Wednesday, May 11, 2011

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.

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