The first Friday of August is Harvest Day in Rwanda, and a public holiday, so the weekend started early on Thursday evening on the CHAI balcony, for the monthly “shuffle”. All the CHAI employees are invited, and it is a chance for field and office staff to meet up for drinks and snacks. There were a few new starts other than myself. It was great to meet the wider team. The last few called it a night when we lost power…
I was woken abruptly on Friday morning at around 03:30, but not by the usual buzzing mosquito and my reflex smacking myself in the face trying to get rid of the nasty flying pests! No, I was woken up as the room began to shake whilst Mother Nature unleashed a 5.6 Richter earthquake close to the Lake Kivu border between Rwanda and The Democratic Republic of Congo. Not having had official earthquake training, I jumped under a door frame, and made my way to the garden when the shaking stopped, mobile in hand Googling Earthquake + Rwanda en route. Apparently, it’s not too frequent an event, with a report of a previous quake 7 years prior. The housekeeper/night guard was sitting outside nonchalant about the whole thing, smiling at the worried Muzungu checking the house for damage… (The origins of Muzungu come from “aimless wanderer” or “dizzy”).
On Friday afternoon, I ventured out the furthest I have been so far, past the airport to the Rwandan Orphans Project, to donate the collection made in the office before leaving the UK. That was a different part of Kigali, with more poverty visible (including a tiny toddler sitting by his sleeping mother on the side of the road…) The orphanage is an interesting place. Sean and the team are doing great things to give the boys there a better life. I had a look around the classrooms, dorms, and the greenhouses they are using to try and become more self sufficient. It is very basic, but the kids have a better upbringing than what they may have experienced on the streets. As the classrooms are not filled, some places are offered to the poorest local children to attend for free, some more are helped to a better educational start in life. The guys were grateful for what was donated, with pictures of that to follow (to update, we raised a little over £260 in GSKH + donated clothes, shoes, books and toys. The money was used to buy some essential clothes requested, dictionaries, sports balls and DVDs. We also raised $180 in RTP, which was donated directly to the ROP – Thanks Caroline).
Saturday is shopping day. A bit more varied for me this week, and another assault on the senses. The regular supermarkets are good here, with two main chains we use plus a German butchery. The local produce is fairly cheap, but imported not so much; £10 for a box of Kellogg’s and £8 for a shower gel… We visited a large Chinese store, which sells anything and everything. We managed to get some items we didn’t find in the other stores, such as the biggest bag of chilli flakes you will ever see. We did not “Spice up our Life” with chicken claw spice..maybe next time…
We then moved on to the outdoor market. As soon as the car entered the parking lot, around ten teenage boys ran up to the car and alongside it beckoning us to various parking spaces. When we pulled up, the car was surrounded by guys shouting for us to ‘hire’ them. They are official workers, with high vis vests. They charge 50p or so to walk around with you and carry your shopping, as well as supply the bag to hold the produce. The initial onslaught was a little much, but luckily we had Djaloud with us, who is the driver of our colleagues, and swiftly purchases a bag and with a few words, we are left in peace. I was approached a few more times whilst in the market by others looking for a job. The fruit and vegetables inside are amazing, piled high, with rows and rows of local “Irish” potatoesand bananas of various sizes and shades of green and yellow, plus a whole host of other local produce. Everyone is fighting for our custom, and the haggling happens. Again, Djaloud is around to make the negotiations, and we are paying a more local price as opposed to a Muzungu price! One also needs to watch out for pick pockets in the market stalls. I will definitely venture back, maybe with the big camera but empty pockets…
For the final day of the weekend, Jim and I visited the Rwandan Genocide Memorial. This is one of many around the country, and is the main one with 250,000 victims buried here in mass graves. This place really tugs at the heartstrings, and had me in tears a few times listening to some of the accounts from survivors.
I cannot comprehend how people can act the way they did, with friends and neighbours turning on each other in the 100 day massacre of up to 1 million people, from babies to elders, men and women, all because of a label that was given to them by the colonial invaders. As history has told us many times, outside interference could be to blame, and then the international world (many nations and organisations) turned a blind eye when the trouble erupted. Nearly everyone here has been touched by the atrocity that happened 21 years ago.
I won’t go in to too much detail here, but happy to share the experience off line, with my thoughts and extra photos not posted here. Also, I would highly recommend anyone visiting Kigali to make this visit a must, and as early on as possible, as it helps put things in perspective. As traumatic as the inside exhibitions are, the outside space is a tranquil one, with many different gardens created to represent various parts of Rwanda’s history. Many plants, statues and seating have been placed to allow visitors to reflect, with roses available for a donation, to be placed on the graves.
I imagine that the rose garden is exquisite when in full bloom. I hope that I will go back to experience the gardens again, and also to see the international part of the exhibition, as I had had enough emotion for one day. I am actually welling up now thinking about what I heard and saw…. 😦
For more information, you may visit http://www.genocidearchiverwanda.org.rw/