lot of big tour companies are making a lot of money out of these trips.
In summary, I would recommend KIHEFO’s Kigezi Tours (http://www.kigezitours.com/
) if you want to trek gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda, or even go on safari in other Ugandan National Parks, for example Queen Elizabeth. You’ll be supporting the local community through the
work that KIHEFO does, will save money, and if you can spare a couple of days in Kabale you can do some volunteering, visit some of their projects or just enjoy the home hospitality that KIHEFO provides. And you'll get to spend time with lovely people like Enouk and Lillian. Friday 18th
May – KISORO (Uganda) to CYANIKA (Rwanda) border and onto RUHENGERI
We walked through the barrier from Uganda and into Rwanda! We had to visit Rwandan immigration to make it official J The immigration officer was so friendly, we’d been told by friends not to joke around with Rwandan immigration because they were so strict, but this guy was joking around with us! He taught me some local phrases which I taught to Drew (e.g. How are you?), so when Drew went for his turn he greeted the guy with a local ‘How are you?’ (I can’t remember it now). He was very impressed and wanted to know where Drew had learned it, Drew told him he knew it anyway and the immigration guy was so sharp… he said “Why didn’t you teach her then?!” Anyway, he let us both in (there was no Visa requirement
despite the email we’d received from Rwandan immigration when we’d filled in their online form) with Lillian. Enouk took a while longer because he had to clear the van. Once sorted we drove the 30 minute drive to Ruhengeri where we would be staying at the Hotel Muhubura for 2 nights (Dian Fossey stayed there when not in the forest). The drive was lovely, not quite as scenic as the drive to the Kisoro border town from Kabale but still nice. We were now driving on the right hand side (Rwanda had been under Belgian colonial rule; people also speak French) and could see another big lake in the distance. The things that struck me most were a) the strong smell of eucalyptus (it was awful!) and b) how many runner beans were growing everywhere! There were fields and fields of them! It was pretty impressive, even though it should be my worst nightmare because I’ve been over-fed runner beans over the years. We arrived into Ruhengeri and at the Hotel Muhubura. It was such a lovely place. I was still in nervous mode (especially as Drew’s Mum had told me if anything happened to him in Rwanda it’d be
my fault… I got him out safe Chris J ) and a bit concerned about security at first because it seemed open in comparison to what I was used to (i.e. no bars on the windows) but I guess it’s a good thing they’re not needed. We said our byes to Lillian and Enouk who were staying elsewhere, settled into our room and headed down to the lovely bar/restaurant for a bite to eat. It was really nice and chilled out with plenty of Muzungos (white people) about. There was one really miserable guy, he was stomping about all over the place and being so rude to the staff, I don’t know why some foreigners feel the need to talk to the locals in such a patronising way. We spent the afternoon and evening there, I had toastie and beer and later fish goujons and coke. It was nice, I was so tired and had a migraine and was a little nervous about my gorilla trek the next day. Would I be able to do it? (I know intense hiking is not my strong point) And would I see the right kind of gorillas (i.e. not the guerrilla kind)? I
went to bed early and slept well until midnight, then fitfully as I was so worried about not waking up in time! Saturday 19th
May – PARC NATIONAL DES VOLCANS (Gorilla trekking) and RUHENGERI
I was awake at 5.15am! And ready for 5.30am, watching the sunrise over the volcano we could see from our window whilst I was getting ready. Drew really struggled to get up, felt for him as he wasn’t even doing the gorilla trek (he was regretting that decision!). At breakfast I met a mother and her daughter who were also doing the trek. The daughter was living in Tanzania with her husband and children and the mother was visiting, the daughter was moving back to the UK in 6 weeks and would be living initially in Abingdon (coincidence!) where her in-laws live. They were hoping for a short trek, so I hoped I’d be in with them too.
