Once we crossed the border into Rwanda (1.5hours), it was bon jour because French is the language they speak. For the first time during our trip, we had to drive on the wrong side of the road. With the steering wheel also on the wrong side it took some getting used to, in particular the round-a-bouts. Kigali was our first major test in a busy city. First stop was the ORTP office looking for tickets to see the gorillas. 7am it was supposed to open – this became 8am, then 8.20am and then 9am because the lady forgot the keys. Never mind this is Africa and more importantly the lady was all smiles and told us to be patient. But she did get us the tickets for the day after tomorrow. You beauty! It did throw a spanner in the works with our trip as we expected to have to wait at least 5 days if not more but who cares – ” we will make a plan” as they say in Africa. As Rwanda has no camping (tourism is only just starting) we were planning to stay tonight at the Solace Ministries, which was established in 1995 as a way to comfort widows and orphans who had endured the great tragedies of the 1994 genocide in which over 1 million people were murdered.
The Solace of Ministry also does good work and the list of services they provide is set out below.
Comforting survivors by listening to them and providing opportunities for them to share
Counseling and trauma healing
Helping orphans to access formal and informal education
Encouraging forgiveness through Jesus Christ
Allowing survivors, specifically those with HIV/AIDS to receive ARV and fighting stigma by reintegration in the community through community home based care
Teaching farming and other skills to allow individuals to do more than just sustenance living
And Much More!
We are told to be well prepared as in the next week we will be confronted with what happens to mankind when they become beast. Unfortunately we were not allowed to camp on the grounds and we were referred to a site in the middle of the Kigali Slums. It was called One Love.
When we arrived we had to cross a small bridge over the open sewer. Unfortunately our truck was too heavy and we were asked to camp on this side of the bridge. Camping near the sewer was not really what we were looking forward to. But the people next door in the slums had less than we had so what the heck. Mozzies galore and noisy. But we had a place to stay. It is important to note that all proceeds of this camp-ground go to the disabled people of Rwanda and since 1997 they have supplied over 6000 artificial limbs at no cost. It makes you feel good when you pay for the night knowing the money goes to those in need. It is a little unreal waking up next to a slum area in the middle of Kigali knowing that only a few years ago this city was a place full of dismembered dead bodies as people were hacked to death. In the 1994 genocide, over 1 million people were murdered. Off to Hotel Rwanda to sip on a cocktail at the pool area where only 16 years ago over 5000 people were killed! It is all very surreal. For instance, yesterday when we drove around Kigali we found it hard to comprehend what happened here in the streets 16 years ago. However, it all became very clear and real once we visited the Kigali Memorial. It is very hard to understand that neighbours, and kids as young as 10 were involved in killing each other. This place was so real and so intense that we saw many local people walk out in tears. From here we drove the 30km south to Nyamata. It was here where we visited a church and we were confronted with cracked skulls and bones of the many victims. At the second church we visited, our guide explained to us how he was 9 years old when the Hutu`s killed all his brothers and sisters and his father. He told us that many people took refuge in religious missions or churches, but in many cases, according to his story, it was the priests and the nuns who often betrayed the people. Our guide explained to us that the priest in this church was Italian but he fled and went back to Italy.
This church has not been touched since the bodies were removed and all blood stained clothing is still in the church. This was enough to give us goose bumps. Next we visited a Sunday school where the wall was still blood stained, the result of babies and kids being thrown against the wall. From here we visited the kitchens where people were burned alive. I can keep going on but I won`t because I think that is enough to give some idea of the horrible past. It is beyond belief that the World allowed this to happen and like in Yugoslavia the UN procrastinated and procrastinated until it was too late. The atrocities that took place here are on par with those committed by Hitler in WWII. Here there were 1 million Tutsis killed in just 100 days in a country of only 11 million people. This amounts to 10,000 people being killed per day. Two million fled Rwanda to neighboring countries. The list of atrocities displayed on film and in printed material astounded us. We really believe that more people should visit the Kigali Memorial to see for themselves.
The World just stood by and watched. Let`s hope it never happens again. On July 4th, 1994 when Paul Kagame entered Kigali, an empty shell faced them and millions of people had fled in advance or were fleeing to a zone that the French had secured under the cloak of providing security and safety; for whom? None other than the Rwandan government, the murderous army, and the butchers of the Interhamwe militia who were leading and or conducting the genocide. Millions of Rwandans, many that were partakers in the genocide were moving into the Zaire at that time, whole army columns with weapons, vehicle and all. The Interhamwe militia came with their machetes and other weapons, ready to fight another day. The world saw those pictures in full, saw the newscasts with millions crossing the border into Zaire. President Clinton went to work sending food, medical supplies, equipment such as tents to the very killers and perpetrators of the genocide, while the country of Rwanda received nothing, though it was in desperate need there. Rwanda, under the leadership of Paul Kagame has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of despair. Today it is a country on the cutting edge in regards to Africa. Things work here, the roads have no potholes, the streets are clean, the police officers do not take bribes, and the Tutsi & Hutu identity cards are gone. Ministers, who cheat, take bribes and enrich themselves wind up in jail, unlike other countries where such deeds are simply ignored. In fact Paul Kagame said this week in the local Paper -“We do not want aid we want trade”. After 2 days in Kigali, we could not see another memorial and the hardship those people went through. Today people seem to try and reconcile and forget the past, but how can they forget such atrocities. I guess they have to if they are going to move forward.
