Guards today have been all over me…speaking in a somewhat authoritative Kiswahili. I feel as though in Kinyarwanda they would be full-on scary. Why am I taking pictures, why am I there, this is where I should go to seek assistance, why am I still walking alone on the compound….
Urwibutso rwa Nyanza ya Kicukiro. My first of three destinations today that will see me visit Rebero Memorial and Kandt’s House in Nyarugenge District. Nyanza was set up following the assassination of 10 Belgian soldiers at Camp Kigali and with the subsequent withdrawal of Belgian troops, the Tutsis here were left unprotected, took refuge in the Ecole Technique Officielle (ETO) grounds and were ultimately taken to Nyanza and massacred.
I get there by bus from Kimironko Taxi Park. The fare is 240 RWF by the Tap and Go smart card. I’m among the first few to get on the bus and I quickly avoid those seats placed on top of the tires at the back.
Seating next to the tire in this smart bus is hectic. Basically in every bus. That, and sitting on those sandwich seats in between the aisle with old, loose backrests that make you prefer to sit up and stare in front at the next one and how horridly useless it seems. Also, standing up on these buses is a triceps’ exercise in itself. What with all the hilly-curvy-ness that is Kigali. Couple that with constant checks on Google Maps to find out where the hell you are; it’s all adrenaline making a commute in this city.
The road south to Nyanza-Kicukiro is mostly straight but quite hilly and hot. No tree is visible on either side of the road. It’s also noon and already 28°C outside.
After being somewhat interrogated by a burly guard who speaks some Kiswahili that, remarkably, isn’t tainted by Congolese pronunciation, a guide is brought to me to make sure ‘I do not walk alone’. He turns out to be an interesting man.
He doesn’t like the colonizer or his non-African name. An R… Name that I’ve now forgotten. He tells me his actual name is Uamahoro – bringer of peace. And he says that if he ever does get children, he wouldn’t give them ‘religious’ names. He doesn’t think Uamahoro is pagan in the least. Also, he doesn’t take lunch, or food, unless he feels like, which he says is rarely.
“I used to eat a lot back when I was in school, but now, now I not feel like. But I know why. It’s because of an internship I did at a company and at lunch, I wouldn’t go… so my body became used to it.”
He tells me about how Nyanza came to be a place of ‘taking out the garbage’. Early in the morning of April 7, 1994, Tutsis began arriving at the École Technique Officielle (ETO) on the outskirts of Kigali, in Kicukiro, seeking the protection of the 90 Belgian UN peacekeepers stationed there. At first, the Belgians said the people would have to leave by the next morning, but later the peacekeepers relented and let them stay on the school grounds.
But when Belgium withdrew its UN troops, the soldiers stationed at ETO left, abandoning at least 2,000 Rwandans at the school, including 400 children. The refugees pleaded with the soldiers not to leave them behind to certain death. Some even begged to be shot—so they wouldn’t be hacked to death.
A little after one o’clock on that afternoon, the Belgians got into their jeeps and drove off. Some desperate Rwandans tried to block the convoy by lying down on the road, but the soldiers fired over their heads. Almost immediately after the Belgians left, Rwandan soldiers and militia entered the school grounds and proceeded to “take out the garbage.” They herded the refugees along a dirt road to a nearby place – Nyanza, which was a garbage dump, and murdered them.
I saw 620 names on the Wall of Memory, that’s the most they could gather while picking up the pieces…