Atop a hill, like a thousand other in Rwanda, we quietly walked behind a woman of about 30 years. She wears a bright red skirt, an immaculately pressed and clean white striped shirt, white socks and black shoes. The path well kept and covered in shards of quartzite and granite. An array of buildings ahead of us all looking long and roughly the same. About half way we see a group of women at the side of one building laughing and chatting. Washing clothes. They wave. We wave back. All behind the main building. A college.

Another woman waits patiently at the steps to the right most building for us to walk the 200 metres or so. She smiles and welcomed us warmly in French. She is in a bright yellow dress and somewhat older than the previous woman. She enquired as to our country. “Je suis Irlandais”. This is the only question she asks. Slowly she walks forward towards the first door. I notice a soldier further down the corridor. Armed and attentive, he eyes us up and down, then looks back at the panorama to my right. The door to my left is metal and heavy. The ochre red paint starting to peel. It creeks loudly and slowly. A pungent smell fills my nose immediately. Unlike anything I’ve smelt before. The walls concrete and bare. We are ushered further into the room. I look down.

There are ramshackle wooden tables. Put together without due care and attention. They are painted white and are about knee height or so. Three bouquets of flowers are on the bare floor. Kinyarwanda on their ribbons. On the tables lay the bodies of about fifty people. White from the lime. The smell is overpowering. The shock indescribable. Men, women and children. Shrivelled, twisted, disgruntled, disfigured and melted. All with various expressions. A tuft of hair. A leg with no foot. Toothless mouths. A lone skull. Flesh, withered. Shadows of their former selves. Murdered. ALL of them. Exhumed from a mass grave and on display. A macabre sight and the smell more so. We are ushered to the next room. “Chambre des Enfants”. This room just for the children. Again the door creeks. More ramshackle tables. More and more children. Sons & daughters. Just babies. I break down outside. The young women puts her arm around me and comforts me. She smiles and I don’t know why. My emotions uncontrollable as this horror drives home.

50,000 Tutsis murdered here in two days. 24 rooms with 50,000 withered, twisted, limed corpses inside. By bullet or machete, it didn’t matter. Neither did it matter about sex or age. We continue to each and every room. I force myself to do so. I can’t look at Molly. Nor she at I. A man turns up. A notable hole in his left forehead. He introduces himself. He mentions that only four survived. He is one. He did so by laying with the dead. We enter room after room, after room, after room of dead withered limed murdered people. The woman mentions that this one, of purely skulls and thigh bones, houses her husband and three children. Molly is on the verge. I wonder. “How she can go into this room daily ?… How can this man walk the ground where so many of his people, family and friends spent their last agonising minutes…?” The man motions in a chopping motion at one of the skulls. “Like this!!” he says. “Machete, Machete!!”.

We walk into another room where the clothes of the dead are. So many clothes and four pairs of shoes. Where have the rest all the shoes gone I wonder ?. “This is where the French flag was!”, they exclaim. A marker signifies where the French soldiers “played Volley” during all of this. Another marks the mass graves. Four in all. We walk back. The women again washing. Not clothes but human remains. Skulls and bones of all types brown and old looking. Eight to ten women all with rubber gloves STILL processing the bones of possible family members. My stomach convulses.

Its 15 years to the day since this happened. Making it all the more poignant. These people divided and conquered by the Belgians and the atrocities fuelled and financed by the French. Weapons bought from the Egyptians. Ignored by the world. Why did it happen? A concoction of calamities. Why am I here ? Good question. Maybe everyone who comes to Rwanda needs to. To pay tribute. To learn. To understand. This is a tough place to take in and digest. We walk away quietly through the gates and back to town. I try to fathom what I’ve just seen. “Why?” I think. Ubuntu (put simply) – I am, because we are. The natural rhythm of the Bantu people disrupted by colonists for material gain.

So, NO Ubuntu.

muni

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