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Brenda’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Location: Kigai, Rwanda

MapIt’s 10:00 on Saturday night here in Kigali, everyone is exhausted and has gone to bed early. It’s been a bit of a struggle to get on the internet due to our hectic schedule and the fact that there is no internet at St Famille. Actually there is one closer than the one I’ve used but I’ve yet to see it open. To get the other one, we have to walk through up a dirt road, through an empty dirt lot (where they give driving lessons…(quite funny to watch) and up a long flight of stairs, (which is a popular hang out for street people and kids looking for food.) Then we have to cross all the roads that connect onto the large traffic circle, knowing that it’s not customary for vehicles to yield to pedestrians, up another hill and then we’re there! You can’t walk up alone after 6:30 because it’s dark by then.

I took the group to the Memorial Centre in Kigali on Friday morning. Heike wasn’t with us because she decided to spend the day with Welcome, a friend who is a teacher here in Kigali. I’ve written about the memorial before. It’s a museum but also the final resting place for about 100,000 genocide victims. Even though this was my fourth visit it’s still very emotionally draining to visit this site. The way the museum is set up, you’re taken on a journey through the events leading up to the genocide, through it and the aftermath. It’s hard to explain how it feels to look at the life size murals, see video and hear testimonials about what took place knowing that it all happened right outside of the very building you’re standing in. It’s just overwhelming. We had Yves with us, who is Costa’s wife’s brother. His parents and five siblings had been killed during the genocide and we all were concerned about how he must be feeling.

Yves is an amazing young man who, when he was only four years old, witnessed the murders of seven family members while he and his sister hid in the thatched roof of a house. They spent the 100 days of the genocide lying on bamboo poles, dehydrated, suffering from heat exhaustion, hungry and terrified. You would never know that about Yves; he handles the horror of his past amazingly well. He’s the most mature, considerate, resourceful, giving and fun 19 year-old that I’ve ever met. We all just love him!

After we left the Memorial, we headed to the Remara Stadium to sign up for the Marathon of Peace (mentioned in Angela’s blog) that's to take place on Sunday. We weren’t actually thinking of doing a marathon (my God!) but we thought we could maybe handle the 5K run (walk!) As we stood in the line in the office, the man who was running the race and doing the registration acted like he was ready to snap. I asked the crew what they thought about volunteering instead of participating on Sunday. When we talked to him, he said they'd decided to have the kid’s race on the Saturday, because it was chaotic last year and could we be there at 7”30 am to help with that We were excited about the prospect of being with kids at such an event as “The Marathon of Peace.”

Due to the lateness of last night’s events…(I’ll get to that later)….some of our crew elected not to come this morning to volunteer. (Except Terry….sorry for leaving without you!) What was supposed to be a fun, interactive morning with the kids ended up to be a chaotic, unorganized, disastrous near-riot which I’m sure left many of the thousands of kids, battered and bruised. The writing was on the wall within minutes of Angela, Rylan and I arriving. There was no organization, no plan, and no leadership. It became obvious that there would never be enough T-shirts for the thousands of kids showing up. There was no accountability among the people asking for them. There were still so many lined up waiting when we gave out the last stack.

After countless delays for who knows what, he boys and girls were set off for their 5 km run with a five minute gap in between. It was more dangerous that the running of the bulls! The kids were pushing and shoving, and I honestly thought I was going to get hurt since I was on the wrong side of a row of tables when they set off. The plan was to have them finish by running through shoots of tables where they would receive a metal and a water bottle. Many of us could see there was going to be problems with the system but no one would listen. It was total mayhem within minutes of the kids arriving at the finish line. There was no cheering and congratulating going on. We were mobbed by the kids and no matter what we tried to do or say,could not control them or keep order. It’s hard to describe what we were in the middle of. Besides the thousands of children in the race so many others had shown up and they all wanted water and metals. There already weren’t enough medals for the children that ran. The kids were taking water but trying to come back again. Angela and I were so swarmed where we were, I thought I would go in the shoot to try and keep them from coming back. They would just shake my hand off or push me to get by. I got tired of pleading and yelling while wrestling with them and when Angela was just about knocked to the ground, we decided to get out. As soon as we did, the boxes were just swarmed by the mob. We watched from the side and also from on top of a table and were horrified at the craziness. The guys with the medals were now on tables also with people around them hitting at the kids to keep them down. They were alternating between throwing medals into the crowd or trying to hand them out to the kids jumping at them. We spoke to the one volunteer later, who had his wallet with a large amount of cash taken from him around this point. Angela witnessed a kid with a water bottle being chased by 8 or so others. When he fell, they kicked at him and took the bottle. The kids had arrived at this event excited and eager to participate. The chaos wasn’t their fault; it was just so disorganized that it came to an ‘every man for himself’ kind of situation. It’s sad to see children that desperate just to receive a water bottle and a cheap little medal!
We left the event exhausted, bewildered and I guess in shock from what we’d witnessed.
We hired some motor bikes and headed back to St Famille. I remember thinking my watch wasn’t working properly when we realized it was only 11:30am. It felt like we’d been gone all day!

I just have to talk a bit about my birthday night! We had decided that for such a momentous birthday, it warranted blowing our budgets for a dinner by the pool at Milles Collines. We had Venessa from “GO” and four of our Rwandan friends join us. I went to the BR shortly after we got there and when I came out the others had decorated the area around our table with balloons and a banner. The Reggae band sang “Happy Birthday” and Heike presented me with ‘very expensive’ jewels and a crown to wear. Our guests were delighted by the party favours of bubbles and mazes! We had a Rwandan name-giving ceremony for everyone (I already have one), cake, and even chocolate shooter glasses containing ice wine brought all the way from the Okanagan. Later, there was a very interesting and extremely friendly group of Rwandan business women who all started to sing for me. (Did some networking there…tell you later Denise!) The evening was so magical there by the pool at such a historical place in such a beautiful city. The only things that were missing were those of you who weren’t there!!! Thanks so much to all of you who made this night one that I’ll never forget!