Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Bakiga Window Vol. II: A Sanctuary in a Storm

A lovely orange flower in the garden of the Memorial Centre.
I think that it is an oft-repeated mistake by bazungu to consider a canvas the scale of Africa, let alone East Africa, as being coloured by sweeping, broad brushstrokes. The result of such an error is that you can so easily miss the hidden nuances that exist below the bold primary colours.

It is Saturday 31st March 2012 and I have paused for a moment by a cascade of orange flowers in the gardens of the Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali, Rwanda. The air is warm and heavy and just how I like it.

From early this morning it has rained incessantly and has served as a timely baptism for this year’s group of students, dispelling the myths about the African continent being one big dust bowl early on. Just before we departed for the memorial centre, the sight of them huddled around in their waterproof coats, carrying faces filled with shock, was priceless.

Our arrival at the Memorial Centre provides the group with the opportunity to disperse and to learn about the events of April 1994 and the build up to the nationwide outpouring of hate and violence. Having visited the museum a few times, I take the opportunity to wander around the gardens outside.

Nestling part the way up a hill, looking out over a steep valley towards the hustle and bustle of the Avenue de la Gendarmerie, and almost completely hidden by trees from the Rwandese modernity of the Kigali City Tower, the gardens provide a perfect sanctuary for reflection.

The first garden in the sequence, Kigali.
Away from the mass graves and the wall of names of the victims, the genocide is represented in a series of three separate water gardens, reflecting the different stages that Rwandese society went through.

The first garden has a circular pool, with a few ceramic caricatures carrying plants. Crucially, these caricatures stand on opposite sides of the pool, facing away from each other with a small mountain of rocks making it impossible for the figures, should they ever turn around, to physically see each other.

Moving up the hill slightly, the second garden sees the figures, still not looking at each other, stood around a pool made up of sharp sides, exaggerating the sense of division and conflict. It is clear to see that where the first garden demonstrated the lack of mutual understanding that had been allowed to build and fester between the different ethnic groups, the second garden represents the actual Genocide of 1994.

Finally, and resting at the top of the slope, there is the last garden; a circular pool with the figures looking inwards representing reconciliation and a return to a peaceful and trusting society. Surely the position of this garden being the highest up the hill emphasise that understanding and peace not only conquers all, but is the most essential component of Rwanda’s post-Genocide revival.

As I amble slowly back towards the entrance to the gardens, I come across a couple of my students. From their questions it is clear that they are struggling to connect the events of April 1994 with the new East African metropolis that is sprawling its way across the mille collines that give Rwanda its nickname. After all, this country’s rebirth is without doubt amazing.

I explain to them that where we are stood is a small place in a massive continent, and sometimes what we see of Africa in the western media doesn’t reflect the much richer, sometimes violent, but more recently beautiful tapestry you can witness first hand. They are learning already.

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