Rwanda

Rwanda 7/3/06 - Kigali Memorial Centre, Departure from Rwanda

We woke up at 6:30 am to find that we had no hot water. As we would be embarking on our long journey home, we definitely needed a shower this morning. We had a little less patience than at the Gorilla's Nest as this was a business hotel in the city. Craig reported the problem to the front desk and it was soon fixed. We took our showers and got everything ready. We went downstairs and ate a buffet breakfast on the patio: omelettes, Cheerios, pineapple, crepes with powdered sugar, passion fruit juice, and a great big cup of coffee. The grounds were very lush and it was nice to get to enjoy them in the daylight. We bought an hour of internet time (the minimum interval) for 1500 francs at 8:00. We went to the business center and tried to log in to one of their computers. We had some trouble with the login and the pin. When that was straightened out, Internet Explorer kept crashing when its interface language was set to English, so we set it to French, which somehow solved the problem (?). After what seemed like a lot of hassle, we sent a quick email home and were finished by 8:30. We stopped in the lobby and saw that Johnson hadn't arrived yet, so we went back up to the room to use the bathroom and retrieve our luggage. The elevators were tiny and we couldn't both fit in one with our luggage, so we rode down separately. Craig checked out (which must have made the desk clerks more comfortable than if I had done it). Johnson and I loaded the bags into the vehicle. He showed us a text message he had received from Will and Kate last night, after our failed attempt to call them from his cell phone. His cell phone is all decked out with his Arsenal football team logo.

Johnson drove us to the Kigali Memorial Centre, a genocide memorial that officially opened in 2004, 10 years after the killings. It sat atop a hill and had a nice view of the city. Outside there was a large map of the world and the Rwandan flag was flying overhead. There was also a flame which is lit for 100 days each year (April through July). This commemorates the 100 days of genocide, and is seen as a time of mourning. Craig and I took our time wandering around the outside while Johnson went and talked to the volunteers who were working there. Then Johnson told us that they were waiting for us. We hadn't known that we would get a personal tour of the grounds. We met Serge who walked us around. Johnson disappeared to chat with the volunteers some more. We didn't expect to see him again until we left, as it is the resting place of his murdered father and brothers, and as such, was very private. We saw the mass graves, in which 250,000 victims have been re-buried. One was open to show the coffins (each of which contained the remains of at least 3 to 4 victims) draped with linen cloths and topped with wooden crosses. There were bouquets of flowers atop some of the mass graves. There was a very long wall (the "Wall of Names") which contained the names of a small number of victims. Many more still needed to be added. As we looked at the wall we realized that we wouldn't know Johnson's father and brothers' names if we saw them. There was a nicely landscaped garden with a waterfal which represented the united Rwanda. The water then diverted into a star shape to represent the divisions imposed by the colonialists. Then the water re-converged to symbolize a re-unified country. There were lots of nice plants and birds were flying around. It was a very peaceful place.

We went inside and started looking at the exhibits. It was very informative and we learned so much. There were galleries of photos and words, as well as short videos. Much to our surprise, Johnson joined us and started to point things out and explain things to us. We felt honored that he was willing to talk to us (whom he had only known for two days) about such emotional and personal events. We read the "Hutu 10 Commandments", propaganda circulated at the time of the genocide which denounced Tutsis and any Hutu who sympathized with them as traitors. We learned that HIV was used as a weapon. Women who were not killed were often raped and purposely infected with HIV. The perpetrators are being treated with anti-retroviral drugs while in jail, but the victims are unable to afford treatment. It is another aspect of the extreme injustice of everything that happened and continues to happen with regard to the genocide.People were tortured, and the wounded were often thrown into latrines to die. The suffering is unimaginable. Johnson pointed out a photo of his cousin Damas Mutezintare Gisimba on a placard of heroes of the genocide. This is the cousin who saved Johnson's mother, three sisters, and young brother in his orphanage, along with 400 other people. There were stained glass windows depicting piles of bones and skulls. We were looking at these windows when a volunteer came over and asked if we had any questions. We did, but none that anyone could answer.

