We officially left Gashora today. In our way back o Kigali, we stopped at Nyamata. Nyamata is a genocide memorial. It was originally a church. During the genocide, the Tutsis often sought protection in churches. However, priests and other heads of church were infamous because they would call out to the Tutsis and say things like "come here, you'll be safe, we'll protect you" and then as soon as the churches were up to capacity, they would call over the Hutus and the Hutus would come and there would literally be massacres in these churches. Churches were a place for Tutsis to die. Hutus would climb to the roof and open fired down onto the Tutsis, they would throw grenades through the windows and after the smoke cleared and the bullets stopped, they entered the churches to finish off the survivors and the wounded. The church we visited had the bullet holes still in the tin roof and the clothes of the deceased hung over the church benches. In the center of the church, there were stairs that led downstairs where there was a huge glass case with some of the skulls and other leg and arm bones organized and displayed for us to see. It was rather gruesome. To think that this happened in a church. It's more than a disappointment in humanity. Out the back of the church we're mass graves and more crypts with coffins piled high. Everything was draped with purple and white cloth. These were the colors of remembrance.
"How can you still claim to be Christian after all of this?" was Lisa's comment on the priests and so on who fronted protection and allowed the Tutsis to be killed. Man, woman, children - there were no exceptions.
After leaving the memorial site, we headed into Kigali. On the way, I was processing the experience and thought to myself "how could something so ugly, so hideous, happen in a place so breath-takingly beautiful?". Then I thought about how far Rwanda has come as a country, how much it has developed. I think rwanda's strength is what makes the country so beautiful. They had gone through atrocities but yet, now their healthcare systems exceed those of many other countries in Africa. It's an incredible thing. Ask any one of our team member about it, they'll tell you the same. The dedication of Rwanda's people to make their country a better place is amazing. They don't want to be known for the genocide. It's nicknamed the country of a thousand hills, not the country who was destroyed by genocide. It's true, rwanda suffered greatly from the genocide but the development since then completely overpowers their loss.
On our way to Kigali, I saw a couple interesting billboards that show rwanda's development. There was one sign that read "there is no room for corruption in Rwanda" and another that had pictures of condoms, promoting contraception. Rwanda is trying to go against the stereotype of Africa being corrupt and trying to promote family planning. These two things are very important.
1. The dirt roads: some people get nauseous because of the super bumpy dirt roads, but I love them. I enjoy the hour-long bus ride from Gashora to Kigali not only because of the scenery but because of the dirt smell. The dust that is kicked up by the bus wheels smells like Africa. It's the greatest.
2. Hand-painted signs: if you look closely at the signs on brick walls in front of stores, you'll see that they're actually hand painted. How they get it so neat, I have no idea. I cant even draw a straight line to save my life. They're so good that you'd think that they're printed.
3. Rolling hills in Rwanda: if you're looking to fall in love, come to Rwanda. I have visited three times, and every time, I fall in love all over again.
My guest star today is Heather. She will be putting in her two cents later tonight. Now, we just came back from the genocide museum. I had been there already before, but I went in again anyways because there were particular rooms that I wanted to spend some time in. My father says this was my third time, I only remember this being my second time... Anyways, I skipped all of the fine print story-telling and headed to the picture rooms. There were two picture rooms: one with the adults, the other with children. In the adult room, photographs of lost loved ones were hanging clothesline style off of the walls. This way, you could touch the photos and flip them over as some of them had messages written on the backs. There was a projector in the room which showed a film featuring survivors and what they remembered about family they had lost. I watched the whole thing once before going to each wall to look at the pictures. I sat there trying to remember their faces. I found myself moving the photos along the wire so that the covered ones could be clearly seen instead of being hidden behind others. I felt like their faces needed to be seen. They had such beautiful faces. Some of the photographs were sometimes so blurred that you could barely see the picture, others were worn, torn and stained. Some of these photographs given by surviving family members were the only photos they had of their loved ones. I went around the entire room repeating the same thing: sit down, stare, remember, fix, stare, remember... I did the same in the room with the photos of the children who were brutally murdered during the genocide. There is a very powerful and incredibly depressing part of the museum which is exhibited at the end of the museum. It is comprised of several rooms with very large pictures of individual children. In front of these portraits, there are plaques with the names, something like their favorite food or favorite toy, and the last line would describe how they were murdered. There is incredible shock value here and it really breaks your heart. To see these children, one of which was 15 months when they were killed, and their smiles and the little things that helps get to know them.... And then reading how they were killed.... It's very depressing... It makes me angry just to think about it.
