The first day of Rwanda has been amazing. After a restless night of sleep we woke, had breakfast here at the hotel and onward we went to a day full of activities. We started off with a very somber visit which I really would like to reflect on here. Our first visit was one of the Genocide (or Jenocide in Kinyarwandan) memorials in Kigali. Several thousands of victims have been buried at this site and it also an educational site with a museum – like experience.
The details of the Genocide, as many know, are gruesome and horrifying. It is unbelievable to me that just a few weeks ago Rwanda celebrated only the 19th anniversary of the end of the Genocide and honored the lives of the millions who died. However, being in this experience, the reality of the recentness of the events during the Genocide became painstakingly real. There were two specific moments in the memorial which will forever be ingrained in my mind:
As we walked through the museum area of the memorial, we had a guide who walked us through the history of Rwanda up until the Genocide, and during the Genocide. We watched videos of the children sharing their stories of watching their parents being slain right before their eyes and how lucky they were to have survived. They expressed gratitude to the individuals who saved them whom could have been murdered for doing so. As we moved through the exhibit we entered a room with all the walls decorated with images of those brutally murdered during the Genocide. There were old people, young people, babies, small children, all laid to rest at this particular memorial. While in this exhibit there was another group of students, what appeared to be Rwandan high schoolers, taking a tour of the memorial as well. One young lady, while grasping at one of the images on the wall began sobbing uncontrollably. The emotion she was feeling flooded the entire room. It was at that moment that I realized that the Genocide was really not so long ago. It is difficult to imagine individuals could do such harm to one another: their neighbors and their longtime friends, in the world today, but I imagine they felt the same way when this happened.
The other distinct moment in the memorial for me was when I entered what was deemed the “Children’s Room.” The walls were painted a vibrant orange color and there were floor to ceiling images of the cutest little kids. Each image was adorned with a plaque listing their: favorite food, favorite drink, favorite sport, favorite hobby and how they were killed. The ages of the young children ranged from only a few months to about 12 years and the horrific and graphic means in which they were murdered were absolutely heart wrenching. Before reading the next few sentences, please know it is graphic. One young girl, only a few months old died by being thrown against a wall. Two sisters were murdered when a grenade was thrown in their shower. A young boy, age 4, was killed by torture. The one story which impacted me the most emotionally was a young girl, age 2 or 3, with the biggest, brightest eyes you have ever seen was killed by being stabbed in the eyes and head.
My hearts go out to those living who are still mourning the loss of their loved ones.
On a lighter note, we tried to lift our spirits after that very emotional morning by having lunch at Des Mille Collines (The Hotel from the movie, Hotel Rwanda),
followed by a visit to the site where the Belgians protecting the Rwandan Prime Minister were murdered and her shorting after.
The day ended with a visit to the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) where we learned more about the agribusiness climate in Rwanda and were able to ask questions to better help us with our projects. And then we concluded with an authentic African dinner at Republica which was delish!