On our second day in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, we visited the Genocide Memorial Museum and weren’t in any way prepared for the full, uncensored story of the long history of tribal tensions that culminated in 100 days of brutal killings in 1994. We were shown the mass graves of 258,000 people killed in Kigali alone, and then took our time viewing displays inside, trying to absorb the magnitude of this horrific event. Over a million people were killed in those 100 days, that’s 7 each minute, as Hutu’s attempted to wipe out the Tutsi race. The stories of the propaganda used by the government to turn friends and family members on each other was shocking, and photos and interviews describing how killings were carried out was all too much and left us empty and silent on leaving. It was important for us to visit and learn more before travelling in other parts of Rwanda. The Rwandan people want to move forward, but they also don’t want the Genocide to be forgotten.
After two weeks we returned to Kigali and headed out to Nyamata to visit a Genocide Memorial Church in a small but crowded Mutatu. When we were dropped by the side of the road in the tiny village, we were immediately the centre of attention again. We walked along a dusty road followed by many chatty kids. We eventually found the church a long way from the road and were shown round by a polite french-speaking lady. The crumbling buildings marked the spot where 5,000 people were murdered and were a long way from the presentations and video displays in the Kigali Memorial. This was a much more graphic and disturbing visit. Instantly, we were confronted by shelves containing hundreds of human skulls, bones and possessions.
The basic church building we had entered was haunting as the bloodstained, dirty clothes of the victims hung down from the rafters and were covering the walls. Brutal weapons left behind were laying by the altar, alongside childrens shoes and school books.
Shattered brickwork showed where the killers entered the building. This was a chilling sight and once again we walked away speechless.
Why did we put ourselves through this? We wanted to understand the horrific nature of what the country had been through, making it even more unbelievable to see how the Rwandan people have moved on and in some cases, forgiven. Our sadness was almost immediately interrupted by a large group of friendly school children walking with us back towards the road. As they asked us questions and joked with us, it was another reminder of the huge contrasts in Rwanda’s recent past and it’s promising future.
All Images © 2010 Wonky Eye