The next morning, we awoke early for breakfast, where I met Jason, Adam and another reporter, Mary (she was doing a story on politics, not travel, but was still on our travel press trip). We ate quickly because we were being shuffled off on a bus tour of Kigali.
We could have slept in because we left late for the trip, and then when we arrived at Rwanda Development Board’s headquarters, we waited some more.
When we finally boarded the bus for our tour, we stopped back at our hotel to pick up a TV crew from Uganda who would be joining us on our city tour.
For an hour, we drove up and down the hills of Kigali.
It was like nothing I had ever seen before. People walked in the roads, balancing what seemed to be kilos and kilos on their heads, motorbikes and cars and motorbike taxis shared the streets with pedestrians. Shacks lined the streets next to huge homes and businesses.
Our tour took us through the new part of Kigali, beyond the dirt roads … to the homes being built by locals. Scaffolding was simply rickety wood piled high, workers crafted the homes in front of our eyes.
This was no fine tuned corporation pumping out homes. This was local people, building homes other local people would live in.
Then, it was on to the Kigali Memorial Centre, because it is so important people never forget what the people of Rwanda endured to become who they are today.
I’m not going to lie. I knew there was a genocide in Rwanda, but that was the extent of my knowledge.
The memorial we visited hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt very similar to the way I felt when I visited Auschwitz, except even more appalled. This genocide happened in my lifetime. While I lived in Maryland in 1994, worrying about what to wear to school, people my age in Rwanda were fighting for their lives. And not making it.
The exhibit was poignant. Displays featured crude photos, harsh reminders of the country’s past, and images that will not ever leave my brain. The memorial hits home when visitors walk into a room shrouded in darkness. The only things lit are the visible reminders of what happened to an entire population of people.
Skulls lined up.
Clothing, torn and tattered, found in some of Kigali’s mass graves.
I stood there, ready to weep.
But, it would be even worse upstairs — the hardest of the memorial for me was the room dedicated to the children who were victims of the senseless killings. In this room were photos of the children, along with personal information about each — what they liked, what they wanted to be when they grew up, their favorite sports, their favorite food … and then, heartbreakingly, their cause of death.
Hacked by a machete; bludgened with rocks; tortured to death; stabbed in the eyes; grenade thrown in the shower; burnt alive; Gikondo Chapel; shot dead; killed at Mlehoro Church; a 2-year-old smashed against a wall; a 9-month-old macheted in his mother’s arms.
That information hurt the most to learn.
There was also the mass graves outside. A beautiful garden home to more than 250,000 victims of the genocide. Unmarked concrete slabs overlooking the hills of Kigali.
Our group walked out of the center quietly and boarded the bus, back into the city which was now thriving and at peace. A far cry from 16 years earlier.
The next stop was Rhugeri for World Environment Day and Kwita Izina, the naming of the baby gorillas.
Disclosure: Lodging, meals and activities were courtesy of the Rwanda Development Board.