Mary, aged three. Favourite food, ice-cream. Best friend, her dad. Died, single machete blow to the head.
I am standing in front of a single photo of Mary who is looking back at me with eyes so innocent and full of hope. I am standing in the children’s room in the genocide memorial. I am standing here 20 years on from a genocide that saw over a million people were brutally murdered in 100 days, a genocide that shocked the world and yet shaped the nation I am now in, the wonderful, beautiful and inspiring country of Rwanda.
Arriving in the capital city of Kigali, the first thing I pick up on is the sheer beauty of this African city. It is so unlike any other I have travelled to in the past, it is spotless. Not a bit of rubbish to be seen anywhere. Our guide Frances explains that on the last Saturday of every month all the communities across the country come together to clear and clean up the area they live and work in. Even the president, I am told, joins in. It all started about 8 years ago to bring people together and make everyone feel proud of being part of a community and more importantly proud of being Rwandan.
As I continue on my journey we pass the many rolling hills that look similar to a green patchwork quilt as they have been cultivated to grow crops such as potatoes, tea and coffee. The land is still as clean as it was in Kigali. I see a lady who is sweeping up leaves alongside the main road and had clearly made her way along the whole road ahead as there was not a leaf on the ground insight. Every road we drive along and every corner we turn is just as inspiring as the next.
We see some volcanic rocks that have been piled high in a neat pile along the road and Frances tells us they are for sale to build houses. Next to it is a fruit stall filled with bananas and potatoes. There is no one around so we ask if people don’t just take them without paying and his answer was is simple – No! Why would they? It does not belong to them so therefore not theirs to take. If only the rest of the world had that mentality, what a better world we would live in.
I start to wonder how this nation has become so peaceful and respectful of one another after the shocking events of 20 years ago. How someone can forgive his neighbour for coming into the family home, killing his parents and brothers in front of him. Leaving his sister and him to face the rest of their life alone, at 15. Then some years later seeing the neighbour in the streets of Kigali, going up to him, saying he forgives him, but needs to hand him over to the police. The neighbour agreeing and pointing out the nearest policeman. Incredible and inspiring.
I had noticed various banners hanging over the main streets of the villages we were passing through. Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the genocide. Part of it written in Kinyarwanda and part in English… Remember. Unite. Renew.
I am positive that if Mary was 23 now she would be proud to stand up and say I am Rwandan. Proud to show the world what can be done to renew a county in 20 years. Her dad would still be her best friend, still loves ice-cream and proud to stand up and say those simple three words out loud. Remember. Unite. Renew.