Huye, Gikongoro & Murambi
Trip Start Jan 22, 2009
33Trip End Jul 22, 2009
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Where I stayed
Our accommodation for the night turned out to be remarkably comfortable too: it was clean, airy and quiet so that the next morning we were raring to go! After a delicious breakfast at the same cafe we'd eaten dinner at, we set off for Rwanda's National Museum.
I had heard good things about this museum and following the visit, there was not a shred of disappointment: it really is worth a visit even if it means travelling down from Kigali especially (and at 1000RFr for entry as a student one really can't complain!). After all the horrors of the genocide memorial museum it was wonderful to be able to appreciate the riches that Rwanda has to offer. The museum was divided into sections, each devoted to an aspect of history or culture or geology. I could have happily spent longer there!
Unfortunately, the museum does not have any food or drink facilities and this was what eventually sent us on our next adventure. We had originally planned to journey to Nyanza that day to visit the museums there, then return to Gitarama in the evening. However, as we were walking back to the taxi park we spotted a signpost: "Murambi genocide memorial, 29km" We had read about this memorial earlier in the day and although it sounded truly horrendous, I think there was something in both of us that wanted to face it anyway. Taxis were leaving for the nearest town from about 20m away. Forgetting about hunger we boarded one ... then bought a few packets of g-nuts to tide us over when our stomachs started to complain again!
The memorial was just over 3km from Gikongoro and, given Jennie's absolute refusal to ride on bodas, we walked there. This turned out to be a great idea: the scenery was beautiful and as we journeyed away from the main road we walked between hills forested with eucalyptus trees. We passed through a couple of settlements along the way too and it made my heart swell to see people's faces break into the most beautiful smiles as we greeted them. Not for the first time I thought, How could anything bad happen here?
Eventually we emerged from the woodland area to see a collection of concrete buildings up ahead of us. The only indication that we had reached our destination was a large banner stretched between 2 fences: it was purple, the national colour of mourning. Some children from the last settlement had followed us and clasped our hands as we walked, with some trepidation, up towards the buildings; we had reached Murambi Technical School.
This school was the site of yet another massacre, with thousands of men, women and children being lured there with promises of safety, only to be culled.. I found the setting to be aptly bleak: the sky had clouded over and approaching those grey buildings I had a curious sense of walking into a prison. This was only exacerbated by a growing sense of fear over what I was about to see: I knew that1,800 of those bodies had been exhumed and displayed in the school.
The lady who showed us around spoke in French and between my basic understanding of the language and a little of Jennie's interpretation, I was able to pick up the gist of what she said. It was grim to say the least: she had lost her husband and many members of her family during the genocide. She described vividly the way in which grenades were thrown into the school buildings and then how the Interhamwe came in with their machetes to finish people off. Jennie tells me that she also described the use of the machetes to smash in people's skulls and to chop off their limbs; I admit that I am not sorry to have missed such detail. I cannot begin to imagine how this lady must have felt, how she must still be feeling.
She had spoken to us as we walked around the school to a particular line of buildings; having said her piece she produced a bunch of keys and began to open the doors along one line. Inside was a scene more terrible than any I think that I have ever witnessed with my own eyes.
The rooms were filled with bodies, laid out on classroom tables and preserved so that flesh still clung to the bones. I was horrified to see the facial expressions of many, frozen to the faces like some terrible death mask. Machete wounds were clear to see: here a limb missing, there a gaping hole in the skull. Perhaps worst of all there were rooms filled with children and even, on the belly of one lady, a baby. It was impossible to take in the sheer scale of what had happened here.
The lady said that we could take photographs ... But I could not. We reached the end of one row of rooms and she started to take out keys to the next. Jennie and I stopped her: we had seen enough.
I was glad to be able to walk back to Gikongoro; it gave us time to reflect on what we had just seen. It also made me feel less like a guilty intruder, come to gawp at the horrors of these people's past. Yet I could not help but wonder: what were you doing when these people got massacred? What was your part? Did anyone you know get killed? Or did you kill? I felt guilty for thinking such things, but perhaps it is only natural considering what we had just seen.
The walk back was refreshing: it was difficult to remain immersed in the horrors of Murambi when being accosted by local children and grinned at by everyone that we greeted. It was good to be reminded that though horrors have occurred, there is life beyond it. There is so much strength to be had from hope!
By the time we arrived back in Gikongoro, it was getting late. We decided to spend the night there and journey on to Nyanzya the following day. Having had such success with our church-run guesthouse in Huye, we hunted down another, even cheaper one just outside the town (EAR guesthouse, 5000RFr per room). We ate at the Golden Monkey hotel and our conversation was all related to what we had seen that day.