We left at 6.15am for the Parc National Des Volcans headquarters; the gorilla trekkers had to meet by 7am. It was a nice drive in the early morning light with the constant backdrop of the volcano, there were so many people up at that time
Lilian and Enouk
Our fantastic guide and driver friends
going about their day to day life. We arrived at the park and I signed in with the permit it’d been a mission to arrange in Australia (I’d messed up the transfer to the Ugandan bank). I tried to ask for a short trek (as I said, I know I’m not the best at this trekking business, would have attempted a longer one if Drew had been with me but struggling to breathe with nobody to talk to on these things isn’t nice). The daughter from the hotel tried to help as she could speak Swahili but it soon descended into chaos. There was one ranger organising everything and I don’t know how he managed it because he had about 10 people shouting at him, he was telling them groups and he wasn’t writing anything down. He looked at me and said ‘Medium’ and the daughter said ‘No, she is asthmatic’ so he said ‘Slow then’… I wasn’t convinced! We went to find Drew and the others, who were watching a local dance. The mother and daughter told me they had been going to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC/Congo) to do the trek in Virunga National Park (joins up
with Parc Des Volcans) but couldn’t go because the park had been closed due to fighting in the area. The rebels had been shelling the park rangers post so they’d had to be evacuated, even the gorillas were unprotected. I was amazed anyone would have been willing to go anyway; I was concerned enough about our proximity to the DRC as it was. I went to find my guide, and wasn’t convinced I was in the right group. I wasn’t. So I had to check again and eventually I found my guide Vincent and found I was in a ‘Medium’ group. There were 3 Japanese (a guy and 2 girls), an English girl called Hannah and her boyfriend Arnoud. I was pleased to have another British person in the group. Vincent gave us a briefing, which wasn’t much other than I’ll tell you more when we get there, the gorilla family we were visiting (am gutted I can’t remember the name, I didn’t understand it at the time, have emailed Rwanda tourism so hopefully they can tell me) which I later found out is one of the smallest and least visited (hence why they’re not on the tourist map), and
NOTHING IS GUARANTEED (i.e. you might not see a gorilla). There are many gorilla families in the Parc National Des Volcans and only a small number are habituated for visits by tourists. The others are for research purposes and money paid by tourists for treks are invested back into research. I’m sure some makes its way elsewhere…. but I guess bottom line is that tourism gives the Rwandan Government a reason to protect the endangered mountain gorillas. As the gorilla families are growing they seem to be doing a good job.
I headed out in Hannah and Arnoud’s vehicle to our starting point. It was a bumpy drive for about 15 minutes. We parked in a rural area alongside fields and were met by a group of men and children. One man was brandishing handmade walking sticks we could use for free so we each took one and he joined our trek, along with an armed ranger who appeared out of the bushes! I later realised the other guys had been porters and I’d wanted to get a porter, not because I was too lazy to carry my own back but because they need the work, I just didn’t
realise until too late. We headed up the steep mountain through farm fields to the edge of the forest. It was a horrible walk. It was so hot, I didn’t have my hat and I hadn’t taken my inhalers in the morning so I was really struggling to breathe (we were at high altitude which always makes me worse, I should have known better). I had to stop to take them and then catch up, it took a while for them to kick in so I struggled and honestly thought I’d have to go back (I was being overdramatic). Once Vincent realised he stayed back with me and reassured me there was no need to rush, so I didn’t. The walk would have been great if it wasn’t such hard work; we were walking through local farmer’s fields with children excitedly singing and dancing around us and the view back behind us was brilliant. The climb seemed to go on for ages but eventually the edge of the forest was in sight; that made me feel better. Vincent was constantly in radio contact with trackers inside the forest and once we got to the wall surrounding the park he could
tell us the gorillas were a 40 minute walk into the forest, that didn’t seem so bad! We got organised, pulling our socks over our trousers and getting gloves ready (I only had woolly gloves, they recommend gardening gloves on account of the nettles, luckily didn’t end up needed them) and Vincent gave us our ‘talk’. First on the list was needing the toilet (I’d just asked him about that); Number 1s were fine anywhere, just tell him and he’d find us somewhere to go; Number 2s were more of a problem (Vincent asked one of the Japanese girls if she knew what he meant and she didn’t, so the other Japanese guy had to explain, we all had a giggle about that) because of the potential to contaminate the gorillas, so Vincent told us all about burying the business (luckily I didn’t need either in the end!). Other rules were:
· No bags allowed near the gorillas, we’d leave them in a safe place and take only our cameras and batteries
· Keep 7 metres away at any time
· If the gorilla runs towards you (they sometimes charge), crouch and don’t run (they’d think they
need to make chase)
· Don’t attempt to touch them, sometimes they want to touch you but you should slowly move away
· If you need to sneeze or cough it has to be away from the gorillas (and you know you are currently sick you shouldn’t go any further, you risk making the gorillas sick)
· No smoking
· Keep voices quiet at all times.