For us this is beyond believe. As we are approaching the season of celebrations with Thanksgiving in America, Christmas, Hanukah and Ramadan (just past), times where families and friends come together to celebrate what we have, each other, life, faith and hope in someone greater than ourselves, I just wonder if this will be the last genocide we will see, or will we humans never learn.
A Website with some images to look at is http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/25/showcase-143. To finish off on a more positive note, Kigali is built on a range of hills and lacks the maniac traffic such as we witnessed in Kampala, Lusaka and Dar Es Salaam. Even as we slept right next to the slum area we always felt safe and no one bothered us. Although they were not able to understand that we had a house on wheels with running water, power, and a cooker. Due to the many international workers in town UN and NGO`s a cafe society has sprung up. The only negative side we found is that finding your way around is difficult. Visiting Rwanda has really done a number on us. Last night as we lay in bed, with our eyes closed, we could see the bullet riddled walls as we were thinking of our tour guide and his brothers and sisters and his father who had all been killed in front of him and his mother, as had his grandparents, nieces, nephews and other family members. Now only 15 years later we are walking and driving through a town where a few years ago the sounds were different, gunfire, men running, screams, hacking sounds, sounds of death and destruction, sounds of despair and hopelessness. As we were parked right next to the orthopedic workshop I was given a tour this morning and met a group of disabled people being trained as artificial leg makers. Yes, we westerners have much more sophisticated words for those professions. Here they use PVC pipe then mould it into artificial limbs. In fact until a few years ago, they used sticks because no other material was available. The owner and his Japanese wife have also established a business in Burundi. The people currently employed are victims of the 1994 genocide, in either Rwanda, Burundi, or Congo. Clary did not want to be confronted anymore with the carnage created here in Rwanda and decided to stay near the truck.The drive to Rughengeri today was scenic. However we came past some very serious erosion and you wonder how some of those houses survive on the hillsides. I have been reading that this area is compared to Switzerland, however in all my travels to Switzerland, I have never seen Coffee-Tea Banana trees or palm trees at 2700 meters (only glaciers).
Early afternoon we arrived in Kinigi where we looked for a place to park our truck. Kinigi Guest house allowed us to stay in the car park and this was only 3 minutes from the National Park entrance where we are expected tomorrow morning at 7am. As we are at an altitude of 2380 meters, we will be in for a cold night. 5am wake up for the trip to see the gorillas. It was cold but after the rain and thunder last night, we woke up to blue skies. At 6am we left for the headquarters of Volcanoes National Park. By the time we arrived the sun was up and the cool mountain air was crisp and clean.
We camped at 2500 meters last night and the Headquarters was at around 2550m offering magnificent views in all directions. The mountains around us are up to 4500 meters in height.
These are the Virungas, situated in the far northwest of Rwanda right on the border with the Congo. After the briefing, we left for a 20 minute drive to the starting point of the trail. It only took 5 minutes before we were walking in thick rainforest, alive with calls of colourful birds and the chattering of the rare golden monkey. After only one and a half hours in the steaming jungle we reached our reason for being here:
The gorillas! The forest was thick and after a few more minutes we could not only hear them but we could also see them. The first one was the big silverback at a weight of nearly 200kg; he weighs 2.5 times as much as the average man. We were not allowed to go within 7 meters of the gorilla but the gorilla can do what it wants and at one stage he came and walked within a few centimetres of us. Scary, to say the least. The gorillas share 97 % of their genes with humans. They are highly sociable, moving in groups from 5 to 40 animals; groups comprising a silverback, 3 to 4 wives and several young. Our group had 11 gorillas. It was a very different experience than meeting the chimpanzees in Borneo, but to see the gorillas this close was great.
