Frontline World

RWANDA - After the Genocide, December 2003
a FRONTLINE/World Fellows project
7/3/03 7/7/03 7/11/03 7/15/03 7/19/03 7/19/03 7/20/03 7/23/03
7/19/03 In the Countryside pacifique mukeshima Domina Nyirandayambaje Aloys Habimana
kibuye church
This 1994 massacre site is currently functioning again as a church. 11,400 died here, including my translator's uncle
I'm pretty shaken up after spending a few days in the countryside and haven't quite sorted things out. My translator Joseph and I decided for several reasons to go to the western part of the country -- to Kibuye province, which is about 60 miles west of Kigali. I'd heard it was a really beautiful, mountainous part of the country, and he's from there. (Joseph is a new translator, by the way, a relation of Jean Pierre, my first fixer, who has been booked for better-paying work with a Swiss documentary team.)

We packed into the back of a Toyota minivan -- four rows of seats that at one point, by my count, held 23 people -- for the ride out. The driver had a tape with about five songs that kept replaying, all of which I didn't know, except the Dire Straits' "Walk of Life," which is now stubbornly lodged in my head.

bike taxis
In rural Rwanda, bike taxis are the cheapest way to travel quickly between villages.
It was a three-hour ride to the town of Kibuye, which is next to Lake Kivu, a 30-mile-long, deep blue lake. We stayed at the Catholic mission, a little building out on a rocky promontory high above the lake that, somewhere else, might be the site of a pricey resort.

Joseph recalled coming to the church when he was a little kid with his uncle, who was then studying to be a priest. A sign in front of the church says that 11,400 people were slaughtered there on April 17, 1994. When we walked by, Joseph told me that his uncle was one of them. A little shack out front with skulls in the window serves as a memorial. As we left early the next morning, we could hear people singing hymns inside.

Rwanda's Neighborhood
United Nations Involvement
Root of Hutu/Tutsi Tension
Rwandan Civil War, 1990-1994
Rwanda's 1994 Genocide
Rwandan Patriotic Front
Paul Kagame
We took a minibus about 10 miles back toward Kigali, getting off in Joseph's village. As soon as we stepped out of the car people came forward to greet him. Later that day, he pointed out the house where he said that he'd grown up and where he'd hidden during the genocide.

Joseph told me that he'd survived the killing there along with his mother: They were lucky that no neighbors denounced them to the killers. Joseph told me he'd had to sneak out at night to bury two of his neighbors when the stench of their decomposing bodies began to overwhelm the survivors.

Joseph said that his father was killed at a checkpoint during the genocide. His mother died a few years later under mysterious circumstances. Joseph suspects that she was poisoned for asking too many questions about the circumstances of her husband's murder.

We planned on going to a village about five miles from the main road -- they happened to be having a gacaca that day -- so we hired two teenage boys to take us there on the backs of their bikes, which have platforms outfitted with padding above the rear tires. As we bumped along the rocky road, little kids ran behind us shouting Muzungu! Muzungu! (White man! White man!).

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