Day 2 con't - Ntarama and Nyamata

Kigali Travel Blog

 › entry 4 of 6 › view all entries
Ntarama Genocide Memorial

This is where the emotional rollercoaster starts…  And it will continue over the next week.  Tears of joy and tears of despair will flow freely over the next few days.  We see genocide sites where thousands perished and we see the projects of hope that inspire and restore belief in humanity.

 

 

The first genocide site we entered was Ntarama.  Both Ntarama and Nyamata are in the same area.  Jean Hatzfeld (sp?) - French journalist wrote three books on the situation in this region (Life Laid Bare, Machete Season, Antelope Strategy).

The display in Ntarama
  I read all of them and was familiar with what happened.  Fifty thousand Tutsis out of sixty thousand Tutsi inhabitants living there were slaughtered.  Some hid in the marches and the forest but only few survived.  Interahamwe and local Hutus went “hunting” everyday for about 90 days - and killed almost all hidden and terrified people. 

 

Ntarama was very familiar to me through those books.  I didn’t know what impact it will have on me when I enter the church where several thousand of people lost their lives. 

 

I waited until most of my fellow travelers got in.  Many took lots of photos from the moment they crossed the threshold.

Human bones at the Ntarama Genocide Memorial
  Inside - on wooden shelves - there were hundreds of skulls - on another set of shelves - thousands of human bones.  I stayed inside only a few seconds.  It was hard for me to watch it.  I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures.  I walked out.  The moment I walked out I saw one of our guides leave the church wiping his eyes with a handkerchief.  That did it.  I broke down.  It was really difficult to imagine such a crime.  I sat on the grass and wept.  It hurt to breathe.  One other guide came up to me and sat down.  We first just sat there… then we talked as others continued to tour the grounds of the church.  I didn’t really want to see anything anymore.  We talked for a while - about the genocide, about other things - it was comforting to have someone nice and gentle right there.  Our guides did an amazing job to help us through the difficult moments. 

 

I am enclosing some pictures from both Ntarama and Nyamata - courtesy of my fun, crazy, and wonderful friend Genifer.

Human bones at the Ntarama Genocide Memorial

 

We left Ntarama and went on to Nyamata.  This was yet another church that witnessed a large scale massacre.  Local Tutsis hid there thinking that no one would dare to attack them in the church.  In fact, in earlier years of Tutsi pogroms, they could always hide in churches and be safe.  Not this time.  Again, I entered the church only for a few seconds and didn’t take pictures.  I felt like it was enough for me for one day.  The church was open and cool…  It mainly displayed the clothing and personal possessions of the victims.  All pews were draped with dirty, bloodied clothes.  Underneath and behind the church were mass graves.  I mostly stayed in front of the church talking with Paul - another guide.  He lost most of his family in genocide.

Taling to the guide...
  He was 14 years old.  Only Paul and his older brother managed to survive. 

 

We had four guides and four vehicles.  Gradually, we became closer to the guides and started to form a friendship.  We really enjoyed and appreciated them and they were happy to show us their country and answer any questions we had.  They were simply irreplaceable.  All spoke great English, were nice, friendly, patient, helpful and knowledgeable.  And one could tell they really enjoyed our group.  Rwanda is not a big tourist destination.  Most of the places we went - we were the only group there.  Tourists come mostly to Rwanda for gorilla trekking in the northern parts.  Our guides work for one of the safari companies that take tourists through Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.

Nyamata
  So, this trip was quite different for them, as well.  Also, the guides - mostly Rwandan - saw our interest, empathy and genuine concern for their country. 

 

As we walked out of the grounds of the church, lots of children from the village gathered around our cars.  They were off school for a two-week break.  Seeing a group of whites sparked their interest.  All of the sudden, we were surrounded with beautiful, slightly shy, happy, smiley faces with curious looks and playful eyes.  We started talking with them and taking some pictures.  Soon, the kids had so much fun - posing for pictures, taking them, talking and joking around.  I couldn’t believe the contrast.  We are standing in front of a genocide memorial with its horrible past… and here are the kids - the new generation - carefree, uninhibited, friendly - young humans - the future of Rwanda.

The church in Nyamata
  And what I loved about this encounter - we were their amusement - and not (only) vice versa.  We were their entertainment.  During this trip - I was worried.  I wanted to make sure that we treated the local people fairly.  Especially kids…  Because they are so cute and sweet, it would be easy to treat them like little toys, like cute puppies, pretty Pandas in the zoo.  We all wanted to take pictures of them and with them.  I don’t know exactly how to explain it.  I just didn’t want to take away their dignity and humanity.  Didn’t want us to objectify them and in some way.  And here they were • treating us as their break in the day…  Our group was so uplifted by their happy, curious faces.

 

We all went back to the hotel full of thought and reflection.  It was a tough day for me, but more grim places were to come.

travelman727 says:
This reminds me so much of when I toured Auschwitz. Unfortunately, mankind has been slow in learning the painful lessons of turning a blind eye to genocide.
Posted on: Aug 13, 2009
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Ntarama Genocide Memorial
Ntarama Genocide Memorial
The display in Ntarama
The display in Ntarama
Human bones at the Ntarama Genocid…
Human bones at the Ntarama Genoci…
Human bones at the Ntarama Genocid…
Human bones at the Ntarama Genoci…
Taling to the guide...
Taling to the guide...
Nyamata
Nyamata
The church in Nyamata
The church in Nyamata
Clothing of the victims in Nyamata
Clothing of the victims in Nyamata
Clothing of the victims in Nyamata
Clothing of the victims in Nyamata
Mass graves under the church in Ny…
Mass graves under the church in N…
As you enter the church in Nyamata
As you enter the church in Nyamata
Children of Nyamata
Children of Nyamata
Children of Nyamata
Children of Nyamata
Children of Nyamata
Children of Nyamata
Children of Nyamata
Children of Nyamata
Kigali
photo by: bushman_pepe