Johnson led us into a very solemn, dark room. Many parallel wires were strung up along each wall, and photos of victims who were buried here were clipped to the wires. These were regular photographs contributed by the victims' families. The sheer number of photos was staggering, and there were victims buried there who had no photos yet on display. The enormity of the slaughter was hard to comprehend, but seeing all of these photos, and knowing that there were many other memorial sites around the country where many more bodies were buried was staggering. Johnson pointed out his father's photo. His father looked very much like Johnson, and he was shown wearing his trademark suit and tie. His name was printed on the bottom of the photo. It was so powerful to be standing there with Johnson looking at this picture of his father. The emotions were overwhelming. Johnson told us that his cousins' pictures were there as well, but he didn't point them out. In the same room, there were benches in front of a movie screen. We sat and watched a film interviewing genocide survivors.

There was a room with display cases full of skulls and femurs. Some skulls had been bashed by clubs. Others had neat little bullet holes. The latter were the "lucky" ones, who had died with the least suffering. There was a room displaying clothing found in the mass graves. It was so much like the clothing we had seen for sale in the markets yesterday, and that we had seen children wearing throughout our time in Rwanda. It was too much to take. It really drove home the fact that this did not occur during a far-removed generation. The style of western clothing had not even really changed between then and now. There was a Superman bed sheet that was particularly heart-wrenching. There were display cases filled with identity cards, rosary beads, keys, just anything that people had on them at the time of their deaths. These little details, these little pieces of people's lives cut so short. There was a chain which had bound two people when they were buried alive together.

There was an exhibit about other genocides (Armenia, Namibia, Cambodia, Germany) throughout history. We didn't spend much time at this part, as we realized it was already 11:00 and we had to leave soon. We could research these other genocides once we got home, but we wanted to see the rest of the Rwanda-specific information. We went into a room with an exhibit called "Wasted Futures". There were photos of child victims and there were stats about each child (favorite sport, favorite food, favorite drink, best friend, age, and how they died). One particular one that really touched me was the last words of one child, which were that UNAMIR (the UN agency) would come to rescue them. It never happened. The youngest child shown in the exhibit was 9 months old. Some had been killed by machete, some had been slammed against walls, etc. It was so sad. On our way out, we passed through a gallery of statues which represented the different stages in Rwandan history. The last one depicted a child under a tree and was captioned "I didn't choose to be an orphan." We bought a book of the exhibition. The memorial has no admission fee, but they are funded by donations, so we made a donation. The whole experience was so overwhelming, and we were especially moved by the fact that Johnson had accompanied us. As we got back into the car, we looked out over the city. Even though we had known about the genocide prior to our arrival, we still saw the city a lot differently than we had when we arrived three days ago. The events were personalized and ingrained in our consciousness. We would not forget.

Now it was time to go home. We stopped at the Primate Safaris office to pick up Florence, who had confirmed our flights home.As we drove through Kigali we saw the South African ambassador and her husband while we were in traffic. We waved to one another. We had bought nothing in Rwanda other than the gorilla watercolor, two gorilla photos, and a map, and we wanted to buy a small gorilla statue or carving before leaving. Johnson brought us to the artisans' market, but told us that we only had 10 minutes, because we had to get to the airport. We hopped out of the Land Rover and Florence took charge. She doesn't usually shop with clients and help them to haggle, but she knew that we were in a rush and she wanted to make sure that we got our gorilla. The artisans' market was huge, and we could have easily been side-tracked or persuaded to buy other things if she hadn't kept us on track. The shops were jam packed full of interesting hand=made items, many of which were quite different from what we had seen for sale in Kenya and Tanzania. Florence led us into one shop after another. She asked the store owner to show us their gorillas. Pretty much all of the ones we saw were very cartoon-ish, and that wasn't really what we were looking for. Florence dismissed them immediately and led us to the next shop, before the shop owner could even try to entice us to buy something else. At the third shop we found a more realistic gorilla statue which had a baby on its back. It was a bit bigger than we had expected, and it was heavy for carrying home, but this was definitely the one. The seller wanted 10000 francs and Florence insisted that was way too high and that we would only pay 5000. He was not pleased with that. She put up a good fight and haggled fiercely with him, saying there was no way that it was worth more than 5000. He stood firm. Time was ticking away, and we knew that this was the gorilla we really wanted. We told him the truth: we only had 6500 francs left and were about to leave the country. We offered the 6500 as our last offer, and he accepted. Florence was happy that we got our gorilla, but she was a bit disappointed that we had given him the extra 1500. As he had originally quoted 10000, we still felt we had gotten a bargain. We got back to the car and I checked my watch. I happily told Johnson that we had two minutes to spare. Johnson and Florence took us to the airport. We said our goodbyes to Johnson and exchanged contact information. It turned out that his name was actually John. He is just called "Johnson" at the company because he is the younger of the two John's that work there. Who knew?