The best bit of instruction was that the slowest (i.e. me!) had to go in front (I was happier about that, didn’t feel so bad about being slow). We climbed over the wall and were immediately in the type of forest you see on the wildlife shows. There was a clear path but it was very overgrown. I’ve been in a few rainforests (Peruvian Amazon, Taman Negara in Malaysia, many in Australia etc…) but this is by far the thickest and densest I’ve seen. There were so many varieties of plants, really really thick vines we had to climb under and over. We didn’t see any other animals, other than insects. Vincent had said we might see buffalo and Mountain Elephants (smaller than savannah elephants) but it was unlikely
(the ranger’s gun was there for them… apparently…!). The walk wasn’t strenuous, it was soooooo slippy though; I was wearing Hannah’s painting shoes and they did me well. We saw some gorilla *h*t after 10 minutes, couldn’t believe they got so close to the edge of the rainforest, I asked Vincent and he said they sometimes go outside! I saw a guy dressed in army type clothes across the forest, slightly worrying until I realised he was with us. We had 15 minutes of walking before Vincent told us we were lucky, the gorillas had been on the move and were now very close. They had been on their way out of the park (don’t think it’d have been the same if we’d seen them outside the forest) but had stopped to eat very close by. We were instructed to put our bags down and take only our cameras and their batteries. We crept around a clump of trees to a very overgrown clearing. We couldn’t see anything but we could hear and see rustling in the bushes to our left. Vincent told us a gorilla was in there but we couldn’t see for ourselves, I could see movement but
it could have been anything. Still, we were close to one so we were pretty happy, after about 5 minutes we walked back out to the edge of the park. And that was that, my gorilla trek experience! Wow!
Only joking 😉 The rustling in the bushes continued for about 5 minutes until suddenly a gorilla just appeared out of the undergrowth into the path in front of us. It happened so quickly and I was stunned, there was a gorilla about 4 metres away from me! She was an adult female and she completely ignored us, just sat there munching away on her bamboo with her back to us (the bamboo is apparently like beer to gorillas). A few minutes later we could just make out another dark shape further along the track, obscured by bushes. And then a baby appeared! It kept running backwards and forwards between the two gorillas we could see. It was playing! We watched them for a while then moved around to the other side of the clearing for a better view and hopefully a glimpse of the silverback (this was a family of 8, with one gorilla and a baby of 2
months old). We could hear grunting (a sound the guides constantly mimicked to reassure the gorillas) and headed down another path. Vincent was in front, followed by one of the Japanese girls and then me. Suddenly, a big silverback head appeared at the turn of the path on our left. He was about 3 metres away and he glanced sideways at us. I got a huge shock (just his head was massive!) and we all instinctively jumped back until Vincent reminded us to stay still! The silverback shot us a ‘you’ve p*ss*d me off’ look and walked a couple more metres before depositing himself right in front of us. We settled down to watch and were so close. He was munching away on his bamboo, he knew we were there but he hardly looked at us and when he did it was kind of like ‘seriously, have you lot not got anything better to do’. He sat there for 15 minutes and it was a joy to watch him, they’re features are so like ours and you could almost read his expressions. He then grunted and got up (my god he was so HUGE!) And moved over to where his
family had gathered together in the clearing. He just plonked himself down and all we could see was a tangled mess of gorilla; sometimes a head or foot would appear. The silverback was so lazy, he’d reach up for some bamboo and then thud back down as if it was such a big effort. The group moved apart so we could see them a big better, it was a joy to watch the youngest playing and winding their elders up. A female beat her chest a few times because I think she was getting annoyed with the baby. The hour we spent with them was such an experience and I couldn’t really believe I was there. This is the stuff you see on TV! The gorillas seemed to tolerate our presence happily, the guide says the silverback likes to act all macho around us, hence the bored looks.
