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  • Day4

    From Heaven to Hell

    July 3, 2017 in Rwanda ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    7am breakfast on the outdoor deck of the Heaven restaurant, under the shade of an Umuvumu tree. This is significant because it's the tree which is found in many villages where they hold town meetings, and is a symbol of repair and reconciliation. For this particular tree, the workers cut through the large roots on one side of the tree when constructing the deck - even though the owners gave instructions to leave the trees untouched - but to their amazement, the tree sent down stilts to support and repair itself on the damaged side, and is still going strong today.

    After a fab breakfast buffet including fresh juice (pineapple, Japanese plum/bush tomato and mango), and an omlette toasted in a chipati, we headed out on a city tour.
    It's a public holiday today for Independence Day (it was actually on July 1, but is observed on the next working day), but the streets were still busy with moto-taxis, bicycles and pedestrians galore.

    Our first stop was the Genocide Memorial and Museum, which was a very sombre experience. On the site, there are 250,000 victims of the 1994 genocide buried in mass graves, where tourists visit to pay respects, and locals visit to have a sense of family, where often they are the only surviving member of their family.

    The museum follows the history of Rwanda from pre colonial days to today, mainly concentrating on the 100 days from April to July 1994 where 1 million people were killed, mostly by machete.

    After the killing stopped on 4 July 1994, a government of national unity was formed, which urged people to rebuild their lives together, without seeking revenge - quite an undertaking! It's hard to imagine how they do it, but Rwandans try to meet face to face with the people who killed their loved ones, or with the survivors of people they themselves killed. They have a determination to move on with life, to get past the seemingly impossible, no matter who or what they must forgive, in others or in themselves.

    They achieved this feat through Gacaca (grass) courts, literally held in the village square, often under an Umuvumu tree. Over the space of 10 years, 12,000 community based courts were convened across the country, and 1.9 million cases heard - those who admitted their part in the genocide, confesed fully and asked for forgiveness face to face with surviving family members, were offered half their sentence as community service building roads, making bricks or building houses for survivors. Many survivors were able to learn the fate of loved ones, locate their bodies and bury them with dignity, often at the Genocide Memorial site.
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