Sunday, 20 April 2008

Gisozi Evening

This is an extract from my African travel blog, where you can read all of my adventures in Rwanda

One Million Dead
Friday night I spent at home, pretty tired after a long week. I had a wonderful chill-out, and was just about to turn in when D phoned to say that he was on his way home and to wait for him. I was dead tired by this point, and it was only about half-nine, so I was wondering 'why?' It soon became apparent. He brought me take-out lol Goat brochettes and ibirayi (like crispy baked potatoes). It made me so happy :op

I must have over-slept, about ten hours! Woke feeling a bit grotty. The cats have got the squits again. I think I've worked out it's the corned beef, or one of the preservatives in it. Not as bad as last time, thankfully.

On Saturday evening, D and I headed up to Gisozi Memorial Centre. Loona had e-mailed us about an event a few days before, and we decided to go along.

It was a really interesting night. It began with a survivor of the genocide telling his story. All the guys who work at the centre are survivors. This guy explained a bit about his life before the genocide. He was about six when he first started noticing things. In school the teacher would ask students to stand up by ethnicity, but he didn't really understand, so when his best friend, a Hutu, stood up, he stood up too. They were on the soccer team together, so he thought you could choose which team you wanted to be on. The teacher told him to sit down. Some years later, he was walking home with his dad from their shop when some young thugs started throwing rocks at his dad. His dad just ignored it, like it was expected. He couldn't work out why.

When the plane went down and the genocide started, they hid in their house with the lights off. Eventually, the militia broke in and found them. They made his mum and dad kneel and start praying whilst they loaded their guns. They said that if they paid enough money, they would come back in two days and not kill them now. This is what they did - they paid - and managed to flee to a neighbour’s house. They were found again and the men and women were forced to separate. The women were going to be killed later, once the men were dead. He managed to get some girl's cloths and disguised himself so that he could stay with his mother and sister.

They fled to a church. The priest was a member of the militia. He would let the Interahamwe in occasionally, to choose one or two people to kill outside the church, and to take girls to rape in public places.

Whilst there, he learned that his father and brother had been shot, but 'not in the right place'. They had survived for two days in the street before they finally died. He said that all of this time in the church, he was thinking that if they came to take his sister he would go up to the militia and ask them to kill him too. It was such unimaginable horror.

Eventually, they managed to escape and fled to the UN protectorate zone at the stadium near my house. As more refugees arrived, the Red Cross pulled out. He said that people were starving and dying of disease all the time. You got used to talking to someone, then, in the middle of a conversation, they'd literally fall over and die. He said they had fled from their homes originally because they wanted to die with other people, not alone.

One of the overriding memories he has is of a pregnant woman who had either been macheted or hit by shrapnel. She had been split open and you could see into her womb. She was covered in blood and screaming. After ten minutes she finally died.

Eventually, the RPF liberated Kigali. His mother and sister survived. His mother suffered mental trauma, but managed to get a job and pay his school fees. His sister is now married.

It was a very difficult story to listen to.

Then we watched the Panorama documentary by Fergal Keane: Into Darkness, documenting the genocide. I had already read his book Season of Blood and it was interesting to see pictures of the things I had read about, but harrowing.

After the lights came back on, and after a long pause, we had an open discussion about what we'd seen and people asked questions. It was a really good event. Apparently they run it every Saturday, but we only knew when Loona sent the e-mail. It was almost all VSO there.

Afterwards, D went to Gikondo to see some friends and I went to Stella for a drink with everyone. I had a wonderful evening with Mel and her partner, Dirk, at SoleLuna. It was really lovely. We drank a whole litre of wine! Dirk's treat.

Today, both D and I were nursing hangovers. We had a really lazy morning. I've been getting an edumercation in Reggae. I'll devote a post to it some time.

Busy week ahead. IT training starts tomorrow night :) I need to get a mushanana made for Léon's wedding. Capacity and Disability meetings on Friday, then getting ready for Kampala. Hope I can fit it all in!

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