08.06.2010 - 08.06.2010
8 June, 2010
The Land of a Thousand Hills- Rwanda
Waking to a warm sunny day, I was anxious that both our driver/guide ,Yves and the tour coordinator, Lily, would not have received my emails and that the day as planned would be wasted.
Luckily, all was according to plan. Breakfast was very simple in a small canteen and it was so nice to finally meet Denise, the lady with whom I had booked the accommodation . She too had put me in touch with Yves.
At breakfast we me and spoke to John the founder and director of this place- seems like a very religious man who had a calling, post the Genocide, to begin a place of solace to the victims and others who needed support and care. There are about 20,000 people that they are involved with in 50 different locations throughout the country. What incredible work they are performing.
We took a walk around Solace whilst waiting for Yves, and found ourselves in a very local neighbourhood, of shacks and kids and tin shanty shops. Across the road , are 3 magnificent new and modern apartment buildings ,we are told the homes of Europeans. The road to get into Solace, and all these roads in fact, are dirt, potholed and have huge dongas in them, you really do need a 4x4 to negotiate them. The whole feel of Kigali so far is quite different from anywhere we've been, but has some definite similarities. It is very tropical, lush, and the city from what we've seen is built on a few hills, so you get these large valleys planted with palm or banana trees. The winding roads hug the contours of the hills and homes and shops are built on the sides . In some ways its like Phuket, and in very many ways its a lot like India. Architecture, for the most part, is dull, boring and functional , with tiled floors, florescent lights and that faded lighting feel that makes everything at night seem to be at half power- a lot like Cuba in this respect. All private homes are walled and secured with large gates and security guards. The French influence is huge, but fading as they change the schooling system from French to English as the second compulsory language. It is weird to find these very black people speaking French. On that point, I always believed we shared our homeland of South Africa with black people- this couldn't be further from the truth- black South Africans were in fact brown, these people are truly black. For many of them , their facial features are quite European- the Tutsis. Through the Genocide this physical difference between the Hutis and Tutsis was exploited and much sadness and tragedy followed.
Yves is a Tutsi, Rwandan 27year old man who was born in Burundi, where his parents had fled in the late 50's to escape the beginnings of the terror that was to unfold. He lost 2 brothers in the genocide and returned with his remaining family to Rwanda in late 1994 . Our conversations over the day were fascinating as he told us about different aspects of Rwandan society from education, economy, marriage(when he marries in the next years despite being a city guy he must pay for his bride in the traditional cows- and not the local breeds, but European ones that cost about USD$1200), his daily life and of course the Genocide. We heard how all people have learned to tolerate and forgive, learned to coexist and to plan for a future as a unified country.
Our fist stop about 40 minutes outside of Kigali was Nymatta, a village that was the stage for a horrific massacre of thousands of Tutsis – all haven taken refuge in a church. The memorial guide was informative and showed us through the church and 2 other buildings that have been preserved to 'prove' what happened here. Upon entering the church you are faced immediately with metal racks housing about 1000 skulls- most cracked - , thousands of leg and arm bones, clothing and belongings of the victims. It doesn't get more harrowing or spine-chilling than this! We stopped for a minutes silence . The one dwelling had been used to burn many people in and that too is as it was- with teeth and machetes and clubs and bones strewn amidst the grass floor .
A wall of names had been started , but plans to do an alternate name recording is under way, but we were told that actual collating of the dead has not been successful.
We then drove a further 5 kilometres to the next memorial, which like the first was in a church. Supposedly the church had always been a refuge for these religious Christian folk, but during the Genocide, many priests had welcomed the Tutsis in but had become spies and informants for the killing militia. This church was no more than 300 square meters and it is hard to imagine that 10,000 people were kept in it for one week prior to the arrival of the militia and to the final murdering of them all. The only survivors of this horrific event were 2 small children who had been hidden under the dead bodies. We were lead into 2 underground mass crypts where here as well, hundreds of skulls were on display.
There is also a grave of an Italian nun who was murdered because of her outburst and calling to the international press for recognition and assistance for these people.
As we left behind these unbelievable 2 sites we made our way , an hour later, to Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, www.agahozo-shalom.org overlooking Lake Magasora. A more spectacular location one could not find and the village sits atop a magnificent hill, surrounded by such fertile and lush foliage. We had come from the ashes of the Rwandan past to the life and future of its people.
ASYV as it is known was born out of a dire necessity to provide a safe and normal existence to victims of the Genocide. The brainchild and result of much hard work of an American Jewess, Ann Heyman, this village is based on the Israeli successful model still operational in Israel today. Children are taken from their terrible home situations- and here this included the absolute tragedy of the Genocide- and given stability, care, support, education and vocational training. The 250 young people here are aged 14-20 and are also from abusive, dysfunctional, drug- addictive parents and families and are sourced with the aid of local governments. These kids are at the bottom rung of a a very steep ladder, one that without the help of ASYV they would more than likely never get off.
Both David and I were astounded at what has been achieved and implemented here. There are 32 quite basic homes where 15 boys or girls live with a house mother, each house has a permanent councillor, a wonderful educational school with computers and good equipment, and 30 teachers, playing fields, an art and music centre and a dining hall/theatre . 350 meals are made 3 times a day in a functional kitchen that has a fridge not much bigger than mine at home. The producing and healthy farm had chickens, crops and cattle- all with the aim of making the entire village self sufficient. All the kids must work the farm 2 afternoons a week, and for many of them, when they return home after 4 years they will utilise the more advanced techniques learned here. A group of 11 American Jewish volunteers all spend one year here and it was Lily, from New Jersey whose task it is to guide visitors , that shared her time and knowledge to walk us through.
The Jewish philosophy of Tikun Haolam of giving back to your fellow man, is a driving force here and whilst there a group of kids were getting ready to go to the local village to assist with the building of homes and a clinic. We couldn't help but be so impressed at the astounding work done here, where children whose living conditions often didn't include power or running water , and whose emotional well being was so deficient of love and care, are shining and thriving and learning and becoming self-confident and proud – what success!
A new music, art room and clinic are being built, with so many jobs at ASYV given to the local village people proving a working and symbiotic relationship with their neighbours.
Funding and support is mainly Jewish American and Israeli, with teachers and councillors having been taken to Israel for training in how to teach children the Israeli way of learning by asking questions. What a credit to this formidable lady who founded this place, who really wanted to give these kids what her kids had.
This had been an emotional roller-coaster of a day!
Dinner was awful – an attempt to eat in a Rwandan restaurant, as the locals do. Inedible. We should have gone for the pizza.