Rwanda: Days 5, 6, & 7

Village outside of Kigali

We spent the first part of our morning at a village that was constructed to assist survivors of the genocide. There, we had the chance to speak with survivors as well as spend time with the kids from the community. This was probably the highlight of my trip. I made friends with a 2 year old kid (pictured below) named Chancé. The kids were so much fun and even took to my camera and become photographers for the morning.Image

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Meeting with the International Red CrossImage

Meeting with the International Criminal Tribunal for RwandaImage

Political Cartoon during the genocideImage

Meeting with Student Survivors Group (AERG – Association Étudiants Rescapé Génocide)

One of the afternoons we meet with the a students survival group at a university in Butari. With over 1,000 members they are broken up into three categories, 1st survivors, 2nd other student members and 3rd, honorable members that are not students such as a professors. The student who I was matched up withs name was Christian who was a second year statistics student. I do not believe it is my place to share his story, however he was a survivor of the genocide and lost family during the conflict. He told me about how the government has assisted him and other students who survived financially and has proved them hope for the future. Our conversation quickly switched to music and weekend plans, providing a glimpse into the lives of students in their twenties which is much like the scene in the United States.Image

Belgian Peacekeeper Memorial

At the start of the genocide in 1994, 10 Belgian peacekeepers, who were protecting the Prime Minister at the time were rounded up and killed by Hutu extremists in the blue building below. The pillars in the second picture represent each peacekeeper who was killed and the notches denote their age at the time of death.ImageImage

Hotel Des Mille Collines aka Hotel RwandaImage

Making new friends…Image

Centre Culturel Islamique Kigali-RwandaImageImageImageImage

Presidential Palace Museum

The Presidential Palace Museum was pretty incredible. It offered a glimpse into the life of t Rwanda during the monarchy and before its independence in 1962. The king used to live in huts as seen as below, and the third pictures shows the intricacies of the ceiling. By the time we had left..everyone wanted a straw “palace”.

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National Commission for the Fight Against GenocideImage

Hair Braiding

Yes, I got my hair partially braided, a long with most of the girls on the trip and some guys. Some of you may be thinking..”what in the world is that red doing there?” Apparently it’s the “cool” thing to do in Rwanda. I will take it out soon no worries, I won’t embarrass the family for too long hehe

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Rwanda: Day 4

Today’s blog post will be brief. Today has been incredibly emotionally draining and I think I need time to digest everything I have seen and learned. We visited three organizations, first the National Human Rights Commission, then Imbuka, a group for survivors of the genocide followed by the ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda.) Today, the realities of the genocide really hit me and it has been tolling in a number of ways. As an international relations student, I have fallen victim to looking at conflicts as numbers and date, desensitizing the human element. This experience has been so eye opening in terms of the examining the capabilities of ordinary people to commit atrocities. Tomorrow is supposed to be our “hardest” day yet, I will hopefully have the chance to talk more about my experience!

Rwanda: Day 3

Today was a very interesting day. We met with both the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and an American diplomat. Our first talk was given by Head of Delegation, Mr. Villettaz who mainly focused on the work of the ICRC. Their main responsibilities is insuring that international law translates into practice. In the case of Rwanda, post-Genocide, they conducted activities which provide assistance to victims of the genocide. This included paying school fees of students and assisting orphans of the conflict. The mission of the ICRC is provide assistance to affected areas, and provide protection while at the same time remaining independent from government and U.N. affiliations.

The following talk was given by an American diplomat at the American embassy who I cannot name. In discussing intervention, he was honest in his response that Rwanda was not a priority on a global scale and even within the region. I believe that emotional sentiments clouds people’s judgment when discussing intervention in hindsight. The US has and always will act in its own interests . Full stop. Governments cannot work as NGOs and do not have the flexibility to act in such a way. Naturally, the discussion of Rwanda’s relationship with Congo came up. On a side note, Rwanda is one of the few countries that takes responsibility for its economic development by dictating where its aid goes. It can be seen, to some extent, as a USAID success story. However, Rwanda’s involvement in the DRC has caused backlash from the international community resulting in European countries pulling out aid from Rwanda. Though the United States was the first country to withhold aid from Rwanda, it was the least amount of all countries halting aid. However, unlike the United Kingdom and Germany, aid is not as easy to turn on and off. The aid that the United States gives to Rwanda is not government to government but given to specific projects making it harder to essentially “switch off” aid. In addition he believes, though Rwanda has slowly decreased its reliance, they cannot survive without aid. It will be interesting to see how the US’s relationship develops as the conflict in the DRC escalates.

His final thoughts were pessimistic about the future of Rwanda as new tensions have arisen in the form of ethnic conflict and xenophobia.

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Rwanda: Day 2

Unfortunately, there are no pictures for today! Long story short my roommate locked us out of our safe so I was camera-less for the day 😦 This morning, we had to be up at 7 which didn’t happen for me. I of course woke up when we were supposed to be on the bus. Despite that small hiccup, we had a great day. We left for a Catholic Church service down the street from our hotel. I have always found beauty in the consistency in the order of mass no matter what country you go to or what language is being spoken. Communion and greeting neighbors with variants of “peace be upon you” is practiced in Catholicism across the globe. The church was full, standing room only. It was a great experience being a part of the community

After the service, we headed to an orphanage which was the highlight of my day! The kids were so adorable and greeted us with a song and dance. One of the best aspects was the fact that you we were not allowed to take photos. How many times have we seen albums upon albums of little African kids being put on display. They’re not animals in a zoo and part if me thinks that people would have been more focused on that one great shot rather than focusing on the kids. The orphanage also housed children with special needs are were the most affectionate of the lot. Most would grab your hand to come play with them or give a hug just for the sake of bring friendly. One little girl worked ALL of us and would lift her hands up with big brown puppy eyes insisting we carry her. I doubt she walked more than 10 minutes for the two hours while we were there.

