First off a very fair warning: This post will likely be a bit depressing, but as a famous quote says those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
Who goes to Rwanda on vacation? After a massive genocide that left somewhere around 1 million dead (nearly 10% of the country’s population) Rwanda wasn’t exactly on most peoples’ tourist map. Recently, the government changed the official language from French to English and has been on a major campaign of investment promotion, anti-corrpution, and doing “all the right things” to become a full member of the international community. From what I saw, this is clearly a country that is going places, and if I had capital to invest it would certainly be high on my list.
That said, the ghosts of 1994 still haunt Rwanda, although it amazed me just how much people have moved on. How can you see your neighbors, family, friends, etc butchered in such a brutal fashion, and just move on? I’m not sure I’d be as brave as these people, and I have to admit I kind of fell in love with Rwanda.
Those of you who have seen the movie Hotel Rwanda will remember the Hotel des Milles Collines which was featured in the film. After that movie, we couldn’t help but stay there. I wasn’t in Rwanda when it happened, and to me this movie was the best impression I had of what 1994 meant in Rwanda. Honestly, based on the hotel, you’d never have a clue what happened there. I highly recommend the movie – we watched it again after the trip, and it really hit home. The historical accuracy probably isn’t perfect, but I could feel it when I watched it, knowing I’d been there – it was a really cool experience unlike anything else!
We decided to hire a driver for our one full day there to really take us on the highlights, since they were a bit spread out. It turned out to be the same hotel driver who’d picked us up from the airport the night before – and I honestly give high recommendations to the Milles Collines staff – they really arranged a top notch tour for our very short time there!
The first stop we made was the church at Ntarama. I’m going to get the numbers terribly wrong, but at this church some thousands of people were massacred. The idea was that once the genocide started, people fled to the church, feeling the church would protect them from the Interahamwe militias. This didn’t happen, and thousands were murdered in the most horrific ways: machetes, long wooden poles shoved into women from underneath until they went out the body/head, babies swung around in circles with heads smashed into stone walls, etc. It was horrible, gruesome, and the bones are still piled in the church as a reminder. It was honestly the most disturbing thing I think I’ve ever seen – but at the same time perfect. It helped to give just a little glimpse into what had happened. A few shots from the outside – to preserve the dignity of the victims filming inside the church was not allowed: