Saturday, January 16, 2010

Nyamata Genocide

Warning - disturbing post about the genocide and the memorials.

Saturday - another nice sunny day in Rwanda. The cleaners came round and washed our floor by hand and made our beds with clean linen, while I did some work for a presentation I have to give on Wednesday.
Good english breakfast of bacon and eggs to set us up for the day.
Wandered along the local main street further away from town, past the court offices, then turned into some back streets and headed to the Nyamirambo market. Wondered how safe it was but decided to look inside. In fact there was enough room to preserve some personal space and it was very interesting. Mangoes, potatoes, dried beans for sale, a couple of meat counters I did not want to get too close to, hardware stores, places selling clothes and all sorts of fascinating things. For $4 I bought a new backpack as the zip is comong loose on my old one. Don't know if my new one will survive the trip!
Bought a few overpriced groceries at the local Merez gas station - have to find a cheaper place to buy stuff.
We had arrange with a highly recommended English-speaking guide for us to be picked up at 2 pm to go to the genocide memorials at Nyamata. The time came and went. After ten minutes I texted, and again after 30 minutes. He called back, claiming we made plans for Sunday, not Saturday. We are sure he is wrong, and he says he will try to get to us as soon as possible. Its now 3 pm and it gets dark at 6. Greg has the number of a driver who we used before. He calls and they have a difficult conversation, as his french is as bad as his english and its a poor connection. He seems to know where to pick us up, but there are major roadworks which make life more confusing. A third driver sees us looking lost and offers to take us, but then Gregs driver shows up. We set off in what seems to me to be the wrong direction - the roads in Kigali are very confusing because you have to go round the hills. It was suppossed to take 30 mins but after 20 we are still trying to rush thru Kigali traffic. Eventually we get onto the Nyamata road, which is new and fast. The scenery becomes spectacular, rolling hills, swampy rivers, banana plantations, people pushing overloaded bikes, women with baskets on their heads. All the stereotypes of Africa.
We arrive at Ntamara (excuse spelling errors) and I wander into the old church. Somehow I did not think this was one of the sites with bones. Immediately taken aback by a shelf full of skulls. Pelvises below, then femurs, as if arranging things by anatomy made it better. Along the church walls were clothing from the victims. At the back is a small schoolhouse, The kids notebooks are still there, along with the remnants of a funeral pyre. At first there was just the two of us, then an armed gurad joins us. Our driver gets out, as there is no guide. At first he had not wanted to go near the site. He shows us a paper saying he is exempt from paying medical bills because of a genocide injury. We have to stop him showing us his scars.
On to Nyamata. The church is larger, there are more clothes on more pews. In the basement there is only one glass pyramid of bones. It does not seem so bad.
Then the guides take us to the back. We have been talking French and realize all four of us speak English better. At the back you go into crypts. Coffins line each side. As you go further in they give way to boxes of bones (the guide opens one). Then there are open shelves of bones, all in order again. We get taken to the second crypt. One side the coffins are draped and some are named. We look over at the other side. The guide says its more of the same, we need not go on. I am relieved.
We are about to take our leave when one guide says that the other was one of seven survivors of the genocide which killed 10,000 at that site. He tells us of those days in April 1994, when the living hid amongst the dead and the interhawme stuck spears into the heap to ensure they had not missed anyone. The guide ran into the jungle and hid in a swamp.
Etiquette question: Given that there was no fee for admission or for the tour, what is the appropriate tip for someone who relives that experience for you? At random, I decided on 5,000 R Fr, which is about 8 dollars, quite a lot of money locally.
The drive back as the sun set and a gentle rain came down was also pretty. Got back home and had a beer.
It would be nice to believe that the Rwandan genocide was a one-off event, that somehow people could only be that brutal in Rwanda, but I don't think its true. Similar genocides are happening now in the Congo and not getting publicity. Then there is Darfur, Sarajevo, the Nazi Holocaust. The slogan "Never again" seems so empty. Its so easy for Clinton, or anyone else, to say "Its not in our interest to get involved".

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