Hey guys, it's heather again! First off....my bags came!!! Both of them, at the same time :) ok now on to the important stuff.....we found a burger joint for lunch. Mr Chips. If you are every in Kigali, and missing home this is the place to go! Burgers, fries, and yes, chicken strips! I think this was the first bit of meat I have had all week. After we ate we head to the genocide memorial, but not before seeing 5 wedding parties pass by as we wait for the cab. They had a videographer standing in the bed of a truck filming the "limo", which was a more fancy car with tool and flowers wrapped around it. Weddings are a huge deal here in Rwanda, so spending a few years salary on them. Ahhhh, tradition.
Now on to the tough stuff, and Mali did an awesome job of bringing what we saw to life. I'm not going to lie, I am having trouble writing this today. What you see in the museum is real. Seeing the movies, reading books, does not even begin to tell the story of what happened here. Seeing the photos as she mentioned, and putting actual faces to the stories, is something I will never forget. The genocide happened....over 2 million people died in 100 days, 100 tutsis every 20 mins....almost 20 years ago, but this country is resilient. They know there history and it will remain with them forever, but they forgive. Amazingly, they forgive. I truly believe that is a big reason for their progressive recovery, making it one of the most successful countries in Africa.
Once we completed the tour, we went to the Nackumat. Like our version of super target but with only one selection of everything. We bought a few things, sat at the coffee shop and had iced tea (filtered water!) I had a chance to call my sister via video chat since we had a good wifi connection. I got to see my sister, brother in law, and nephews. It was just what I needed after the emotional afternoon I just had. Thank goodness for technology, it allowed me to see my family across the globe and reminded me that it is in fact the reason for the first trip to Rwanda with Softchoice Cares many years back.
We headed back to our hotel, La Pallisse Kigali with little time to get ready for our most fancy dinner of the trip. It is called Heaven, and it is :) I looked it up om the internet before coming to rwanda, and the website does not give it justice! Nestled on one of the many hills in Kigali is this beautiful open air restaurant. The minute you walk in, it smells of sweet flowers and delicious food. We take our seats after checking out the great view of the city at night....which is beautiful. We were joined by Lama (our Rwandan leader) and Rogers and William (the 2 young gentlemen who design and over see the kitchen gardens). As soon as we sit and take a look at the menu, the manager tells us we are in for a treat as there are a group of 15 or so African dancers to entertain us. Orphaned children from the ages 5-15 came out and did several dance routines. Wow. Adorable. Amazing. Just a few words I thought in the first 10 seconds. They danced for about 45 mins, and there was a donation jar if you wished to contribute. They perform to pay for their schooling, and the restaurant matched what was raised. I am pretty sure they did quite well! We then ordered food, passion fruit margarita and Filet of beef for me! Whoa, meat for both lunch and dinner??? As the night wrapped up we started a series of cheers or speeches. It was a chance to express appreciation on both sides for the week we spent together. Saying good bye to the people you work next too, share life experiences, and have great respect for is the hardest part of these trips. Real connections, friendships, are made in such a short time....despite any language barrier.
Tough day........ We got back to the hotel a little after 1:00 in the morning....that 5:30 wake up was tough! Although the time here in Rwanda is finishing, this country and the people have made an impact and are within my heart.....as Rogers put it last night, from a vein that pumps blood.
1. Water. The people of Rwanda amaze me in so many ways, but the one that still causes me to have such a reaction is the way most get water. Children and adults walk for miles up and down hills with Jerrycans strapped to their bike to get water. It is never much at time since water is heavy and the walk is so great. It is just a part of their day, and something I never thought about...that has now changed.
2. Smells. Every where you go in Africa has a unique smell, some favorable and some not at all. I haven't experienced any other place with so many different smells, and know it will be one of the many things I don't forget.
3. Utilization. Everything in this land is utilized completely. From clothing, crops, animals, bikes, water, reeds, manure (including an eco-toilet and i will let you figure that one out) and most importantly the top of your head :) where the people here can balance anything as they walk.....nothing is wasted and excess does not exist.
Mali & Heather
Rwanda, July 2012