We reluctantly said bye to our family after our hour and headed back out of the park. It took us 5 minutes, that’s how close the gorillas came to the edge. Drew could have followed us and walked in himself! We had a quick rest and said bye to the rangers.
They would stay with the gorillas until nightfall to protect the gorillas from poachers and traps (set for buffalo and other forest wildlife) and make it easier to locate them for the next group of trekkers. It was a quicker but much hotter walk down the hill and by the time I got to the bottom I was feeling so sick from the sun on my head. I was pretty quiet on the drive back to the hotel, where I met back up with Drew, Lillian and Enouk.
Drew and I had a bite to eat (chips and coke for me, typical post exertion food and drink) and Drew had to listen to me chatting on about it, bless him for being interested when he was also a bit jealous! In the afternoon we headed to the bank to get money changed, what a nightmare! They had 2 ‘desks’ with about 20 people crowded round it. They wouldn’t change Ugandan Shillings into Rwandan Francs but would change SU Dollars, so I had to use the ones I’d put aside for our Uganda re-entry Visas. It took ages and they went off with my passport for 20 minutes which was
a bit annoying. We headed back to the hotel restaurant and I resolved to spend the whole night speaking to the waiters in French (I succeeded, was very proud of myself!). I settled down to write my blog whilst Drew watched the Champions League final with the waiters and bartenders, they got right into it - as soon as anything positive happened for Chelsea they went crazy and were hugging and lifting Drew up! He spent too much on beer though, all my money I was saving for the next day! We headed back to the room; I read a bit of Long Way Down (was really enjoying it as most of the trip as in Africa) and then slept well. Sunday 20th
May – RUHENGERI to KIGALI to CATUNA(Rwanda)/KATUNA(Uganda) border
We were up early again. At 06:15 it was daylight, unlike Uganda where it’s still dark then (Rwanda is 1 hour behind Uganda). We got takeaway toast and headed out with Enouk and Lillian for the 2 hour drive to Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. The drive was so beautiful; Drew was asleep and missed most of it. We were high up in the mountains with views
over huge valleys shrouded in mist that treetops disappeared into and sunbeams shone through. It was majestic. There were big waterfalls and little streams, sounds of birdsong and children singing and church music as we passed many in the middle of their Sunday morning service. The road was full of people walking along the road, we passed plenty heading to a sweet potato market, the woman carrying huge buckets of them on their heads (must be so heavy!. We were pulled over by the Rwandan traffic police, Enouk was as organised as ever with his paperwork and they sent us on our way with a smile and a wave.
Kigali is a nice looking city settled into the mountains; we got a great view from the road in. It’s very busy but much more organised than Kampala. For example, the Boda Boda (motorcycle taxis) drivers wear helmets (law in Uganda too but not enforced) and bright jackets (I’d be more inclined to use them in Uganda if they were marked out, I’m never sure which is genuine).
We stopped at a shopping centre (not far to the real ‘Hotel Rwanda’, which I’ve researched a little and apparently there’s
a lot of disagreement over the accuracy of the heroics in the story) to pick up Lillian’s friend who would act as our guide for the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre and we then drove out to its vantage point over the city. The genocide lasted for around 100 days from 17th
April 1994 and on arrival at the museum we could see many local people in traditional dress surrounding the flame that was burning to signify the genocide mourning period that lasts for 100 days from 17 April every year. The atmosphere was very solemn, I felt like an intruder but was reminded that it’s important to the Rwandan people that the international community recognise and remember what happened. We entered the museum; entry is free and you can hire guides or headsets which I wanted but didn’t have enough Rwandan Francs for (they only accept cash, understandable but a shame as they shop doesn’t accept Visa either, I wanted to buy some education books) so Enouk lent me some.
