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Farewell Rwanda

By on June 2, 2011 in Rwanda with No Comments


After observing basket weaving and banana beer making yesterday and visiting the Golden Monkeys the day before, we headed back from Musanze. Before we arrived in the twelve hour purgatory of sallow lighting, seriously bad food, and two inch bugs zapping around the departure lounge (otherwise known as Kigali Airport) we visited two more genocide memorials.

They were both churches set in dirt village roads about 45 minutes out of Kigali. Like many others, these churches have significance because thousands of people fled to them thinking they would be safe from the genocidaires. Rather than finding sanctuary, sometimes it was the Hutu pastor who gave the order to grenade or bulldoze a church with his congregation crammed inside.

The first memorial was called Ntarama. 5,000 people were slaughtered in here. We weren’t able to take photos but the pews and windows were heaped with the bloodstained clothing of actual victims and the walls surrounded by glass cases of skulls and thigh bones piled high in the air.


The second memorial, Nyamata, contained the remains of 10,000 people that had been killed inside – of which an estimated 10 had survived by hiding under the heaps of dead bodies. When the Interahamwe and the Rwandan army attacked, they used grenades on the barricaded building to get in. Sharp pinpoints of light filtered through the roof – ripped by the thousands of bullets used to kill the victims. Their blood splattered so far and high that dark blotches stained the towering church ceiling. The discoloration in the walls, we were told, was because the practice was not to waste bullets on children, but to lift them by an arm or leg and swing them violently against the walls so that their skulls would crack on impact with the bricks.



Once again, piles of clothing brown with stains were stacked two feet high on the pews. These were from the people that had died directly in the church. Another huge pile of clothes was from those victims that had been thrown down the massive latrines that had been dug around the church area.

In the center of the church a staircase had been built deep into the ground. The first level was a glass cage that contained more bones and skulls shattered by machete or bullets. Underneath was the coffin of a woman meant to represent the hundreds of thousands of other women that suffered the same fate. She had been raped, had a stake pierced through her from her privates to her skull, and another skewered through her breast to her back, impaling the nine month old baby she held in her arms (note: the coffin was closed}.

All this was told to us by our guide, who spoke serenely, without bitterness. Everything we learned from her had been reflected in the large Kigali Genocide Museum that we visited at the start of our trip, but seeing the clothes, and the shattered skulls, and the coffins helped give the horror some context. Even so, as we travelled through Rwanda, through the cities, and villages, and countryside, and mountains, I tried to imagine how I would feel. Running, running, running, from friends, neighbors, gun and machete wielding death squads. Starving, exhausted, terrified. Wasting away, living in mud and reeds, cowering in holes dug in the ground covered with plants, psychologically dead from the shock of seeing loved ones slaughtered. Trapped like an animal within the hundreds of roadblocks set up to prevent escape. And still I couldn’t. I couldn’t even get close to an inkling of what it would be like. Rwanda seems so beautiful, so peaceful, so clean, so green and we are so sheltered in places like New Zealand and the US.

With all this, you would think that just 17 years later this would leave a horrific divide between the Hutus and Tutsis – yet when I asked Omar whether he felt that there was peace or tension between the people of Rwanda, he replied calmly, without hesitation, that there was peace. It didn’t seem contrived or rehearsed, I think he genuinely felt this.

Rwanda is a truly special country

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