In 1995 I (Gert Jan) met sub-Saharan Africa for the first time, a memory that came back today at all vehemence.
How I became acquainted with this part of the continent was actually pure chance. I worked also with Lievense Consulting Engineers then (now Lievense ) and was asked if I wanted to go to Tanzania for a project. In my rashness/ naivety I said yes, and before I knew it I was on the plane to Kigali, Rwanda to cooperate in north-western Tanzania in the engineering of a water system for the refugee camps in Ngara.
After meeting with a UN colleague in Geneva, we arrived at a destroyed airport of Kigali. We were put in a car and drove through Rusumo to Tanzania. The refugee camps in Ngara provided shelter to 2 to 300,000 people who had fled the genocide in Rwanda, traumatized people who were afraid every day for possible killers of the Intrahamwe.
Despite that I was always warmly welcomed.
An unforgettable experience.
Yesterday and today we gave my memories a new spot.
Yesterday we drove past the place where the camps were located. Nothing recalls of the camps, that is among the trees and shrubs that have grown again some concrete foundations appear. Furthermore, it is now simply countryside with villages and facilities. Only the landscape reminded me of the mission that I performed.
Today we visited the genocide-museum in Kigali. This commemorates the 250,000 victims who were killed in the 100 days after April 1994. This is a reminder place especially for the Rwandans, but also for us as relative outsiders it is an impressive monument that we have experienced with tears in our eyes. The video testimonies made a huge impression. In the garden of memories we have been silent. The wall with names of victims was overwhelming. The mass graves, where remains of the victims are buried and still are added regularly, hurt in their silent testimony. The exhibition space inside gives an impression of the events in 1994, which events preceded it and how Rwanda has picked up again.
This is a visit that we will always remember.
Afterwards I talked to Jean Bosco, the driver who took us from our stay, the Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel to the museum and later brought us to and from the center of Kigali. He is also a victim of the genocide, he survived as the only one of his family’s slaughter, he was 11 years old. He tells me that the grief over the years gained a place and especially the annual commemoration of 100 days, plays an important role. I get cold despite the sun shining and with a lump in my throat I hear his story.
I did not realise all this in 1995. As also highlighted the exhibition, the world looked the other way. Also in Europe historical horrors happened, Yugoslavia disintegrated. Now it all came bac, pffff.