With my last day in Rwanda coinciding with UNAIDS zero discrimination day I decided to print out some butterfly logos, some kindly translated into Kinyarwandan by Tall Eric, and explore a country that 20 years ago almost to the day witnessed the culmination of 40 years of discrimination and murder when in 1994 nearly 1 million people were murdered in a 100 day genocide.
First stop was to the Kicukiro Oval home of cricket in Rwanda to witness a girls match between White Cloud and Charity. It is always a poignant place as this was the scene of a mass killing during the genocide when the Belgium peace keepers pulled out of the area where thousands had gathered to seek refuge.
Female cricket is growing rapidly in Rwanda and it was good to watch a whole match, there was a wide range of ages playing as is often the case but it was encouraging to watch the older girls encourage and help the young ones, some who are still in primary school.
After the match we hailed a taxi to a memorial site at Ntarama, after about half a mile had passed Eric pointed to an area at the side of the road and explained that this was where most of the victims from the Oval were killed after they had been marched from the school. Our driver then spoke up and explained that he had been there that day as a child and had somehow escaped with his life.
We then drove for another 20 minutes or so through the impossibly beautiful Rwandan countryside until we reached the church in Ntarama. As a catholic church this was again seen as a safe place to seek refuge and indeed over 5,000 massed there during the first week of the killing. Safety was only temporary though and soon the Interhamwe killers arrived.
Having been to Rwanda several times and visited the national memorial I thought I would be as desensitized as it is possible to be about such a horrific event. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The main church building which probably covers an area slightly smaller than a tennis court still contains the remains and belongings of some 12,000 people. Racks of skulls many clearly children’s fill one wall and coffins line the floor each containing the remains of around 100 people. There are holes in the walls from grenades and others from hammers as the killers smashed their way in.
After the church comes the priests changing room, stacked with school books that children had brought with them in the hope they could return to their studies. Then after a short walk up the hill the Sunday school where one wall is still stained with blood from where children were smashed against the wall.
I have no means to describe here the sights, sounds and smells of that place only to say that it will live with me forever as a reminder of all that can go wrong when we discriminate against our fellow man.
After walking out of the gates to dry my eyes and collect my thoughts I was accosted by a few small children fascinated as always by the Mzungo who was walking around.
Eric explained to me that this village had been built for the orphans and asked if I would like to have a walk about. There we met Annette a survivor from the genocide and mother to one of the small boys trailing in our wake.
She very kindly chatted to me and I think seeing my fragile state asked if I would like to come into her home to escape the heat. It was there that the morning took its final strange turn as on the wall of her living room was a large mural depicting several butterflies. She explained that many of the homes in the village have them and that they were added as a symbol of hope and freedom for the children.
It is incredible to think that only 20 years have passed and yet the people of this country live again in harmony. Never again is the motto often used and there is a real determination that the discrimination of the past will have no future here in Rwanda.