The museum is designed to commemorate those lost and educate so it never happens again. I’m never going to do the people or the museum justice, but I’ll try
my best to tell you what I took away from it, based on what I learned at the museum. Important note: I’m not an expert on Rwandan history, I plan on doing more reading so I understand more of all sides of the story. The Kigali Memorial Centre website is a good source of information for anyone interested: http://www.kigalimemorialcentre.org/old/index.html
We moved through the museum, through a timeline of events leading up to, during and after the genocide. The voice commentary through the headset added to the images and descriptions on the board. In the first section about Rwanda’s history and the events that led to the genocide a lot was attributed to colonisation; “We didn’t choose to be colonised, they were stronger than us”. Rwanda was initially colonised by Germany in 1895 and then Belgium in 1916. There were 18 clans within Kingdoms and both Germany and Belgium initially supported the existing hierarchy. The Hutu, Tutsi and the Twa were described as socio-economic classifications within that hierarchy. The museum maintains that all were living in relative harmony until colonisation. In 1935 Belgium issued identity cards, categorizing the Hutu and Tutsi by the number of cows they owned;
10 or more and they were Tutsi, less than 10 they were Hutu. The categories would never change, once you were deemed Tutsi or Hutu you and your descendants would remain so. Belgium favoured the Tutsi’s, giving them more leadership roles until Rwanda began to push for independence under King Rudahigwa. Belgium then switched the status of both groups, allowing the Hutu’s to be in charge of the new government. The divide between the two groups grew and continued for decades, even though Rwanda gained independence from Belgium in 1962.
After King Rudahigwa was killed (the circumstances unclear) the massacres of the Tutsi’s started; thousands were killed and 70000 exiled between 1959 and 1973 (it's implied that Belgium encouraged ethnic cleansing), when in 1973 General Habyarima seized power through a military coup. Any refugees were prevented from returning to Rwanda so many joined the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) which invaded Rwanda in 1990 and was led by the current Rwandan President (the original leader was killed on day 1 of the invasion). Civil War began and 2000 Tutsis were killed between 1990-92. Rwandan radio was used to justify the Tutsi massacre and promote hatred of the Tutsi’s amongst the
Hutu; the period was considered a ‘trial run’ for full genocide. A ‘Hutu Ten Commandments’ was created and included rules about things like marriage (any Hutu who marries a Tutsi is considered a traitor), power (all strategic positions should be entrusted only to Hutu), and ‘The Hutu should stop having mercy on the Tutsi’. After 3 years of war the Arusha Peace Accord of 1993 attempted to bring peace. It was signed by both parties but the transitional ‘power sharing’ government it called for was not established. Habyarima entered into a $12million arms deal with a French company, with a loan backed by the French government (it’s important to note that other sources suggest the source of the arms provided to Habyarima is still unclear). In April 1994 President Habyarima’s plane was shot down, nobody has claimed responsibility, but this did not stop the genocide. On 11 January 1994 UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda) Chief Dallaire faxed the United Nations in New York City to express his concern over the emerging events. The UN was apparently alarmed but nothing was actioned, they have since expressed regret at this decision.
