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Rwanda – August 3rd 2008


Sunday, in a city where you don’t know anyone can be a bit lonely. I was reminded of the Johnny Cash song, “Sunday Morning Coming Down” where the guy wandered round town, alone on Sunday morning seeing the sights and listening to the sounds.

Not having any set work today it was grand to take a leisurely breakfast overlooking the street and watching people tooing and froing. There is working going on at Chez Lando, where they are extending. I didn’t think they would be working today, but they were there at 7am same as usual. What is different about having a building site under your balcony window is that here every thing is done by hand, so it is fairly quiet, thankfully. No cement mixers, stone saws or jack hammers. Have seen some great scaffolding as well travelling around made out of planks and bits of wood, even on buildings 4 or 5 stories high. Wouldn’t get me up there!

After breakfast I decided to go to the Kigali Memorial Centre, a memorial to the genocide which engulfed the country 14 years since. I took Taxi-moto, which is basically a 125 trials bike that you ride pillion on, driven by someone not too long out of the asylum and forgotten to take their medicine! The result? Mayhem, but great fun…loved every second of it. Maybe just as well the traffic was lighter, with it being a Sunday though; else I might not have enjoyed it quite as much! One thing though, why did it cost 2000f one way and 1000 back? I was being taken for a ride by someone in more ways than one, methinks!

Kigali Memorial Centre
The Memorial Park brings into sharp focus the genocide in this small country only 14 years since. A lot of the people I have been taking photos of lived through it, and probably had family members killed in it. I know Mama Zulla’s husband was killed in the 100 days violence, and probably others. It just helps maybe understand a little bit about the country. We all know that the genocide was triggered by tension between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. Well, that’s what popular conception is. Turns out that before the German and Belgian colonial era there was no such division, but the country was divided, basically along the lines of if you had more than 14 cows you were a “Tutsi”, less than 14 a “Hutu”. The Tutsi were generally taller and lighter built too, but formed a minority, with the Hutu forming 85% Tutsi 14% and the Tsa pygmy 1%. The Tutsi’s were more powerful under the colonials, but when independence came, the Hutu gained power. It’s all a bit more complicated than that, but the history is well shown in the centre, giving the background.

Then there is the record of the genocide itself. No punches are spared. (No pun intended) It really was a graphic and thought provoking. It was really well put together and gave great respect to the dead. Displays of skulls and bones were very moving, as were photos of some of the dead, snapshots of them in a normal life, and a display of the clothes worn by the dead. Videos documentaries of victims family were shown too.

It was very emotional, and that coming from a hill farmer breeding, is strong indeed. I think what got me most was a room titled “Lost Futures” I think. It was a large room with larger than life photos of children killed in the genocide. Around a million people were massacred in all, men, women, grandparents and children. The children’s room was something else though. Along with the photos there was a little bit about each child, what they enjoyed, favourite food, best friend, personality, way they were killed. Yup just like that. A real hammer blow to the heart. How they were Killed. On photo showed a wee boy running towards the camera, smiling. Killed? Hacked by Machete. Age? 5. The same age as my son, Sam. It is just so awful to think about. I had to put my sunglasses on.

The whole park / centre does not dwell on the past, lay the blame haphazardly, but very much matter of factly tells it as it was, but with a very positive emphasis on reconciliation and the future together, which I found very uplifting, despite knowing that in the grounds there are buried the remains of over 250,000 people, many unknown.

None of it should have happened, and shouldn’t happen again, but the sad thing is that somewhere, somehow it will, unless we learn from the past, and Rwanda is a good place to learn.

Seems hard to write anything light hearted after that really. Seems disrespectful.

But I will anyway, as I generally do say the wrong thing at the wrong time anyway, so might as well continue doing what I do best!! I spent the rest of the day in the bar area at Chez Lando. Not cos I wanted to drown my sorrows, just I didn’t want to go anywhere, but couldn’t face spending rest of the day in my room. How sad would that be? So, looking for amusement I went to the local shop and bought a newspaper (Different paper, but still from Uganda, don’t know why that is!) Amongst the amusing headlines which made me chuckle was “Dumping is a Danger” That isn’t very amusing really I suppose, but I just thought of the “Latrine Crackdown” headline from the other paper. What a combination that what have been!! Owt Else? As our local butcher likes to say. Well there is the story about a poor 13 year old lad who had a slight accident at a rite of passage ceremony as his Circumciser slipped whilst operating, with due consequences! Ouch. Just a thought…what would they call that job back in the UK? Foreskin Management Expert? Answers on a postcard.

So there’s my day. If you didn’t shed a tear at the fist part, I bet your eyes watered at the last!


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