Monday, 11 February 2008

Oh Rwanda Oh Rwanda!

Some of the mass graves at the Kigali Genocie Memorial Centre. They contain 256,000 bodies in total
A few of the names of the dead they actually know

Green, Clean and Organised! Kigali not like any other African Capital!

Char Says: And so our holiday begins and we board a coach to Kigali – the capital of Rwanda. In spite of the poor weather the city is an impressive place with (amazingly) pot-hole free roads, an efficient and safe transport system and is spotlessly clean! Crazy. Something of a contrast to out beloved but crazy Kampala. Having made a last minute (6am on day leaving) decision to leave our tent in Uganda (we'll camp on the Ugandan leg of our travels) we arrived at the 'One Love Project' to find that they no longer offer camping anyway! The little bungalow we were staying in however cost us about 3.15 each per night, including breakfast and a free laundry service - bargain!

'One Love' is an NGO partnership between Japan and Rwanda which provides orthopedic assistance (prosthetic legs, wheelchairs etc) to those made disabled during the genocide. It’s a really cool place and a seriously worthwhile cause (the number of disabled people in Rwanda is shocking). Check out

Jay and I have been really interested in the history of Rwanda and the genocide for many years now and so naturally we took this opportunity to learn more. Having taken place within our lifetime (1994) and affecting our peers, the genocide seems somehow more relevant to us than other historical tragedies. It came as no surprise then to find that we spent three hours at the memorial centre after being told an average visit takes about one and half hours. The purpose built centre us excellently done and includes sections detailing other genocides the world has witnessed. Outside, the well kept gardens have a number of mass graves which can be visited. The graves contain the bodies of over 256,000 victims of the genocide!

On Thursday we visited the Hotel des Mille Collines which will be familiar name to those who have seen 'Hotel Rwanda'. The film was actually shot in South Africa but the real life events unfolded here. These days however, the place is one of Kigali's top hotels, playing host to East African business people and serving overpriced Cokes to mzungu tourist.

Saturday was a very hard day indeed. We visited two of the churches involved in the mass massacres of the genocide, which are now preserved as they were as memorials. It is very hard for me to describe here what a poignant and chilling sight it is to enter a church where 10,000 innocent people sought refuge but were murdered. Light shines through the bullet holes in the iron roof, blood stains the alter cloth and the bones on display reveal skulls that are shattered and missing chunks through machete blows. Most chilling of all, but not possible to describe, is going down inside a mass grave to see shelves from floor to ceiling 30m long full of skulls and bones. Blogs can’t do it justice, but its something neither of us will quickly forger! It is hard to believe such a massacre could happen here just 15 years ago and that the West just sat back and watched the tragedy unfold!

As if we had not had enough, that evening we returned to the Memorial in Kigali for a talk from a 'survivor'. A fresh faced twenty something told us of the killings of his father and brother and how he spent over a month living in a church - believing everyday would be his last. The speech was followed by the film ' Sometimes in April', a gruesome, by realistic, story of one Rwandan family.

After all we have learned of the genocide, it seems quite unbelievable to see how the country has rebuilt itself. It now is a welcoming, attractive country that is trying to reach its full potential. The politicians talk of harmony and truly seem to fight corruption and plan for a prosperous future for all. Rwanda looks and feels like a great place to live. The people pf Rwanda are unbelievably resourceful and there is very little evidence of its troubled past! And so we really do applaud them!

We now find start a less emotionally draining leg of of trip. We are today in Moshi in northern Tanzania, heading tomorrow to climb the Usumbara mountains... more soon!

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