As the museum says… genocide was instant. It
began on 17 April 1994 and lasted for around 100 days, driven by the Hutu Interhamwe militia. There was a ‘death list’ of important targets but no Tutsi’s were exempt. The killing methods were designed to inflict as much pain as possible, machetes and guns were used. Women were humiliated and raped, targeted so new generations of Tutsi’s could not emerge. The museum included videos of survivors, each video showing a different aspect of how the genocide impacted them. One man talks about his father, how he was shot, recovered slightly a couple of days later, until ‘they’ came back to finish him off. He told how the militia would chase people with dogs like they were animals, no longer human. There were pictures showing bodies everywhere; strewn around cars, in fields, on rocks. The people fled to Churches, thinking they would be safe, but they were not. Some of the worst atrocities happened in Churches with thousands killed in them, 30000 were killed in a Church in Bisesero. There were neighbours killing neighbours, friends killing friends. Tutsi’s didn’t know who they could trust. Children were forced to kill their loved ones before they themselves were killed, parents were forced
to watch their children tortured and then killed. Death was made painful, frightening and humiliating, tendons were cut so people couldn’t run. Over a million people died, thousands and thousands were left injured, lawlessness was endemic, homes and infrastructure were destroyed. The museum was clear that this was no civil war or ethnic war. It was genocide. On the 21 April 1994 the UN Security Council stated it was appalled but reduced UN presence, it took a while for them to understand that genocide was actually occurring. There is an estimate that the number of troops used to evacuate foreign nationals could have stopped the genocide starting. There was a sense throughout the museum that the world looked the other way, I found this so so sad. On the 17 May 1994 the UN Security Council established UNAMIR II with 5500 new troops, the USA sent 50 armoured personnel but they took 1 month to arrive.
The Rwandan People’s Army stopped the genocide after regrouping and then capturing Kigali in July 1994 (remember they were led by the current Rwandan President). There were 2 million refugees, 2/3 of the population had been displaced and many survivor’s didn’t know if
family members were alive or dead. There were mutilated survivors, raped women infected with HIV and pregnant, orphaned children. The period of rehabilitation was long. The process of trial and conviction was shared between the International Criminal Court and Rwanda, who implemented the traditional Gacaca system for non-high ranking leaders. This seems to be a traditional community justice system, where judges try the accused in front of a community court. There was a video showing one, a man being asked about who he and his comrades had murdered, and which of them had done it. His attitude seemed very dismissive and disrespectful, he wouldn’t look at the people he was talking to. It was clear from what he was saying that it was people within the community killing others in the community.
The main information section, broken up by ‘Windows of Hope’ which symbolise hope and the future, leads onto different rooms. The first included photos of victims, placed there by their families. There were so so many pictures. The people looked so normal, we all have photos like them of our loved ones. They look happy and alive. A picture of a young strapping lad got to me;
so like my brother. I was joined in the room by a group of mourners so I left discreetly, they were very distressed and upset, I wanted to cry but didn’t feel it was my place. The next room included skulls and bones and the next clothes, all bearing the scars of the brutal way each person was killed. In the clothing room there was a video playing. This really really affected me, when one victim said “The world forgot us”. The overriding message was a message that the international community needs to know that this did happen (how many people really do know?) and that the people of Rwanda still need support.
We moved upstairs to the section remembering other genocides that have happened around the world, I knew about some, not others. In Namibia in 1904, Germany committed genocide after the Herero people rebelled against colonial rule. 75000 Herero and Nama people were killed. Germany did not acknowledge the genocide until 2004, when they apologised but declined a request from the surviving Herero for compensation. A Nama chief at the time of the genocide said of a German commander “He thinks we are stupid and unintelligent people,
but we have never yet punished people in the cruel and improper ways he does”. Then there was Armenia, where 1 million were killed between 1915 and 1918 – Turkey has still not acknowledged this. The Holocaust - 6 million Jews were murdered during World War II. The United Nations replaced the League of Nations after World War II, charged to prevent anything like that ever happening again. However, it has since. In Cambodia 2 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge between 1978 and 1979. I visited Phnom Penh, the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng prison (now Cambodia’s Genocide Museum) in 2010 (link to my blog http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/blog-525548.html
). The Balkans in the 1990s, where the aim of the genocide was to ‘cleanse’ Bosnia Herzegovina of Muslims – i.e. no Serbs. This was topical as Milosevic had just gone on trial. It’s just all horrible, how can human beings do this to each other? And still be doing it, what will we hear about Syria in years to come? The AEGIS Institute, based in the UK was founded in 2002 to help understand that causes and consequences of genocide. One comment summed it up for me “Genocide is not a
single act of murder, it is a million act of of murder”.
