Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Heat and Dust in Nyamata

May 25th

Els decides she wants to go to Kigali and internet home, so she leaves first thing. Until recently they have had a wireless internet facility in Nyamata which meant they had the best connections of any VSOs outside the capital. But the office which provided the wireless connection was moved, and the owner of the internet café can’t get his act together and spend the capital to replace it. So he loses everybody’s custom but just shrugs it off as inevitable…..

Marisa and I go for a walk to see the town. It absolutely scorching hot, even at 9 in the morning. Marisa’s only doing an eight month placement. So she’s back to Canada at the end of August. She’s concerned about how she’ll fare in the hot and dusty months ahead.

There’s some sort of religious revivalist preacher in town; last night he was holding forth from a marquee on the edge of the playing field; today is Sunday and he’s installed in a church. This is a new church – the old church in Nyamata is one of the most notorious genocide sites in the country. Hundreds of people were shot as they huddled inside the church for protection. The church is now a museum; bullet holes pockmark the walls and the victims’ skeletons are preserved to remind people of what happened. Unfortunately the church is closed today because it’s a special Catholic Feast Day and there are all sorts of processions taking place.

I’m not sure what the name of the religious event is; I think it’s something like “Holy Sacrament Day”. In some places people have made patterns with flower petals in the dust of the paths; pictures the size of table tops. It’s difficult to sort out what’s happening because there seem to be 4 things all going on at once. There’s a group of Intoré drummers performing somewhere in the distance. There are huge crowds turning up to listen to the visiting revivalist. There’s this Holy Sacrament Day which seems to be especially favoured for first communions; little girls are everywhere dressed in white “wedding dresses”; boys in natty waistcoats with brand new rosaries round their necks. And it’s “Liberation Day” to mark the day in 1994 when the RPF troops finally chased out the “ancien régime” and the reign of arbitrary terror came to an end. People are walking in the hot sun to the top of a hill about a mile out of town. I’m told you can see into Burundi from the top of the hill but it’s too fierce out in the sun and there’ll be no shade. And anyway, we’re not dressed for any sort of formal occasion.

We keep bumping into work colleagues of Marisa. Because Nyamata is so much smaller than Gitarama she seems to know a lot more people than me. We walk through one of her school yards; the outside walls are used as teaching aids with pictures of human anatomy and maps of Africa and Rwanda in bright colours. What a good idea – passive learning using blank walls. I take a load of pictures to show my colleagues in Muhanga.

With so many festivals going on it’s no surprise to find just about everywhere is closed; by mid morning even the buses have stopped running. We drift back home – it’s too hot to go on walking outside – and relax for an hour. Then I pack up all my stuff and we go back into town; fortunately there’s a good café which is just opening and we eat well in a shady booth in a quiet little courtyard.

I take leave of Marisa and bag a decent seat on a sweltering bus and eventually we return to Kigali. We cross the big river, here labelled as the Akagera, which meanders through a wide valley full of papyrus grass and swamp grass. The old Bailey bridge is being replaced by a brand new concrete structure, but they haven’t quite finished the approach roads yet so we swing off the road and bump along a rutted track to the old bridge. This bridge is single lane, which in Rwanda means whoever’s got the biggest vehicle takes precedence. There are no lorries to be seen, so we clank and clatter across and all too soon we’re back in Kigali.

I just want to get back home, so go straight to the Atraco depot. Here I find there are no fewer than 9 other muzungus on the bus with me. Some are with an Australian rugby team visiting Rwanda; others can speak some Kinya and clearly are working here, though whereabouts they are in Gitarama is a mystery to me. On the way home we see a group baptism taking place in a river – total immersion in the middle of the rice fields! Not quite the river Jordan, but it’ll do for Rwanda!

Back home it’s time to relax and doze until we all go out to Tranquillité for the usual Sunday night meal and chat. I even start planning an itinerary for when Teresa and co come out to visit me at the end of July.

Best thing about today – it’s nice to be back in cool, bustling Gitarama! Nyamata is fine for a visit, but I’m very happy to be placed where I am!

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