By around lunchtime we arrived back at Park Headquarters and once we received our certificates, we drove to Lake Kivu. But on the way we took the wrong turn (Tracks for Africa is not very good in Rwanda) and finished up at the border with Congo, where we took photos. Oops, before we knew it we had the Congo army around the truck giving us a hard time and demanding that we take the photos off the camera. We were not going to argue with an AK 47. The town Gisenya has an unfortunate position right on the border with the Congo and was a major flashpoint during the Rwandan war and the genocide. However the town is scenic and right on Lake Kivu. Lake Kivu is where many victims of the genocide were dumped. Across the lake is the Congo and we have been warned not to cross into the Congo as the area outside Goma both North and South Provinces are having major conflicts at present, despite a peace treaty being signed. We also met some Congo Locals who advised us that quite a few bridges between Goma and Kingshasa are no longer drivable and therefore the trip is nearly impossible – Not to mention the Guerilla activities in the area. We camped in the carpark at a small guest house Paradise Malahide, right on the lake and as we were allowed to camp in the car park we would have security tonight. We were going to organize a boat for a trip on Lake Kivu but due to the past days activities on the border, we decided to stay safe on the shore. The Congolese Militia controls the lake and they are no afraid to shoot. As it worked out, the lady who owns the Guesthouse is from Congo and became an interesting source of information. Hence despite the weather being sunny again we decided against travel to the Congo. Last night we decided to go for dinner at the guesthouse we were staying, but being unsure of what to choose, we decided to play it safe – chicken and fresh fish. While waiting for dinner we were entertained by local Rwandan dancers. The guesthouse was nearly full, mainly UN and NGO`s (Non Government Organisations) who are in the business of giving foreign aid. We did meet a person who helped street kids with psychological trauma by giving them music instruments. It should be said the lady in question was very passionate. But why on earth would you help African kids with music instruments as the Africans must be the most musical orientated people on earth? Looking at this NGO business while we travelled around Africa we feel there is a lot of inefficiency, waste and in many instances, counter- productivity. We say this because here we have thousands of NGO people being paid significant salaries and this in turn is creating inflation in many of these struggling countries. It also amplifies the gap between the rich and the poor. Some have weekly expense accounts which are in excess of a local annual wage. With all the aid and the thousands of aid workers we are sorry to say that nothing much has changed since we were here in the 1970s. The people are poor, have no water or electricity, still have too many children, carry water and wood on their head, still burn timber, still have diseases and major health issues despite the aid efforts over the past 40 years. In the weekend paper we saw one very positive statement by the president who is one of the few African leaders calling for TRADE not AID. Trade will pull people out of poverty; aid on the other hand makes paupers out of Africans. After a hot shower (bucket of hot water) we went to bed to the sounds of the village and African music. We just love this country and the whole continent with its very genuine people. It is just so hard to imagine that only a few years ago neighbours, friends, school mates and children as young as 10 years old killed each other. It was explained to us that the people working in the field or on the road who are wearing pink uniforms, are prisoners who have been jailed for killing Tutsi`s during the genocide. They are guarded by armed soldiers. This is for all to see. It is very unreal stopping and a person in a pink uniform says “hello”. Eventually they will move on and the atrocities will be consigned to history. In the meantime, they obviously see a need for an ongoing reminder.
Today we have a long day ahead of us, not in km but on slow roads, as we try to get to Gikongoro and Huye. In Gikongoro the memorial at Murambi is easily the most graphic memorial in Rwanda. It is located at the site of the unfinished school, in the far southwest of Rwanda near the Burundi border. It is here where an estimated 50,000 Tutsis sought refuge with the encouragement of their community leaders, with the understanding that if they came willingly it would be known they were not supporting the RFP. Only two known survivors of this massacre are known and both now work as guides at the memorial. We met one and his name is Emanual. We were shown different rooms in which the bodies of the victims are displayed on tables.
The bodies are so well preserved that in some cases the last facial expressions can still be clearly observed. To one side of the school buildings, the original mass grave pit created by the genocidaires and later exhumed by Rwandan authorities, can be seen. On the opposite side of the memorial is the new mass grave, where most of the victims were reburied according to Rwandan tradition. Our guide Emanuel is a survivor of the genocide but his whole family except his younger sister were killed. Just imagine no uncles, no aunties, no grandfather/grandmother but as a 10 year old finishing up in an orphanage.What we saw today beats everything we have seen so far. Emanuel took us to an area where nearly 900 bodies were covered in lime to preserve for all to see. The bodies were all mutilated and sorted by age. I.e. room 1 adults, Room 2 children 15 years and over, Room 3 pregnant women, Room 4 women with babies, room 5 Children from 2 to 15 years, Room 6 babies under 2 years.
