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Brenda’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 09 Jul 2006

Location: Kigali, Rwanda

MapJambo everyone,
(actually in Rwanda it’s “Maraho”)

Sorry I couldn’t get a note of to you last night. I was so sick by the time we got back that I just showered and crawled into bed. Except for getting up to throw up, I stayed there until this morning. Today the group is going out to a lake that’s 1 ½ hour’s drive from here. I don’t feel well enough to join them so will spend the day here. The good part about that is that I will have the laptop all to myself! This place that we’re staying at is a group of buildings surrounded by a wall. I really need one day to not see what is beyond that wall. It’s probably because I don’t feel well, but I’m finding everything pretty overwhelming today.

(I don’t know who is all reading this but some of the stuff that I’m going to be writing about today may not be suitable for younger readers.)

Yesterday when we left, we were heading out of town up the BUMPY dirt road and a water truck ran over a man on a bicycle on front of us. There was a pool of blood in the dust on front of the truck tire and the man was lying off to the side. Peter & I performed first aid on him but there was so little we could do with what we had to work with. There was no skin left on his right arm and the muscle and bone were all you could see. There were pieces of flesh hanging down about 4 inches. I had to lift it up to get the bandages around his arm. His face was covered with lacerations as well as other parts of his body. We were working in the dust with crowds of people all around us and nobody could understand anybody. (I was glad when I thought back about it, that another vehicle didn’t come along and hit us. In Rwanda, pedestrians and people on bikes yield to vehicles.) After what seemed like ages, a pickup pulled up and they picked up the moaning, mangled, bloody guy and put him in the back of the truck. So much for an ambulance! We found out later that his arm had to be amputated, (which we figured would happen).

When we got to Nyamata, part of our group went to go visit their foster kids and the rest
of us went to visit a family to experience what they do in their daily lives. The family
consisted of a woman and her five children. They were living in Kigali when the
genocide took place. Her husband, parents and siblings were all murdered, in fact she
has no relatives left all. She had a 2 month old and four other children , the oldest were
twins, who were five at the time. One of the twins has multiple scars which she
sustained when her father was being murdered on front of her. The woman was raped
repeatedly on front of her children and has suffered such massive internal injuries that
she is permanently disabled from. She has also suffered neck injuries from being strangled. She said that at the time she didn’t want to live but had to survive for her children. I don’t know how they made it through the rest of the 3-month genocide, there is just nowhere to hide here. You have to see it to believe just how populated this country is. She eventually made it out to Nyamata where World vision took over the care of the whole family. They had been living a totally isolated life, the only adult in the family of such young children being so emotionally scarred. WV sent her to a gynecologist to get some of her injuries treated and she is now also in therapy. She said they gave her the first pair of shoes that she had worn in five years. All of the children go to school and WV built her a house. She now has friends and sings in a choir. She said, “When a person can be taken from a crying person to a person who sings; it’s a beautiful thing. When you go back to your country you tell your mothers that I am with them and you tell them that they need to be with the mothers of Rwanda.” She was crying throughout most of her testimonial and then sang us this beautiful song at the end. It was all so amazing.

The plan in being at their home was for us to participate in their daily lives. Peter went for water, Bev helped cook and two of us went for firewood with three of the children. We had to walk up this mountain and gather branches at the top. You pick up a branch and using a second one, knock all of the leaves off. When our piles were big enough, we tied them together and then carried them on our heads back down the mountain. It wouldn’t have been too bad normally, but I was so sick and feverish at the time, that I had a bit of a hard time with the heat. I managed to collect the biggest bundle though! Poor Peter looked pretty hot where he got back with the water. It was a ½ hour walk each way but he had to come back UP the hill with the FULL water containers. The rest of the group eventually joined us and we had lunch with the family. Half the neighbors were there too, luckily I had brought a lot of small gifts to give away. The older girls loved their necklaces and I gave them a small mirror too. The kept telling me they loved me! I gave the 12 year old one of those long skipping ropes and she went crazy! A couple of us brought out MP3 players and they kids were passing the earphones back and forth. They NEVER see get to see anything like that so you can imagine what they thought. We had spent quite a few hours with the family so it was hard to say good-bye. When we looked back as we were driving away we could see tears on some of their faces.
One of the foster families that my roommate, Wendy, visited had a real tragic story. The father had lost his wife and three children in the genocide. His sister lived with him and she had lost all 9 of her children and her husband. They are the only surviving members of their family. He has since remarried though and has I think, three more kids.
It’s hard to understand how these people can live together in the same communities, mixing murderers with victims. People here are all pretty open to discussing the genocide so we’ve had chances to ask that question. We’ve all seen and heard for years what’s been going on with people like the Israelis and the Palestinians. They continue to commit acts of revenge and their war never ends. Paul Kigame, who was the leader of the Rwandese Patriotic Front that liberated the Tutsis is now president. He was faced with the enormous task of putting the country back together. The Hutus had all been pushed out to neighboring countries where before the genocide, the Tutsis had lived. His mandate is to have all people living as Rwandans, not as two separate tribes. The Hutus were allowed back into the country and were punished. They have this program called TIP which means ‘Work in Public Interest’ in which, if a Hutu admits what they did was wrong and shows true remorse, they can be released early and work in the community for two years, earning a bit of money. This helps with the over crowding of the jails and gives the people a chance to save some money for when they are released. Then they have another program which, translated, means “The Oak Tree”. Hutus find surviving members of the families that they had murdered and ask for their forgiveness. They then have to help that survivor in some way by, for example, building them a house. I’m sure there are people out there who can’t forgive but for the most part this all seems to work.
At the end of the day we visited the Nyamata Memorial. This is a catholic church on the outskirts of Nyamata. When the genocide started people thought that they would be safe there. It is a big stone church with a large courtyard around it that you enter through a big wrought iron gate. The people filed into the church and locked another metal gate that serves as door to the church. The Hutus, Rwandan Army and local police stormed the complex. You can see holes in the concrete and the metal roof from the bullets and the grenades that they threw in. They broke down the gate and slaughtered everyone inside. There is blood all over the walls. One of the walls is especially bloody and we were told that they would take babies by the feet and twirl them around and throw them against the wall. The concrete floor is on a slant and they showed us where the river of blood ran down towards the pulpit and soaked the cloth up about 2 feet from the floor. There is a room that is filled to the TOP with bloody clothes. They keep these for people to look through when they are trying to find out where their family members might have actually died. They used to hang on three lines that they tied across from wall to wall in the church. After the genocide, they built crypts underground; there are three of them. In the two biggest ones, you go down cement stairs and the hallways angle off to your right and left. They are about 20 feet long each with 4 sets of deep shelves that go to the ceiling. There are rows of skulls laid out on the bottom two shelves and the others are filled with leg and arm bones, stacked up. You can see the marks on a lot of the skulls where they were hit with machetes and with these clubs that they stuck nails in the end of. There are also rows of coffins in some areas that have the bones of ten people in each one. On front of the church is another burial site of 56 people. This group was thrown into a pit while they were still alive and buried with boulders. They continue to this day to find bodies in various places. When people are confessing and asking for forgiveness, they will often tell where they have hidden people that they have
killed. In all 35,000 people were killed in buried at that church, 10,000 in a single day. As we drive around everyday you cannot get the image out of your head of people running with nowhere to run to and of bodies laying in the very streets that we are walking. The genocide took place all over the whole country, there wasn’t a spot that
was safe. In fact, a Tutsis who was married to a Canadian woman owned Hotel Chez Lando, the hotel that we are staying in. Their whole family including their children was murdered here. It’s all really overwhelming.
I hope this wasn’t too much to read. I thought I may as well take advantage of having the laptop to myself. I am not writing a journal on this trip so these notes will be my only record. I can tell by your messages that a lot of you are taking from my experiences what I hoped you would. These children that are born over here are just innocent little babies like ours, that are just unfortunate enough to be born in a country that it so full of poverty, sickness and sadness. There is no hope for them to have any kind of a future without our help.
Also, Denise, in reference to your comment about WV staff members, all the staff members here are from Rwanda. In every country that WV works in, the people of that country run everything. In each ADP (Area Development Project) there is five people elected from the community. From these people, 10 are elected to represent the region. These people work with the local Rwandan WV staff and make all of the decisions with them as far as programs, who will receive houses, where the schools should go and even which kids should get fostered. All of the work is done by the local people and paid for by WV. Not only does it give all of the staff jobs but the local labourers as well. World Vision Canada has three ADPs here but there are WV groups here from 6 other countries. I’m so impressed with what they are doing here. The local people continuously say that World Vision saved their lives.
I hope you’re all doing well. I miss everyone a lot. Till next time……
Kwa Heri……or (“Murabeho” in Rwanda)

Brenda