Friday, January 25, 2008

Rwanda

So were back from Rwanda! Leaving I have to say I dont think we really knew what to expect. At the last minute we decided to call Timothy, a friend who is a journalist in Kigali, to see if he could meet us and help us find our way around. Good thing we did, I dont know how we would have managed without him!

So monday morning we were on the internet googling all of the things we wanted to do in Kigali (the capital of Rwanda) and looking at the website for the Hotel des Mille Collines (the hotel from Hotel Rwanda the movie). were super expensive and we decided it would be best to just stay in a cheap guest house. As we were discussing, Amy gets a phone call from the lovely and wonderful Momma King telling us that her lovely and wonderful work friends have donated the money for us to stay in the Mille Collines!!! Needless to say we were ECSTATIC!

We left for Kampala in the afternoon to go catch the Jaguar night bus to Kigali. We were hoping to catch the 1am bus but unfortunately for us it was full and we had to wait for the 3am. We spent the evening with my old pal Justin who I havent seen in like 4 years and is randomly in Kampala studying. Then we watched I am Legend in the theater (SO SCARY!) and then headed to the bus station for a long cold 4 hour wait outside for the bus. Our seats were really small but we arrived in Kigali excited though somehow tired! We taxied to our hotel and Timothy came and met us and showed us around the city.

FYI This is going to be a really long blog.

Okay I just have to describe how beautiful Rwanda is. Breathtaking. For sure the most beautiful place I've ever been, and you'll be hard pressed to get me to admit that anywhere is more beautiful than Victoria. Rwanda is called the Switzerland of Africa because it is all green rolling hills. The road from the border of Uganda to Kigali winds all through the mountains and you are always on one side looking far down into the valley. The roads were so windy that we joked that if you could drive from the border in a straight line to Kigali it would probably take about 15 minutes, but because the roads wind so much it took 2 hours!

We expected the city of Kigali to be something like Kampala but it couldn't have been more different! EVERYTHING was clean, there was no dust, no traffic, no bodas weaving maniacally through the traffic. There was order and safety regulations and trash cans! All things that are not typical in Kampala. Actually every last saturday of the month all citizens have to help clean the city...no joke.

We had a wonderful night in the Mille Collines and took full advantage of the room service and complimentary breakfast (yum). The next day we got up early, shopped for like 3 hours in the craft stores, and then met up with Timothy to go to the Gisozi Genocide Memorial. There are several memorials around Kigali, but after visiting one we definitely did not feel compelled to visit others.

This is so hard to write about and explain. The genocide happened 14 years ago in Rwanda, and they have come a long way since in terms of infrastructure and stability. The city is amazing. But I don't think that the genocide is really very far from anyones mind. The first week in April is the memorial week and every year people relive the horrors and remember the lost. It seemed to us like a tradition like that would make it hard for people to move on, but I think the bottom line is that there is no good way to cope after a genocide, you just do what you can.

In 1994 one million people were slaughtered in Rwanda. A country with two tribes that once functioned perfectly with one language and one history, was divided by european colonizers and pitted against each other. 40 years of ethnic strife evolved into genocide, and a million (plus!) people lost their lives as a result. The memorial was a beautiful remembrance of the history of the tragedy, the cost of international indifference, and the stories of those who died. After walking though a long hallway that tells the story, we passed through rooms full of pictures brought in by survivors of family members who were murdered. There were probably aroujd 1200 photos that people had brought in and clipped to the walls and every day people bring more. These are sometimes the only photos people have of their family members and friends. We witnessed a man sitting, cradling a picture of a woman that he pulled from the wall, crying and grieving. The next room was dark with glass cases lining the walls. IN each case there were bones. 4 cases were full of skulls, many with holes in them, whole sides missing, and some in peices. It was awful to imagine the force that must have been used to create such injuries. 2 cases were full of femur bones from adults and children. There were hundreds. The last room had clothes hung up behind glass that had been taken from people in mass graves. There was s childs size I LOVE OTTAWA tee shirt and a superman sheet. Playing on a big tv screen were survivors talking about forgivness and if they could in fact, forgive the people who did this. ONe woman talked of how she watched her sisters be beaten and thrown to the bottom of an outhouse, already piled 10 bodies deep and then rocks were thrown down on them until they died. She said she didnt know if shed ever be able to forgive. Amy kept thinking of her neice and nephew as she walked through the room with the stories of dead children. The photos had a plaque underneath the photo that had info like the childs favorite food, favorite sport, favorite school subject then it said how they were murdered. One 9 month old was hacked to death in his mothers arms and a 2 year old girl was smashed against a wall. There was even a small glass case with the chain that was to chain 4 brothers together as they were burned alive.

The end of the center consisted of information about other genocides that have happened in the world, such as Namibia, the Holocaust, Armenia, Camodia and several others. This was followed by information on genocide in general and organizations that have set out to prevent it.

As we walked outside, we looked over the balcony onto rows of mass graves. One of the mass graves was not sealed yet and you could see where new coffins lay, covered in white and pruple cloth. They center said that as many as 30 people could fit in one coffin because of the brutal way people were killed. People around the country are still - 14 years later!!- finding parts of bodies and random bones as they cultivate fields, dig foundations and just go about daily life. AS a result, about 4 new mass graves were being dug at the memorial site to house these. They are surrounded by gardens and we walked through the gardens past what must have been thousands of bodies and fragments of bodies all buried in mass graves. Needless to say we left the memorial very sober and with a lot of questions. It was strange because the whole time we felt like just bawling but somehow we couldn't, they just weren't our tears to cry. It almost would have felt disrespectful to sit and watch videos of survivors bravely telling of the horrors they saw and then cry, as if we have anything to cry about.

We left early the next morning after a fun night hanging out with Timothy and his family and traveled back to dusty Kampala. We had a really good time in Kigali but it was good to be back in Jinja. I guess we came away from our trip with a newfound appreciation for Rwandans and their strength and courage, and also a bit of shame at what white people have done (or not done) in the world. It was so frustrating to be in the memorial and be able to clearly see all the info that had been laid out for the west to do something about the genocide, even before the killings happened, and yet because of beauracracy, red tape, and pride, we say by the tv and watched the news show their 30 second blip on ethnic strife in Rwanda, sandwiched between the sports and the weather.

Its hard to believe that we stayed in a hotel that had once housed thousands of tutsis from crazed militia men waiting with machetes outside the gates to kill them because 50 years prior, colonoizers had separated the country based on the amount of cows one had. Unfortunately for the Tutsis, having less than 10 cows would one day get them killed.

Amy leaves on wednesday at 4;20 and get home thursday at 240. WE are both excited to go home but heartbroken to leave our friends. We said goodbye to the church yesturday and Amy cried as the elders came and prayed for us as the congregation stretched our their hands and joined in prayer as well. AFter church we went to our friends house and hung out with 6 of our friends and spent 4 hours doing karoke. It was a blast. WE are definately going to miss the babies and espeically george and soph but the friendships we have made are one a whole nother level and will make it that much harder to leave. Tomorrow night is our last bible study and im sure it will be full of tears. The one thing everyone says after we say we are going home is, but your going to come back soon, not so? One day soon.

Until next time....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Words cannot express my feelings as you prepare to come home. I have followed your Blog Since Amy left and want to thank you both for being so faithful to keeping us updated with your words and pictures.We look forward to seeing Amy and hope one day to be able to meet you Bethany. May God watch over you, bring you both home safely and may your next chapter in life be made very clear to you. Thank you for who God has made you and for what he has in store for you - He is using you to furthur his Kingdom and yes you are making a differece. God Bless you.

Les Belanger