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Brenda’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 09 Apr 2009

Location: Nyamata & Kigali, Rwanda

MapJambo to you all….

What a day…we were just remarking that the things we did this morning feel like they happened yesterday. Every day here is so full, so amazing and full of experiences that we’ll never forget.
First thing this morning, we got a call from Franklin telling us his 56year old mother had passed away. Her funeral is to be held at 1pm on Friday so we immediately made plans to delay our departure date by a day so we could attend.
Following breakfast we were picked up by WV and driven out to Nyamata. Our first stop was a visit to the Women’s Headed Household Association, which is run by a wonderful woman named Mama Sifa. These women, many who have lost their husbands in the genocide or from HIV/AIDS, have formed this group to support each other in many ways, including making crafts to sell. We all purchased gifts for our friends back home and enjoyed a cup of steaming, fresh cows milk from Mama Sifa’s cow.
The Ntarama Church Memorial Site is right next door so we walked over with Costa and Cassius. The 5000 people that were murdered inside this church were mainly women and children. The men had tried to fight off the militia and Interhamwe with rocks and sticks but they were no match for the machetes, guns and grenades. The entry into the one-roomed church is two big open archways at the right of the building. It has the familiar purple ribbon above it, which is used at all genocide sites. Along the back wall of the church there are deep shelves that go right to the ceiling. The two middle ones are filled with skulls, many of them so little, and the others shelves have various other bones stacked on them. All of the bloody clothing is hanging on the walls, from floor to ceiling, running the length of the church and also above on the tresses. At the front of the sanctuary are huge shelves holding the possessions that had been brought into the church that day by the people. There is also a wooden box filled with school exercise books and other paper items.
There is a mud building behind the church that is partially destroyed by fire. The people that hid in here were burned alive and you can still see bones lying in the rubble. The Sunday school building was beside this and our young guide was showing us the blood all over the walls. We’re looking at this and thinking, this 24 yr old girl is walking us through this place, pointing things out to us while most of her family were killed here. I looked at Cassius remembering he had lost his four sisters and many of his other relatives at this spot also. Last year when we visited this site, I asked them how they felt when people like us tour these sites. They replied that they thought it was strange that we would want to, but said that it was important that we know what happened here in Rwanda. They don’t want any of us to forget.
After we left the church, we drove down to Alice’s house. She was so happy to see us again and it felt so good to give her the gifts of food that we’d brought. I thought she looked like she had lost weight and Costa was telling us that a lot of people miss taking their ARV’s because you need to be eating properly when you take the medication. Alice missed it again this week because she had no food. She said she was happy that she was just told that if she didn’t have food she could boil water and just drink that when she got her treatment so in the future she won’t miss. Little Angelique who is also living with HIV/AIDS looked very thin also. I Gave them Barbie dolls and they were absolutely thrilled… should’ve seen their faces!!!! Alice proudly showed us her cow, which will be calving in 6 months time and will then be able to provide the family with milk. Joanne, from WV Canada, (who accompanied us on our 2006 trip) purchased this cow as a gift to Alice.
Following our visit with Alice we visited Espoir School and dropped off the soccer uniforms that Liz and Val brought. We were invited for lunch with some of the WV staff and three journalists from a Taiwanese TV station who were in Rwanda interviewing people for a story on the reconciliation of the Rwandan people following the genocide. (They are staying at Chez Lando also.) We overheard one of the interviews while at the WV office and it was with a man who had killed the children of the woman sitting beside him. They had ridden together to the WV office on his bike. It’s amazing and hard to imagine that these people are able to forgive the murderers of their family members!
After lunch we went to the Nyamata church memorial site. This is the place where the remains of 40,000 now lie. There were 35,000 here in 2006 but as killers from this area admit their guilt at Gacacca court (means justice on the grass) and disclose the whereabouts of their victims, they are dug up and placed here. The clothes used to be stacked to the ceiling in a room off to the right of the entrance, but are now draped over the cement pews that fill the sanctuary. The smell in the church was quite powerful and you could see many clothes that were worn by children. I’ve been here four other times but the feeling is still the same. (I had posted pictures in 2008 of the church; if you look at the photo section at the side under Nyamata Church 2008 you can see what it looks like.)
We headed back into town to buy the volleyball nets/balls to take to Kahama and then to purchase items to take to over to Costa’s for dinner. Sharing a meal and the evening with this amazing family will always be a special memory for us all. We were told by Costa that it was a gift to him to see how happy his wife Bernadette and her sister Denise are when they’re around us. This time of the year is so difficult for them after what they’ve been through; he’s never seen a smile on their faces during the morning period. I’ve never written about their experiences but I will ask Costa if I can write their story for you to read. Costa himself is writing a book on his experiences in the RPF (Rwandese Patriotic Front), his family’s experiences in the genocide and his work with people in the area of forgiveness and reconciliation. He already has a publisher in the States. (He still wants to be involved in your project Mark and Twilla and in fact addresses you in the video I took tonight.)
We were all given Rwandan names. Liz’s is Gera amata which means ‘giver of milk.’ Val is Umuhoza, which means ‘reducer of emotional pain.’ Wanda is Rwanda, they figured her name is already Rwandan enough. Pola is Uwimbabazi, which means ‘committed to the vulnerable.’ I am Uwurukundo, which means ‘giver of love.’ Heather is Umwiza, which means ‘beautiful.’ Little Queenie was adorable and we all took turns holding her. Gentle is a beautiful boy with a ‘gentle’ spirit and loved to touch our skin. He remarked to one of the men that, “All of the mzungus really like me!” There were various other people and a few of the neighbour children there. We were worried about having enough food but it just seemed to multiply as we put it out on platters and there was enough for all.
We left Costa’s loaded with our purchases of the day, packs, etc, and piled into in a dala-dal (van) that looked full before the seven of us got in. The African men on board all laughed with us as we attempted to find places to sit. Back in the city centre, Costa got us safely transferred onto the next van and headed back. Wanda remarked on how much room there was but no sooner got the words out when people started to climb in. When they couldn’t possibly fit one more in, a couple of guys started pushing us, the motor kicked in and we were on our way. What could we expect for only 30 cents each!
We arrived back to Chez Lando in our usual state of exhaustion, some of us rushing to our computers to check for messages from home.