Yesterday was my first full day in Kigali and it was…interesting. Well, it was much better than Sunday, the day I arrived, when I was a tad overwhelmed and had no idea where I was going!! The top three things I dislike in Kigali are:
1. The fact that there are NO street signs. Perfect.
2. People staring at me because I’m a muzungu (white person)
3. The lack of sidewalks. I swear I’m going to be hit by a car at some point.
So yesterday, my first port of call was the ORTPN – tourist office. There, I was lucky enough to be booked on the 2pm city tour since another couple was going too (and you need at least 2 people for it to run). So I then bought some dry goods at a gas station and then found a supermarket, which also only stocked dry goods, so I bought some water and a knife to spread the peanut butter I brought from Canada (well, my parents brought it from Canada to London and then I brought it from London to Rwanda) on my digestives. Yum!
I then went to the bank, where I was charged 90 USD to buy cash off of my VISA. Whoever said Africa was cheap has NOT spent a lot of time in Rwanda!!
Then I went back to ORTPN for the city tour. It was pretty good, albeit a bit overpriced at $20 since the two places we actually visited have free entry. We first visited the building where, in 1994, 10 Belgian UN soldiers were killed by the Interahamwe, in a successful attempt at getting the Belgians, and much of the UN, to withdraw. It was a very moving site. There was a blackboard where Belgians had written messages – such as “why did you kill the innocents?” Surprisingly, there was a skull-and-crossbones cartoon of Romeo Dallaire, asking him where were his ears and eyes. I was really shocked by this, considering how much Dallaire tried to do during the genocide and how affected he still is today. Our guide told us that Rwandans don’t blame him or draw cartoons of him, since they understand that he couldn’t do much on his own.
Then we drove around a bit, while our driver talked about the movie Hotel Rwanda and how it is fake. He said it was maybe 2% true. I’ve heard before that Rwandans aren’t particularly impressed with the movie, but our guide was pretty adamant that Paul Rusesabagina was not a good guy, that he charged people to let them stay in the hotel when he was told to give out any goods for free, and that he used the money to go to America. (But really, he’s in Belgium). I’m not sure which story is true, but the fact of the matter is that he did save a lot of people. He could have turned them over to the Interahamwe, like many did, but he did not. That, at least, is admirable.
Then we went to the Kigali Memorial Centre, where about 300,000 genocide victims are buried. The number keeps growing as bodies continue to be found, even 15 years later. It was a very moving museum, but I did find parts fairly simplistic. It is small though, compared to something like the Simon Wiesenthal Centre or even the Holocaust exhibit at the Imperial War Museum, so it can’t really cover everything in depth. The hardest things to see was the exhibit on child victims, which included such intimate details as their favourite foods, best friends (often a parent or sibling), last words, and the way they died. There was also an exhibit of skulls, clothes, and possessions found with the bodies. One room is entirely dedicated to family photos of victims; family members can come and put one up in the room. It was haunting.
We then drove some more, into the rich areas of Kigali – the estates. Some of these houses were HUGE, and cost around $500,000 USD. HERE, there were street signs! And there were security guards at many of the house entrances. We also caught glimpses of some slums, that are being torn down, the people moved, in order to build more of the monstrous houses.
Well, that was my first day. Today I’m catching up on some secondary research by the pool while hoping that my translator finally contacts me. If not, I’m going to start calling organizations tomorrow and hope for the best. I do have some independent contacts from my translator, but he has contacted orphanages for me so I need to visit them too. Plus, I’d like to actually have a friend/contact here.
Will write again soon – see everyone in Canada soon!!