In 2010 I visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC; on multiple occasions I have visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg; last year I made my first visit to Freedom Park, Pretoria. I spent the past two days on a Rwanda Genocide Tour and it was nothing like I have experienced before. After completing my blog about the trip to Rwanda, I took a shower, had breakfast- which is included in the accommodation I am staying at- and headed out to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. After being on a bus overnight I decided that I would take a slow walk to the centre. This way I can see parts of town in the short time that I am around. It took me 1 hour 15 minutes to get from Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel to the centre and the walk was rather interesting. It felt like I was observing life for the first time without the urge to actively participate; it is interesting what you begin to see when you are not looking to react. Anyway, after arriving at the museum I was given a brief introduction and could begin my tour. This was the first time I did a tour like this one my own so I decided that I would spend as much time as I could at each location I manage to get to and take the most out of the information given to me. In order to make sure I was getting as much information as possible I paid for the optional audio guide, which is 6 000 Rwandan Franc (R100). I also paid the 6 000 Rwandan Franc fee to take pictures as I wanted to keep the option open to myself. I spent 3 hours walking around the centre and engaging with the very well organised information. After this I sat for lunch at the centre’s cafe. The cafe has a great selection of food and drinks; I opted for the buffet and a soda, which cost me 3 500 Rwandan Franc (R60) in total. After this, I walked back to the hostel using a different route so I could see a little more of the city.
Today, Tuesday the 23, I decided to try make my way to Nyamata and Ntarama Churches, two of memorial sites close to Kigali city. Though the hostel offers a tour, which includes refreshments and a meal, I decided to go at it on my own. I took a motorcycle from the hostel to the bus and taxi station (700 Rwandan Franc/ R12). When I arrived I realized how big the station actually is (I arrived in the dark the last time). To be safe I decided to walk towards the offices and ask there; One of the gentlemen in the office called a conductor to take me to the bus that goes to Nyamata. I bought my ticket at the Excel Travel office for 500 Rwandan Franc (R9) and went to sit on the bus. The buses seem to leave regularly so do not worry about what time you arrive. The drive there took us 45 minutes and once you get dropped off at the Nyamata station you can get a motorcycle just outside the gate. The first driver I spoke to did not know where the church was but insisted he would find it; after my experiences in India I decided to politely decline and look for someone who knew where I wanted to go. I found a young gentlemen who offered to take me there for 300 Rwandan Franc (R5). On the way I asked him if he knew here the Ntarama Memorial Site was; I explained that I had seen the sign for it just before we drove into Nyamata but I did not want to get a bus ticket back as I was not sure where to go from the main road, where I would be dropped off. After he convinced me that he was sure he knew where it was we negotiated that he would take me to both sites and back to the bus station for 4 000 Rwandan Franc (R68). Honestly, there is very little I can say about my experience at the sites. When you walk into the churches they have the clothes and some of the remains of the victims so you can get an idea of how many people were killed and how they were killed, looking at the marks on the skulls and bones. They also have remains of people who symbolize a group- for example a woman who was raped and beaten to represent the thousand of women who experienced this during the genocide. Outside they have mass graves; At Nyamata you can walk down to see the coffins of those buried there (if you want to; I passed on this) and at Ntarama the coffins are currently in the church, so you will see them as you walk in. They are, however, digging up a place for the coffins just outside the church so I would imagine it would be like the Nyamata site. I was never ready for the feeling you get and the amount of emotions you feel just by standing outside these locations. I guess the information I received at the Kigali Centre as well as all the online material available to read and watch of survivors recalling what happened at each location flooded my mind as I arrived. I could imagine the happenings that had been explained and the setting of the sites makes all of that so much more real. All the centres are free to enter but rely on visitors donations to maintain the sites so please be sure to take some extra money for this.
I don’t think I was mentally ready for all of this but I am glad I made the trip. It will be a memory I will never forget. A must for anyone in and around this area, even if you just do the main centre in Kigali.