We said goodbye to Florence, went through security, and checked in. We went through customs and the passport guy was unbelievably friendly. We went through security again (a rather lengthy process) and then went to the gate. Filipe and Barbara were already there, and we sat and chatted with them. We were embarking on our long journey home, but they were heading to Mombasa to spend some downtime at the beach. After the incredible delays we had experienced coming into Kigali, we wondered if our flight to Nairobi would be on time. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be a big deal, as we had such a 9 hour layover in Nairobi airport to look forward to. As we chatted with Filipe and Barbara, we all stared at the flickering TV which was showing some sort of really melodramatic soap opera or movie. It wasn't in English, and it was flickering, but somehow we felt compelled to keep staring at it, trying to figure out the plot. The flight was on time. As we boarded, we needed to identify our luggage before they would load it onto the plane. This was reassuring, as we actually saw our luggage getting onto the flight, so we knew our luggage was leaving with us. The flight took off at 1:50, and it was much more pleasant than our flight into Kigali had been. The plane was nicer (it had air vents and everything). It was a 3-3 configuration, but there was noone seated with us, so we were able to spread out a bit. We were served snack boxes with beef sandwiches, corn bread, and a mystery meat-filled pastry. There was complimentary alcohol. I ordered Amarula and Craig ordered a Tusker. The flight attendant gave me two nips of Amarula, and gave Craig 2 cans of Tusker. We each stashed away one and drank the other. One of our fellow passengers was studying a missionary handbook and talking excitedly to his companions. As we headed toward Kenya we flew over Lake Victoria. It was huge, about the size of Rwanda and Burundi put together. It was absolutely gorgeous from the air. As we were approaching the Nairobi airport, we could see Nairobi National Park, an oasis of green in the midst of the sprawling city. We could even see wildlife (such as giraffes) from the air. What a trip!

We arrived in Nairobi at 4 pm (it was a one hour flight but there was also a one hour time difference). We deplaned onto the tarmac, and it wasn't immediately apparent where to go. We wandered by a bunch of planes and eventually came to a steep ramp which led into a terminal building. The missionary was walking ahead of us, and we could see a statue of Jesus with hands outstretched peeking out of the top of his backpack. We went through immigration and collected our luggage. At the luggage carousel we started chatting with a woman who also turned out to be from Massachusetts, though she now lived in Nairobi working with AIDS patients. We asked where we were each from, and as we drilled down, further and further focusing in on the location, it turned out that she and I were both raised in the same small town with around 9000 residents. What a small world! Once again, the passport guy was extremely friendly and smiley, urging us to come back some day.

We weren't looking forward to this long layover. The Nairobi airport is pretty chaotic. We put our luggage on a trolley and we had to walk to another building. A cab driver walked with us, asking how long our layover was. He offered to take us to the famous Carnivore Restaurant. We told him we had already been. Truth be told, if we were going to do anything with our free time in Nairobi, it would be a visit to the Sheldrick Orphanage to help put Zurura to bed. But by this point, we were done. We couldn't muster the energy to hire a cabdriver, take all of our luggage with us, go out into Nairobi rush hour traffic, and rush through some activity, knowing we have to be back at the airport and stressing out about the time. We would rather sit and wait at the airport. We went to the SwissAir desk, which wasn't even open yet. It would open in less than an hour, so we sat on a bench waiting with our luggage. When the counter opened, we checked in and checked our luggage. We were left with our carry-on bag and an extremely heavy bag of delicate purchases.We went through immigration, and the passport guy was, once again, very friendly and smiley.