The orphanage was followed by the Ntarama Chruch and Nyamata Church where 5,000 and 21,000 people were killed respectively. In both locations there were mass graves, skulls and bones. They had left in place most of the clothes/shoes of the victims. One room was the Sunday school room, where part of the wall was still stained red from where the perpetrators had bashed the children against the wall. Families had brought their whole lives with them to the churches. They saw the house of God as a place of sanctuary. However, in some places, nuns and priests turned them over in order to save their own lives.

After a short break at the hotel, we had a debrief with the group to reflect on what we witnessed and felt during our second day in Rwanda. For me, I have always admired the survivors. Most have lost the majority if not all of their family and friends. When studying the reconciliation process, I cannot imagine the strength and courage it takes to not only meet the perpetrator but forgive him. It has been evident, thus far, that the process of remembrance is important whilst emphasis is put on moving the country forward. The one thing I hope for myself,and the group, is that we don’t dwell in the past but use it as a means to understand their present and future.

*please excuse the typos, courtesy of IPad.

Rwanda: Day 1

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The pictures above show body remains, the identity card, photos of victims.

Our first site this morning started off our day on a somber note. We went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial which is the largest exhibition memorializing the genocide. The memorial hosts 14 mass graves with over 250,000 buried within them. Rwanda, like its neighbors as been victim of colonial occupation beginning with the Germans and followed by the Belgians following WW1. Rwanda obtained its independence in 1962 while the country was deeply divided. Prior to colonialist rule, Rwandan identity was primary based on 18 different clans. However, in 1932 identity cards were issued based on three classifications Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. These identifications were based on socio-economic status, taking into consideration insignificant qualifications such as how many cows someone owned and how “western” ones facial features were. This fueled racial, and class divisions in the country and served as a catalyst for the genocide. This premeditated, and systematic attack by Hutus on the minority Tutsis was largely due to the superiority associated with Tutsis. A minority ruling over a majority. The most shocking of part of hearing the accounts is how in a lot of cases it was neighbors turning on neighbors. People who you may have known, seen at church, shared a meal with were now perpetrators in a crusade against Tutsis and moderate, sympathetic Hutus. In only 100 days, approximately 1 million people were killed!

We met with the head of the memorial who explained to us how the process of exhuming,collecting artifacts and establishing the center. He himself lost 4 sisters, something I couldn’t even fathom. One thing he said that really resonated with me was “people do not learn from the past.” It’s a frightening truth.

Following the memorial we headed to a restaurant called Karibu which means welcome in Swahili. It was an all you can eat buffet, usually I am weary of buffets but all the food was so fresh. They had whole halves of avocados to accompany your meal. In addition, they also had three different kinds of plantain delicious. And if that wasn’t good enough, our meal cost a total of 2,500 Francs which is 3.86!! How? I’m not even sure…

Following our delicious meal, we went to the Belgian massacre sight where 10 U.N peacekeepers were killed. The significance of this is not necessarily the deaths themselves but the subsequent pressure of Belgium on other countries to pull out of Rwanda. This issue soon became analogous with the Somalia affair just prior. The 10 Belgians were captured, tied up, put into a corner and killed with grenades. Sorry for the bluntness, but I don’t really know how to sugarcoat the truth.

Next on our list was the infamous Hotel Rwanda. By this time I was exhausted and I’m so glad to be back at the hotel!!

Arrival in Rwanda!

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After a long, turbulent flight we have finally arrived in Kigali, Rwanda! Upon initial arrival, I didn’t know what to expect. But once we stepped outside I understood the beauty that everyone raves about. The country is blanketed in green, a welcome change from the artificial foliage dominating the Doha streets.

The hotel, is amazing. No exaggeration. Massive bathroom, walk in shower, plasma tv, queen bed…it’s heaven. Everyone is complaining about something. I’ve tuned it out. I’m so happy to be here.

Today is probably one of the only days that I have free. We have a group dinner at a restaurant called “Heaven”, then we are free to explore the city. One of my best friends from high school studied abroad here, in 2011, so she is going to give me suggestions on all the hot spots in the city!

Rwanda!

I applied to a program through Georgetown University called Zones of Conflict, Zones of Peace and I just found out today that I was accepted into the program! During spring break 2013, we will travel to Rwanda to learn about the genocide and subsequent memorialization, reconciliation and justice in Rwandan society. Between now and then, I am taking a non-credit class that will delve into the history of Rwanda, literature written about the genocide and other sources that will prepare us for our trip in March. While we are in Rwanda we will meet with ‘politicians, journalists, community organizers, and other change-makers in  Rwanda, as well as visit points of historical interest.’ This will complement what we will have already learned. I am so grateful to be given this opportunity and I am so excited for the trip!