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Brenda’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 07 Apr 2009

Location: Kigali, Rwanda

MapTuesday April 7th

(This entry has to do with the genocide and may not be suitable for kids to read.)

Today is the day that we attended the Memorial Ceremonies marking the fifteenth anniversary of the genocide here in Rwanda. I’m sitting here writing this Blog with the sound of people singing and speeches in the distance, as there are many evening ceremonies around the city. They will continue over this memorial week. There are the sounds of helicopters flying over-head; probably shuttling a lot of the dignitaries that are here attending the ceremonies, to the airport.
The ceremonies took place at a genocide site on the road heading out of Kigali. (Actually, Wendy, it was right up near where Peter and I did the first aid on the guy that got hit by the water truck in 2006.) Franklin met us at Chez Lando and our regular ‘cab guys’ dropped us off at the site. As we approached the area, I thought I would snap a quick picture of the banner over one of the entrances. Franklin was attempting to warn me against this, as there are very strict rules here in Africa about taking pictures of anything to do with the military. I realized as I snapped the picture that there were probably about 2 or 3 soldiers looking right at me so wasn’t surprised when they waved our vehicle over. We were a little un-nerved but all they did was ask for my camera and then hand it back to me asking me delete the picture on front of them. No arrests even!
We got in the line to enter the gated area and I think Pola and I must have been in the wrong line because the other girls didn’t get felt up and down quite so extensively as we did. It was a weird experience and you didn't dare say anything. There were so many people everywhere, it's hard to say how many because you couldn’t see how far the crowd stretched because of all the tents and also the roll of the hill. We were able to find plastic chairs to sit on about 12 rows back from one of the tents. From where we were sitting by the fence, you could see the soldiers in their army fatigues with their semi-automatics, patrolling the banana groves.
At the beginning of the ceremonies there were bodies of victims interned in a burial site on the other side of the tents from us. They continue to find more bodies because in order for people to be pardoned for their crimes committed during the genocide, they have to admit their guilt, disclose the whereabouts of their victims and then ask for forgiveness.
The ceremonies themselves consisted of many speeches, one from a pastor who was living here in Kigali for four years during the time of the genocide. (He's staying here at Chez Lando right now.) There was singing by various groups including many of the recording artists from surrounding east African countries. During one of their songs, they sang out all of the names of the artists that had been killed during the genocide.
At the time of genocide, near the memorial site was a school called Ecole Technique Official. Just like the catholic churches in Rwanda, schools were a place that Tutsis fled to, mistakenly thinking that they might be safe there. There was a contingent of Belgium soldiers temporarily stationed at this school on April 7th in 1994, protecting the ex-pats that were working there. The killings had begun and people believed that if they could get there, they would be protected also. A lot of people thought the same thing and the buildings were full so many of them were forced to just congregate in the schoolyard with only the fence to protect them. They stayed this way for the next four days. They tried to organize themselves since there was no food, water or even bathrooms. They sent elected members from the group to try and plead with the Belgium’s to get the word out to the Red Cross, media or anyone, that they were there, but nothing was done to help them. The Interhamewe and militia were all around them taking pot shots through the fence. On April 11th, the Belgium’s evacuated the ex-pats, leaving behind the 10,000 Tutsis. Even as they were driving their convoy away the militia was surrounding the group of Tutsis left behind. One of the speakers at the ceremony was a survivor from that day and was telling us his story. He said they were rounded up and marched as a group a short distance. As they were walking, babies were crying and mothers were encouraged to come off to the side to nurse them but were killed with their children when they did. When they got to where we were sitting today, the militia began to throw grenades into the group, fire bullets and then they moved in with machetes. Two thousand died and the survivors were all left just lying there. The man speaking to us was missing his arm and said that that saved him because they thought he was dead. (There is a movie back home called "Shotting Dogs" that tells this story of the school.)
There was already a lot of crying, shrieking and moaning going on throughout the crowd during the whole ceremony, but following this testimonial it became too much for some people to bear. There were people literally screaming and running yelling in Kinyarwandan, “He’s chasing me, he’s going to catch me, etc.” It was so horrible to listen to and it went on and on. People were crying around us, even Franklin and you couldn’t help but feel their pain. We were all crying ourselves and trying not to loose control. During the speeches, it was brought up time and time again that the world abandoned them and the people that were sent to protect them left without a single shot ever being fired upon them. Some of us were felling ashamed to be a ‘Mzungu.'
There were dignitaries from every country in East Africa surrounding Rwanda. The most important one, my favourite, Paul Kigame, who is the president of Rwanda, finally stood up to speak to the crowd. What an amazing man he is and so down-to-earth, just an ordinary sounding guy. I loved his speech and could’ve listened to him all day.
When things finally wrapped up we headed down the hill with probably the biggest crowd that I’ll ever walk in, and out onto the crowded street. We decided to just start walking back to town because we knew that our van would never be able to get to us in this crowd. We had been walking for an hour in the hot sun when Liz took a bit of a spill and hurt her leg. We decided to stay put and wait for our ride back to Chez Lando. We didn't have any other plans for the evening as we knew this would be a very emotionally drainin day for all of us.