Obviously the UN has a lot to answer for and in particular the French who actually filled in a mass grave so they could make it a volleyball court! We asked Emanuel if he could forget as a Tutsi? He clarified immediately that today he no longer is a Tutsi but he is Rwandan. But he said he could not forget as he never got to know his mother and father or his other sisters and brothers. Upon pursuing he advised us that he wanted to keep the personal side out of the tour. I wanted to take photos but since April 1 this is no longer allowed. Unfortunately due to people misusing photos from the dead bodies on display, the government has stopped allowing photographs. So we were asked to respect the dead and did not take our camera inside. I have published some photos on our website but these are taken before April 1 2010. The day was moving and the smell is something I will not forget; in fact Clary and I believe the smell is inside our truck. Once we stood outside the school it was very hard for us to imagine that 50,000 people were killed here in a few days.
We think this is a place the whole world should come and visit.
One sign I will never forget. “WHEN THEY SAY NEVER AGAIN after the Holocaust, it was meant for some and not for others” How true this is in Rwanda.
We found a small guesthouse in Huye (Butare) the town where the most horrendous crimes have taken place in Rwanda. In Huye alone, 250,000 people were killed. It was a very different Africa we had seen today and also in Kigali. It also became clear that not all Rwandans have forgiven and tensions seem to be rising.
Following last night`s information and the newspaper reports re attacks on busses, UN and government vehicles, we immediately became a little more realistic about Rwanda. Despite the fact that it seems to be on the outside that people forgive and want to reconcile, it appears that tensions are bubbling just below the surface. At present, violence still occurs. In this week`s paper it stated: ’14 Tutsi people beaten to death by machette, bound together and thrown in the river; Bus attacked with machine guns 7 People died; Government car and 2 private cars attacked 4 people died; Rwandan army crosses border into Congo looking for Hutu militia etc etc. Clary is a little on edge and we decided to do one more stop in Rwanda before heading back to Kigali and then driving back to Kenya via Uganda. Maybe we are over reacting because although we have not seen any violence, the many Police Road Blocks, Army Roadblocks and armed people on the street and sitting in the back of utes does not give one a relaxed feeling. It is a shame, because we have only met very friendly Rwandans. Nevertheless Clary wants to leave Rwanda. As we were at the border of both Congo and Burundi we were given the following notice from the embassy. Basically the same as we received in Uganda, however the killings were very close to home.
Civil Unrest/Political Tension
“We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Rwanda because of the risk of rebel and criminal activity. Grenade attacks and other incidents of violence have occurred in the capital Kigali and Southern Province. Genocide memorial sites, markets and taxi and bus stops have been targeted. People have been killed and injured in these attacks. You should avoid all protests, rallies and demonstrations as they may turn violent. Border with Burundi: We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to the areas bordering Burundi because of the unsettled security environment, the high risk of conflict between government forces and rebels, and the risk of cross-border incursions by armed groups, including bandits.
The border can close without notice. Border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo:” We strongly advise you not to travel to the areas bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) due to the volatile and unpredictable security situation in this region. Since October 2008, heavy fighting has occurred in the DRC, close to the border with Rwanda, particularly in North Kivu Province, DRC. The situation remains volatile and could deteriorate without warning. Closure of the border could occur without notice. There is a risk of cross-border incursions by armed guerrillas operating from the Kivu provinces in the DRC. If you are planning to visit the gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park (Parc national des Volcans), you should seek local advice before visiting this area. Permission from the Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN) is required and they provide military escorts to these areas because of the risk of rebel attack. We strongly recommend that you only visit as part of an organised tour group. robbery, is common in Rwanda. Theft from hotel rooms and vehicles occurs. Incidents of armed robbery have been reported in the capital, Kigali. You should avoid walking in the streets at night. Police and Army road blocks are
common throughout the country. Travellers may be stopped and vehicles and luggage searched. Report ends.”
Despite the above notice we did visit the gorillas with armed guards. No wonder we could easily find a spot because normally the gorilla tickets are sold months ahead. We did camp on the Congo border and we did visit the far south of Rwanda near the Burundi border. We may have been lucky and maybe the gunfire we heard a week or so ago at Lake Albert was the real thing. In fact we camped less then 1km from the Congo border. With the exception of being called Mzungu or Americana or Obama we had had no issues and like everywhere in Africa, the people have been helpful and friendly. In Rwanda we did not meet any tourists at all, with the exception of the Far North of Rwanda on the border with Uganda, where tourists cross the border on a day trip to see the gorillas. We left Southern Rwanda for the long haul back to Kenya. The roads in Rwanda are very good but windy, and as it is called ‘ the Land of a Thousands Hills’ you can imagine it goes up and down. As we got closer to Kigali the traffic got busier and the UN cars were less obvious. Tourists are a non event in Rwanda except for the few who cross the border for the gorilla tracking from Uganda. By now we are experts at border crossings and things now go smoothly and fast. Even changing money at the black market goes well and we do get a better rate. From the Uganda border we go towards Ethiopia.