Skip to main content

The Bakiga Window: The Road in Ntarama

The road near the Ntarama Genocide Memorial.
The instant that you walk off the plane in Kigali, Rwanda, you feel your skin begin to smolder from the potency of the sun. Crossing the wide expanse of tarmac and rounding the large concrete safety barriers that resemble British coastal defenses makes reaching the terminal building a welcome relief from the unrelenting sun.

By the following day, exposed in the afternoon sun in Ntarama, the relative luxury of the airport terminal building is a million miles away, but I feel thankful that this world of concrete and air travel is left behind. I feel that I have returned home.

Ntarama, to a foreigner, is fundamentally a place of mourning. Rwanda has, to a great extent, moved on from the turmoil of the Genocide in 1994, but the countryside is still pock-marked by the scars of the ethnic violence of April that year. Today is Saturday 9th April and the country is two days into its annual week of remembrance which commemorates the start of the well-planned frenzy of ethnic cleansing that went largely unnoticed in the Western world at the time.

I have visited the memorial in Ntarama before. This year I pay my respects from a distance, briefly exploring the compound alone, before finding some of my students who have found the tour too upsetting to continue. 

In the street, life continues as normal whilst we talk. Surely a far cry from the madness of 1994. Now, children play in the street, seemingly unaware of the nation-wide mourning taking place around them. They happily kick a sad looking football around the streets and wave at us, trying to engage us in conversation about English football teams. They know little of Aston Villa.

Heading up the road in the vague direction of Kigali, after about half a mile, we are brought to a halt in the road. A memorial service is taking place on the road. Women and men are dressed in their Sunday best. Many in shaded glasses. Many holding large purple and white bouquets of flowers. All solemn.

Awkwardly and shamefacedly, we are waved through, and drive slowly through the middle of the mourning congregation, bowing our heads.


Popular posts from this blog

Atay Maghrebi: To Essaouira and the Atlantic

Leaving Marrakech, the landscape stays flat, except for a few distant outcrops of rock. The sensation of the inhospitality of the environment creeps up on you as the olive groves become fewer and further between and rough scrub runs away to the base of distant hills.
Eventually, the landscape starts to undulate as you pass through small towns like Sid L’Mokhtar, and, after two hours, Morocco simply runs out of land as the coach starts to plummet down to the Atlantic coastline and the peeling whitewash of Essaouira’s medina.

The morning started with the obligatory slices of sweet cake dipped into apricot jam, with a side of yoghurt and coffee. I had a chat with Merissa who was already awake and wearing sunglasses like she was nursing a hangover.
I packed up my bags and meandered my way out of the medina towards Bab Laksour to get a taxi.
Having learned the lesson last year that taxi metres are always mysteriously broken in Marrakech, I readied myself for a battle with the driver who…

Atay Maghrebi: Out of the Dark and into Jemaa El-Fnaa

The night time offers a wealth of opportunity and intrigue in almost any country, but when I'm somewhere where my understanding of the language extends to just a handful of phrases and disconnected words, I find it all the more enthralling. Marrakech genuinely quickens the pulse and widens the eyes by night, with the famous Jemaa El-Fnaa as its wildly arrhythmic beating heart.

After a day of perfectly idle wandering and preparing for my journey to Essaouira, I sat up on the roof terrace, ordered atay, read the ending of Alex Garland’s The Beach and waited for sunset.

During this time, a Dutch woman and a Belgian man sat near to me and started to talk about a range of subjects. Most of their discussion was centred around the regular banalities of two travellers who don’t know each other well and clearly don’t have a great deal in common.
Shortly before sunset, the Belgian man caught my attention as he started to regale his newfound friend with quotes from the Quran taken both ou…

From a Crooked Rib by Nuruddin Farah

I stumbled across Nuruddin Farah’s novels when searching for something written by a Somali author. Perhaps due to the conflict that has raged for years in Somalia, it is very difficult to find much from Somali writers published in English.
From a Crooked Rib was published in 1970 and tells the story of Ebla, a young, orphaned, illiterate nomadic girl, who runs away from her encampment. She takes the decision to leave upon learning of her Grandfather’s intention to marry her off to an older man within their Jes (a group of families living in an encampment together).
She firstly escapes to a town, Belet Amin, where she finds her cousin and his pregnant wife. She also finds a guide and confidante in a character known only as the widow. Things seem settled until, yet again, Ebla finds her freedom compromised by a male character – this time her cousin, whose wife and child Ebla has been nursing.
In her haste she leaves Belet Amin with the widow’s nephew, bound for Mogadishu – still called