24. NYAMATA SCHOOL PHOTO
We continued on the road east to Gitarama, then northeast to Kigali, then south to Bugesera and the town of Nyamata. I'd recently read a book about survivors of the genocide there, who had spent several weeks hiding in the hills and swamps.
Their stories of firstly running to the churches for sanctuary - where they miraculously escaped mass slaughter - and then secondly into the papyrus and eucalyptus trees during the day and into the schools at night - were awe inspiring. I excerpted some of their stories in the article RPF INKOTANYI SAVED SURVIVORS.
Bugesera, back in earlier days, was mostly uninhabited savannah and marsh full of elephants and tsetse flies. Then in 1959 - after King Rudahigwa died - the Belgians favoured Hutus and exiled Tutsis - some of whom moved to Bugesera instead of leaving Rwanda altogether. They had a rough life breaking ground and growing crops in the wet of the swamps and the drought of the hills, but in the latter years they were well established - living side by side with Hutus who had moved here too.
The first sign that you're really entering Bugesera is when you cross the bridge over the Nyabarongo river.
Back in the 60s the bridge was two logs for people to walk over, but today it's part of a super-highway being built to pave the way to a new international airport in Bugesera.
As we drove toward the town of Nyamata, where we planned to visit the National Genocide Memorial at the church there, we looked for a school where we could drop off supplies, shirts and a soccer ball. We passed one on the highway on the left but the schoolyard was empty so we didn't turn in. Then, after arriving at Nyamata - and just before reaching the church - we came upon a schoolyard full of children on some sort of work-duty, busy as they all were hitting the ground with hoes - probably clearing weeds. When our van pulled in they put down their tools and gathered around to see what we were there for.
Needless to say they were very happy when Kevin (and our driver standing next to him) pulled out the soccer ball. Once they had it inflated we left them to their game and went to find a teacher to organize the school supplies and shirts, enough again for one team of shirts vs no-shirts.
Afterwards Kevin and I posed with some of the students and teachers in the best school photo we've ever had. On the blackboard - in the far left side by the window - there was an excellent to-scale map of Rwanda drawn in white and coloured chalk.
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