One hundred and one reasons to visit Rwanda – Part I

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In 1994, Rwanda suffered a horrific genocide, Hutu’s and Tutsi’s clashed, and almost one million people were slaughtered in just one hundred days. But despite the past, the people of Rwanda work together with hope and understanding, to make sure an event like this never takes place again.

This understanding and forgiveness is a credit to those who are left behind, and a fitting testament to their cause is the Kigali Memorial Centre, where the bodies of over 250,000 victims are now buried. But, this is not just a burial site, this is a place to learn from the past and bring hope to future generations.

Set on a hillside, surrounded by gardens full of beautiful roses, the Kigali Memorial Centre glistens. The atmosphere is quiet and peaceful, a sense of well being and tranquillity fills the air, and even the chatter of visiting children seems appropriate. Inside, the feeling remains, but a sense of sadness and reality takes hold. The bright sunshine is replaced by three exhibition rooms where spotlights create an atmosphere. Detailed, touching but truthful information highlights key stages in the genocide; the road leading up to the events, the 100 days of the genocide, and the aftermath. This is the first floor, which also houses a photo memorial, a picture gallery filled with photos of the victims from happy times. Times of special family occasions – weddings, birthdays, family get togethers, and proud portraits in best clothes. These pictures, and a collection of clothing, brings home that these people were real people, human beings just like everybody else.

The second floor is also a place for reflection; it is the children’s memorial. Here, along with images of children, their school rooms and pictures of their family lives, fourteen windows each tell the story of one child – their favourite sport, food, drink, best friend, and finally, their cause of death…following this part of the exhibit a balcony overlooks the gardens to allow for a moment of reflection.

Francine Murengezi Ingabire
Age: 12 years
Favourite sport: Swimming
Favourite food: Eggs and chips
Favourite drink: Milk and Fanta tropical
Best friend: Her elder sister Claudette
Cause of death: Hacked by machete

In April 2012, Francine would have celebrated her 30th Birthday, maybe she would have been a doctor or a mother. But today, in her own way, she is a teacher, teaching others that ethnic cleansing is not acceptable.

There is much much more to this memorial and its gardens, and this is not the only one of its kind in Rwanda, there are others. They all tell a story which will hopefully help to demonstrate some unforgettable lessons to the world. To some, this may seem like a reason not to visit Rwanda, but this centre helps local people and visitors to understand what makes the Rwandan people what they are – strong, forgiving and caring. This is an exceptionally compelling reason to visit their beautiful country.

http://www.kigalimemorialcentre.org/old/index.html

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Just Back – from a great discovery (for Telegraph Travel)

With the washing piled high and the unused emergency sewing kit still to put away, I know the holiday’s over.

The planning and hopes, the time we spent together getting dusty, muddy, and wet is over, and now we are left with just our thoughts and some wonderful photos to remind us of the really good time we had together.

We’re just back from Namibia. It was just like being young again. We did crazy things, things we shouldn’t have, and best of all we spent time laughing. That’s what life used to be like, fun, free, and time spent doing things you wanted to do, even if it wasn’t what everyone else expected.

We’ve never been compliant, and no doubt at 5am when we were still in our tent and everyone else was heading out on safari, they thought we were missing the best experiences, but we weren’t. We had our own experiences, and we still managed to see that illusive leopard right near the camp. The others had missed her because she wasn’t there earlier, she knew it would be quiet now; the tourists were long gone. We saw the incredible sight of thousands of seals at Cape Cross, we saw the dunes at Sossusvlei, and we did all those other ‘must do’ things, but in our own kind of way.  We also got to do one of the best and most unexpected things; we got to talk to Connie.

Connie runs a restaurant at Klien Aub, the middle of nowhere, and for 27 days she hadn’t seen another soul. She opens at 8, and closes at 5 every day. She waits for people to call, normally she bakes cookies, but for a few weeks she hasn’t bothered because nobody comes, but today is different. Today she still looks a million dollars in her lilac two piece and perfectly combed hair, but today she also makes coffee for her ‘special guests’. We sit and talk, we talk to her, we talk to her cat, and we read the postcards and letters that’s she’s received from all over the world from previous customers she’s made coffee for. They say what a wonderful hostess she is, include pictures of themselves with her, and say they’ll see her next time.  She’s so proud.

Travel is all about exploration and discovery and one of the best places to discover is yourself, that’s what we did on our trip to Namibia. As well as discovering a diverse country with wildlife and desert, we discovered ourselves again, and what a wonderful discovery it was. And, when I look back tomorrow, and in the future, what I’ll always remember is that it’s the little unexpected things that make you smile.