07 Apr

This was not my usual Bugesera weekend getaway. As I crossed Nyabarongo River, the popular Gahembe brochette was not on my mind. Neither was the mojito I like sipping while chilling on the swinging hammock at Bugesera Lake Hotel.

My destination was Ntarama Genocide Memorial. Upon arrival, I joined a group of foreign tourists visiting Rwanda with Kobo Safaris. What followed was a guided tour that served as a remainder of the darkest chapter in the history of the land of 1,000 Hills.

Built in the 1980s, the property was originally a Catholic Church. Like it was the case elsewhere in the country, a magnitude of targeted Rwandans sought refuge in the church and its compound during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

The perpetrators of previous massacres had refrained from committing their heinous crimes in places of worship. That explains why numerous people flocked churches in 1994. In a shocking twist of events, the mother of all massacres saw Rwandan churches becoming slaughterhouses.The vast majority of Rwandans were Catholics. The popularity of Christianity in the former Belgian colony is traced to the baptism of King Mutara III Rudahigwa and the ensuing dedication of the protectorate to Jesus Christ in the 1940s.

Back at Ntarama, our tour was kicked off in the church’s main building. Then we proceeded to the parish office, Sunday School and kitchen. Finally, we laid a wreath on the mass grave and observed a minute of silence.The sight of skulls with visible machete-inflicted cuts, bullet holes and damages caused by other brutal objects shook me to the core. While storming the church, bloodthirsty killers broke through parts of the walls — leaving behind openings that are preserved to date.

The aforementioned weapons are also displayed alongside photos of some of the victims, their clothes and other belongings. As I skimmed through exercise books used by children before their untimely deaths, my heart bled.

Also on the premises, is a spacious hangar stuffed with clothing items that belonged to innocent souls who encountered the devil in the house of God. Inside the chambers of the mass grave, coffins full of our beloved ones’ remains are piled up. I could barely spend a minute down there. On my way out of the final resting place of 5,000 victims, I saw their names engraved on a polished wall.

While in the Sunday School, our guide narrated incidents involving cutting open the wombs of pregnant women and smashing their fetuses on the wall. Twenty-nine years down the line, the wall in question still bears dry blood stains.