We moved onto the Children’s Room, in memory of the children with an aim to convey how a ‘generation of dreams were stolen’. There were many large photos, with a plaque underneath each that included the children’s names, age and information like favourite sports, drinks, best friends, last words and finally how they were killed. One boy’s last words were “UNAMIR will come for us”, so much faith and trust in the international forces. The killing methods included ‘Tortured’, ‘Stabbed in the head’, ‘Machete in mothers arms”. Some children were described as a ‘Daddy’s Girl’. The best friends of many were simply ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’. It was heart-breaking. We moved outside through the beautifully kept gardens to the mass graves, huge concrete slabs covering the graves of those who had been moved to rest there. They were covered in beautiful bunches of flowers wrapped in purple, the colour that represents the genocide mourning period. We walked to the ‘Forest of Memory’, where a tree is planted for each day of commemoration. We headed solemnly back to the van and drove to one of the Kigali Churches, Ste
Famille, where many were murdered. It was packed full of people worshipping on the Sunday and joyous singing rang out from it.
We then said bye to our guide and thanked him for sharing his time and own experiences with us and headed out of the city. We were all very quiet, Lillian and Enouk had both been to the centre before but it affected them every time. It’s such a horrible part of our history but it happened and can’t be forgotten. Despite the heartbreak and devastation, there is so much hope and forgiveness. We learned about reconciliation villages, where victims and perpetrators are married. Would I be able to forgive?
The international community, notably Kofi Annan on behalf of the UN and Bill Clinton have both expressed their regret that they didn’t do more at the time. I was reminded of a quote I saw on a plaque in Perth, Australia (it’s replicated all over the world and represents the Holocaust):
“First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not Jewish.
Then they came for the Communists, and I did not
speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for me, and there was no-one left to speak out for me”.
We were on the road back to Uganda, still reflecting but brightening up and enjoying the scenery that reminded us of the beauty in the world. I was getting concerned as I hadn’t seen a Rwandan mixer! I told everyone to be on the lookout, I didn’t think I was likely to find one outside of the city on a Sunday L And then… over a fence I saw one parked up! Thank goodness I have a good zoom! I hope you appreciate the effort Dad! We were heading for the Catuna/Katuna border, a different border to the one we crossed into Rwanda. It’s busier but much closer to Kabale. I finally got round to asking Enouk why everyone is always indicating at each other, he told me it signals whether it’s OK or not to overtake. The countryside was nice, it did start raining
but that added to it. I tried not to sleep, so much stuff going round in my mind. We soon reach the Catuna/Katuna border…and then it was bye bye Rwanda.
I’ll leave you with the introductory passage to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre and like much of the commentary it is moving, touching, poignant and powerful. These atrocities happened to people, our fellow human beings, in Rwanda this happened to them in my lifetime. Surely the world should have learned by now?!!!
“Rwanda is a country of hills, mountains, forest lakes, laughing children, markets of busy people, drummers, dancers, artisans and craftsman… This has been our home for centuries. We are one people. We speak one language. We have one history.
In recent times genocide has cast a dark shadow and torn us apart. This chapter is a bitter part of our lives but one we must remember for those we lost and for the sake of the future.
This is about our past and our future.
Our nightmares and dreams.
Our fear and our hope.
Which is why we begin
where we end, with the country we love”.
Rwanda Genocide Memorial Centre.
Lots of love.
NOTE: I use these updates to capture my memories and share what I'm doing on my travels with friends, family and anyone who is interested enough to read. The views are my own and I try my best to ensure any information I share is fair and accurate but I do sometimes get things wrong. I welcome any feedback so I can make improvements and corrections for future readers. Thank you.
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