Wednesday, March 16, 2005

RWANDA!! (caution: not for the weak at heart)

So I finally made it to Rwanda!! It's an amazing experience being here! After having worked for a few months at the UN Tribunal for Rwanda in Tanzania, and having become familiar with the events which took place here, actually being able to walk around the streets of Kigali and other parts of this beautiful country has great significance for me. The country is spectacular! Immense rolling green hills are everywhere that the eye can see... covering these hills are bright green banana plantations, tea, cotton, beans, potato and other agricultural industries. The soil in Rwanda is a reddish-brown which makes the contrast with the greenery incredibly postcard material! Everywhere are houses, plots of land, rural Rwandans working the fields... it's like something out of National Geographic Channel! And the people are amazing!!! Everyone is super friendly - especially outside of Kigali. I love it!

I am here on official UN mission - assisting my trial team interview some witnesses. Although I am unable to go into details as to what my work here involves, it has been a rewarding experience! I flew over on the UN plane into Kigali from Arusha... and we were whisked away from the airport by our waiting transportation straight to the UN offices.

I've had great sight-seeing opportunities in my free time. One of the most interesting sights for me in Kigali was 'Camp Kigali' which is where 10 Belgian UN peacekeepers were killed on the second day of the genocide in 1994. We visited the room where the firefight took place - bullet holes and grenade shraponel marks left deep holes and blast craters in the room and on the outside wall. Another very interesting site was to go to the Hotel des Milles Colline which is what the movie Hotel Rwanda was based off - I ended up having dinner in the restaurant downstairs (which I can assure you was not a cheap experience!!). I also managed to go to the Kigali memorial which was a very moving experience. It is a very well designed memorial!! Outside is a mass grave where 250 000 are buried. Walking around Kigali (or anywhere in Rwanda!) is just mind blowing... knowing the history of what happened gives me a very surreal feeling. Whenever I am at a road junction, I can't help but think of the roadblocks which may have been set up right where I was standing and where hundreds may have been killed.

By far the 'highlight' of the trip so far has been to visit a memorial about 2 hrs drive south of Kigali. It is in an area known as Murambi. For those of you a little squeemish, you may wish to stop reading here. =)

Ok.. you have been warned!

So the genocide site that is most famous there was a school at the time. During the 1994 events, the local bishop had encouraged local villagers who were fleeing to seek refuge at the local school on the top of a hill. Around 50 000 gathered there, seeking safety from the Interahamwe militia which were brutality butchering any Tutsi or a Hutu that sympathised with the Tutsi. Eventually, the bishop notified the militia where the people were hiding. The militia rocked up with grenades, machetes, pick axes and other 'garden tools' and over the course of the day killed all present. Very few survived, however I was fortunate enough to have met one while visiting the site today. He was a middle aged man who himself had sustained a head injury when a spear was thrust into his forehead - the deep dent is still there. His entire family was buried in a mass grave at the front of the school - along with 26 000 other victims. He took me around the back to where the class rooms were and in each room were laid out tables. At least 100 preserved bodies were in each room... and there were a lot of rooms! I visited nearly all of them until eventually I felt sick to my stomach. The bodies were of all ages - babies, children, mothers still clutching their babies, men, old people... and on each face, the look of horror and pain was clearly evident! Many still had the facial expressions of when they died - mouths gaping open in screams, looks of panic and fear... their arms covering their heads trying in vain to ward off the assault. Severed heads... bodies without heads... bodies missing limbs... smashed feet... crushed spines... words cannot describe the feeling of standing there and looking at such a horrific site! Thousands of these bodies were on display...

Another room was filled with bones - hundreds of skulls neatly arranged on tables... many of them with bullet holes, caved in temples, machete wounds... Then there was a pile of leg and arm bones piled up about a metre on the table.

What kind of barbaric people could inflict such suffering?? What posses people to act in such a savage way? I am still trying to come to an understanding of why and how.

Everyone in Rwanda has a story to tell... everyone knows someone close to them that was killed. My driver for my trip today was garrisoned with the RPF (the Tutsi rebel force - basically the 'good guys') in the CND in the centre of Kigali for a few months. He was 17 at the time and was given military training and eventually a gun... and fought to protect his village. He has scars all over his hands and arms to prove. While driving around Kigali, he was constantly showing places where massacres occured, where bodies were piled up in heaps, where people were thrown off bridges to their death... and yet he manages to get on with life! He shows me a river close to the city where bodies were tossed... and it is as if it's just a museum and is something which happened many generations ago! Not something which occured not only in our lifetime, but 11 years ago!! Another taxi driver I had today told me he lost almost his entire family - mother, father, brothers and sisters, extended family... they were all killed. Only his brother and him managed to survive. He had scars on the back of his head which he told me were machete wounds from when the militia tried to hack him as he was fleeing across the border. The Rwandan people have gone beyond hell... they have suffered immeasureably! Shame on the west for having stood by. Even I feel a sense of guilt being a westerner here. Not only did many of our governments stand by, but a number of major governments were complicit in the genocide and assisted the genocidaires escape - giving them safe passage into neighbouring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) or are currently giving them asylum in fear of word getting out that the governemt helped in the genocide.

Apathy is unacceptable! Will we allow another Rwanda occur? 'Of course not' we say! Then why are our governments allowing Sudan to happen? At the end of each genocide, be it the Holocaust, in Cambodia, in the Balkans, in Rwanda, the rest of the world stands up and says 'never again!' I'm sorry to burst the bubble... but that phrase is dead! It is happening again... and again... and again! Do something about it, whatever it is... but don't be apathetic! Action begins at the grass roots level. It begins with education. It begins in the home. It begins with small incremental changes in each one of us. Society is the sum of its parts. Unless each one of us tries to make a difference in whatever way we can, society cannot progress. We will have more blood, more terror, more memorials, more preserved bodies, and more taxi drivers with horror stories.


Post a Comment

<< Home