We looked for a comfortable place to spend the next few hours, preferably someplace where we could have some food. We found a little restaurant tucked around a corner. We went inside and it was very pleasant. We sat at a table and looked at a menu. I don't usually order "American" food when I'm in foreign countries. But we were now on the way home, and after all my stomach had gone through in the past few weeks, I broke down and we ordered cheeseburgers with fried onions and fries. They were huge burgers and so tasty. It was definitely the right move. Craig was hoping to try one more local brew before leaving Africa, so he ordered a can of Tanzania Brewery's Redd's.It turned out to be more of a fizzy alcoholic cider than beer. I got a Smirnoff Ice. We had a leisurely meal and followed it up with some ice cream. I had chocolate, and Craig ordered vanilla and strawberry as a tribute to Patrick. It tasted more like bubble gum than strawberry, but whatever. Another couple joined us at our table: Susan and Stan from Holland. They had just returned from a safari in Tanzania.They had seen a lot of kills as the migration was getting into gear. Then they went to Zanzibar. We enjoyed chatting with them. They left for their flight, and we still had time to kill. There was no pressure to vacate the table, so Craig ordered a real beer (Tusker) and I ordered a Fanta. We talked to Matilda (from France via the U.S.A.), who had been on our flight from Kigali. We talked with her quite a bit about Rwanda. She's an international relations student. She was sitting with a woman named Maria from England. Matilda had no money left and was wishing her flight would board soon so that she could get some water. We insisted on buying her a bottle of water. She protested and said that she's no good with gifts. We said for her to remember the gesture and to help out someone else who needs it someday.

Breakfast at the Novotel Kigali

Flame at the Kigali Memorial Centre

View from Kigali Memorial Centre

Kigali Memorial Centre

Mass graves, Kigali Memorial Centre

Wall of Names, Kigali Memorial Centre

Mass graves, Kigali memorial Centre

Open mass grave, Kigali memorial Centre

Garden and water feature, Kigali Memorial Centre

World map, Kigali Memorial Centre

Kigali Memorial Centre

Primate Safaris

Map of Rwanda, Novotel lobby

It was now around 10 pm (we had passed several hours very comfortably in the restaurant), the time at which our gate was supposed to be announced. There was no way we would hear it from the restaurant, so we gathered our carry-ons and headed out to the terminal. There was a Nairobi radio station playing, and I laughed when the announcer said that they played songs from "when Michael was black, Whitney was clean, and Kool and the Gang were cool." The information board only had one flight listed (to Heathrow). We asked around at various gates but noone seemed to know where the Zurich flight would be departing from. We got in line at the transfer desk to ask where we should be. Craig waited in line for 20 minutes and barely moved. Everyone else was exchanging tickets, cutting the line, etc. I was walking the halls hoping to find the right gate. There were no monitors or even signs at the gates announcing the destination. Even a white board would have helped immensely. It was so frustrating, and the airport was so hot and stuffy. I eventually saw a line of people at a gate. I asked a man in line where the flight was going, and he said Zurich. I went to get Craig out of the transfer desk line and we headed to gate 10. We showed our boarding passes, went through security again, and sat in the gate. Although it was a Swiss Air flight, it was actually operated by Hapag-Lloyd.

When we boarded, there was a brochure at each seat explaining that SwissAir's eastern Africa routes are in the process of being overhauled, and so they are using some rented planes to pick up the slack. This generic rent-a-plane had hot sticky vinyl seats and no air vents. There was no entertainment whatsoever (no movies, no music, nothing). This would be a l-o-o-o-o-n-g 7 1/2 hour flight. We were seated across the aisle from two nuns. One kept stirring her wine with a knife. The other gave me dirty looks any time I giggled (which was often, because by this point we were overtired, overheated, and delirious). We were served some pretty crappy food (tasteless veggie lasagna, salad, tasty cheese, a roll, and a nondescript dessert cake). Now, everyone always complains about airline food, but Craig and I try to accept it for what it is and make the best of it. This disappointed even us. Good thing we had had those tasty burgers at the airport. I grew tired of eating the tasteless food and offered my leftovers to Craig. He even turned them down, which never happens. The benefit of the association with Swiss Air was at least that we were given some yummy Swiss chocolate. We had some apple juice to drink. We slept through the night fitfully, anxious at this point to get home.
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