Friday, August 30, 2013

Day 34: Looking Forward

We woke up early to make our way to an important genocide memorial 30 minutes outside of Huye. The whole ride there we became more and more nervous, unsure if we were prepared for the experience that awaited us. Murambi was the site of one of the worst mass killings during the 1994 genocide. The government at the time told Tutsi's that this technical college that was under construction would be a safe haven for them. As such over 50,000 people sought refuge in the buildings at the end of a long ridge surrounded by hills. It wasn't too long after that the army and militia showed up, having evacuated the area of all Hutus so as to avoid confusion, and fired upon the complex until they ran out of ammo and grenades, then finished off the survivors with machetes and clubs, while others were buried alive in mass graves. 

On top of a very well put together museum, to make this site all the more impactful, they have preserved 1,000 of the exhumed bodies with lime powder and have left them in the buildings of the complex. Going from room to room and seeing the cracked open skulls and mutilated bodies of infants, toddlers, women, and men was horrifying. The most troubling and haunting aspect to the overwhelming number of corpses was the positions in which they died. Some with mouth agape in mid cry, others pointing their index finger to the heavens indicating to the perpetrators that God would judge them for their actions, a mother trying to protect her infant (still in her arms today), and small children curled up in fear before the mob ended their short lives. This quickly proved too much for us and we were glad to continue to the tour elsewhere on the complex. The other sites include some of the mass graves, one that has been left open to show what the professionally excavated pits (caterpillars were used) looked like. The pit was surprisingly small but over 8,500 bodies have been exhumed from that one mass grave, there have been five found on the grounds to date. We visited another mass grave that the French army used the soft freshly turned soil of to make a volley ball court to help cover up the genocide.

Our guide was very good, and quite knowledgeable. When we arrived he greeted us in French so Erin conversed with him in French for a while and then thankfully asked if he spoke English which he did as well. He had lived through the genocide himself and told us about how many mass graves were disguised as toilets and to highlight the premeditatedness of the genocide told us about his family's confusion when their neighbours started digging a new toilet before the other was close to full. When the genocide started there was a road block set up next to the hole that had just been dug.

After the memorial we rushed back to Huye to catch our bus to Gisakura just outside Nyungwe National Park. Along the drive we passed fields where prisoners worked the tea plantations and appeared to walk freely through town. The bus continued through the large national park deemed the most important for conservation in Africa. The views were beautiful as we twisted and turned through the rolling jungle hills (once again on the folding aisle chairs, this time Craig's was broken). We arrived at our accommodation to find a troop of Vervet Monkeys waiting to welcome us.

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