Sunday, June 1, 2014

Day 4: Nyamata Memorial & Millenium Village

Last night I finally got some sleep! I took a sleeping pill and was able to get about 7 hours of sleep, which was nice. I got up in the morning and had some breakfast, including plenty of fresh bananas and ickynumero, the delicious red fruit.

Soon after breakfast new guides met us at our hotel and we drove outside of Kigali to the Millenium Village. Located in a part of Rwanda that has been hard hit by drought, famine, and was particularly hard hit by the 1994 genocide, the village was a collaborative effort between the U.N. and some other non-profits. The goal was to cure the famine, provide jobs, create farms, and raise the standard of living (anti-malaria efforts, HIV prevention and testing, healthcare, family planning, etc.)

Part of the village included the Nyamata Church, which now acts as a memorial to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. In 1992 when the Hutus began killing some Tutsis all of the people from the area sought shelter in the church and were able to stay safe. So when genocide broke out in 1994 they went back to the church, this time was different. With gates over the doors locked, locals could not get in to kill the 10,000+ men, women, and children located inside. Unable to get in, they called the government and the government arrived and used grenades to blast open the gates. Once they had gained entry the church was so packed full of people that they couldn't enter and kill the victims one at a time. So the murderers threw in grenades until everyone appeared to be dead in the main part of the church. They then walked around and killed those that had survived the grenades. Babies were kept in a back part of the church to keep them protected and they survived the grenade attacks. When the Hutus came in they threw the babies against a wall to kill them, there is still blood stains on the wall from the children murdered by hand. The church is no longer used as a church, and exists as it did at the time of the genocide. The bodies have been removed, but their clothes were left in piles on the pews as part of the memorial. There are piles and piles of clothes everywhere, including children's shirts, which were particularly horrific. At the altar there is a white cloth over it that was there during the attack, and it too is stained everywhere with the blood of victims. Looking up at the tin roof you can still see the tiny shrapnel holes, letting dots of light shine through, from the many grenade explosions. A new room was added under the church that houses skulls and bones of some of the victims, and below that the casket of a pregnant woman that was horrifically tortured and mutilated before, and after, death. Behind the church the former garden has been converted into a mass grave. Unable to identify most of the victims in the graves, the coffins inside hold dozens of sets of bones. Additionally, bones and skulls are left out on racks so when we walked down the steep steps we were surrounded by exposed bones of victims. Each skull showed a different method of death, bullet, machete, hammer, etc. There are over 10,000 victims in these mass graves. This was an incredibly sobering experience to be confronted not only with a memorial, a site of an atrocity, but also the remains of those that will never be identified, and died in such a horrific way. 

After the church we moved on to a local farm where we got a tour and saw all of the things they grow. The farmer showed us how they grow their crops, and explained the variety of things that can be made with the crops. It was very interesting, and the farmer was very nice. We found out that they have started planting macadamia nuts and they are doing very well, which is exciting for Rwandans as it may provide a new export for them. The farmer's wife came out at the end of the tour and told us that she has had 14 children and is still strong. We couldn't believe that someone would have that many children. The farmer told us that through the Millenium project his farm has grown and he can now feed his family and afford insurance and schooling for all of his children. After the farm we went to a little building where a meal was waiting for us. Full of traditional foods, 99% of the items we ate were grown in the Millenium Village, which really made what we had just learned come to life. We were all starving and it was so good. After taking our fill of the amazing food we traveled to a cooperative where women, both Hutu and Tutsi work together to make baskets as a source of income and as a way to bring the two sides together. I took pictures as everyone sat and worked one on one with a different woman to learn how to make the baskets. I didn't mind taking the pictures, it was nice getting to see everyone's smiles and know that I was able to capture that special moment. Once the demonstration was done we all loaded up on some of the most beautiful baskets we've ever seen. We all bought so much that the ladies wanted to thank us, so they gave us each a free basket. We also got to have our pictures taken with the woman that made the baskets we had purchased. It was a truly unique experience that adds a new dimension to buying local crafts. 

Following the baskets we took a trip to the reconciliation village. This was the most awe inspiring thing I have ever witnessed. The village exits to have survivors and perpetrators live side by side and help each other, as a way of forgiveness and creating one Rwandan people, no longer divided by "race" We arrived and villagers were playing music and dancing for our arrival. Then we sat and a genocide survivor told us about his experiences and why he chose to live in the reconciliation village. His story was very interesting, and it is still hard for me to imagine how he has forgiven the man that killed his father in cold blood. Following his speech a perpetrator came up and talked about how he served time in jail and then a few years ago he was offered a program by the government where he could apologize and show he was sorry, and in exchange he could get out of jail. He did this and then chose on his own to come live in this village. They told us that not only do the two sides live in the same village, but it is mandatory that they are alternated in their housing so their neighbor is their former enemy. Additionally, the helped to build each other's houses, care for their children, grieve during loss, and celebrate during times of joy. Every house is identical in terms of size and construction, so nobody envies the others. Following the speeches we tried some banana beer and shared the drink with the villagers. Then there was more dancing where we were invited to dance with the villagers, which was amazing. I got pictures of everyone dancing, while I danced too. Then we took pictures with the children, which was such an amazing experience. They love selfies and more and more tried to pile into the picture, and ultimately you could only see my shoulder and then about a dozen children's faces. It was an amazing experience and I hope to return to the village some day to see how it has progressed. 

I just realized, when looking through the pictures, that I forgot to mention the health clinic and school we visited. We got tours of both. The clinic gets better each year and allows the insurance to provide for everyone's healthcare, there are pictures below. Also, the school we vacant, but we got to see it and go inside a room It was interesting to see that 1,500 students go to school there and there are only about 16-ish teachers employed there. They split into 1/2 days and each teacher teaches classes of about 50. 

Original gate for the church that was blasted with grenades

The other gate, through it you can see the piles of vitim's clothes as well as the altar. Pictures inside the church are not allowed.

Skulls in the mass grave. The different breaks and spots on the skull tell you how the person was killed.

Skulls and bones. Nobody could be identified, so they were not given individual graves.

1/2 of the amount of bones you walk by and look at in the mass grave. The smell is indescribable. 

Different plants the farmer grows

Banana Tree

Carving the casava root so we can all try some fresh out of the ground

Primary School


Expanded health care center

Children with there parents that followed us on our tour.

WCU students learning how to weave baskets

Dr. Gaydosh Learning how to weave a basket

Welcome dance and song when we arrived

Singers and drummers for the dancers

Genocide perpetrator (on the left) who told us about his experience and his quest for forgiveness

The dancers came and made us all get up and dance with them. It was so much fun!!!

Christina Dancing with one fo the dancers

The love of a selfie below you can see as more and more kids come in and eventually you can't see me at all

what selfie madness looks like from above!

1 comment:

  1. There is no rhyme or reason for a genocide, but I know one thing: blood is never spilled in vain.