27th November, 2002 // Other
Week 10 - Orientation to Kigali
The Office of the Prosecutor has an office in Kigali. The OTP’s office was converted from an old hotel (“Amahora”), not far from the Kigali International Airport, which used to cater to athletes who competed at a nearby stadium. The old wing remains in tact, with private balconies and full bathrooms in every office. These offices accommodate all of the investigators and legal advisors based in Kigali. In addition, there is a new wing, which is built quite precariously as a two-story trailer, like the temporary structures we used to have for classrooms in high school when there was construction on the school grounds. This is where administration sits. Ironically, there are about 80 investigators and legal advisors, and allegedly 600 or so support staff. The investigators, for all their professional skills, are still unable to discern exactly what those 600 employees actually do. But, this is just scratching the surface of the UN…
I went straight away to my host’s office and announced to Julie that I would be staying with her for the next week or so. Julie is an investigator from Australia. She was a police officer in Queensland for nearly 20 years before coming to the ICTR, specializing in sexual assault and child abuse investigations. As we piled into her small Euro car and started driving off down the right side of the road (such a relief after Tanzania to once again know reflexively which way to look first before crossing a road!), I made some sarcastic crack about why she was drawn to such cheery subjects. She gave a chuckle and then, on a more serious note, confessed that she could feel its impact. In particular, her investigations into the genocide had exacted a psychic toll. When she first began working at the ICTR and hearing all the stories of what happened even in Kigali, she said she couldn’t stop seeing images of countless corpses lining the roads and filling the open-aired gutters. That is how the streets looked in spring of 1994 during the “civil war.”
It takes little time here to be reminded of war and death. Many of the buildings, particularly the government structures and hotels have numerous shell holes (e.g., the old Parliament building), and some of the street signs remain gnarls of rusty pockmarked metal. On the other hand, you feel an intense vibrancy on the streets. Most of the people on the streets are under 35 years old, and many with beautiful, doe-like eyes; high cheekbones; and alert glances, if not penetrating stares. You are immediately struck with how attractive the population is here, and as you drive alongside rolling hills, you see the beauty of the land as well. It becomes a paradox one must come to grips with. How could such a seemingly wonderful place have rotted so badly? Yet, at the same time, one also knows that many of the persons on the street weren’t here for the genocide because after the genocide, most people were either dead or had fled the country, and all the refugees who were previously kept out of the country in nearby countries such as Uganda, Burundi, and the Congo (former Zaire) have now returned home. So, what one sees on the streets is both a constant reminder of the bloodstained past and a promise of the potential for a new and peaceful path into the future.
Kigali is a small city as compared to U.S. standards, but after living in Arusha, it seems like a sprawling metropolis. The main roads encircle a valley full of terraced hills and neighborhoods in such a way that you can see what is happening all over the rest of the city (which immediately helped me dispel the blanket denials of some defendants and defense witnesses at the ICTR that they didn’t “see” anything). No two structures seem to be level with each other; all are staggered, thereby increasing the view of every other structure. We traveled past several round-abouts and ended up in Muhima, where Julie lives behind the Ministry of Revenue. I had thought the dirt road leading to my house up on Theme Hill in Arusha was bad (and it is!), but this dirt road complete with jutting rocks, slippery red-clay mud, and a 30% decline wins all contests for the worst road ever, hands down! I was dubious of our safe arrival at the end of the road and half wondered if we would be making a Dukes-of-Hazards jump out of the car windows as the vehicle crashed in the valley straight below, but we made the left turn successfully and arrived 50 meters later at Julie’s apartment complex safe and sound.
Julie lives with her Rwandan boyfriend in the “penthouse” of a three-story, three-unit apartment complex. Characteristic of most East African homes, it is surrounded by a compound (yard); a brick wall fence; and a metal gate, which is guarded by the very sleepy watchman. And, characteristic of most Rwandan homes, broken glass bottles jut out from the top of the brick wall as a substitute for bobbed wire. (It’s much more attractive than bobbed wire, and the glass glistens like stained glass windows after an afternoon rainfall). To get to Julie’s apartment, we had to climb a number of stairs, none of which seemed to be the same distance apart and all of which seemed too far apart. I took a mental note that it was very good I would have only a limited number of opportunities to fall up or down those stairs, as I nearly did on even that first and most careful attempt. Ahhh, but the climb—precarious as it was—was well worth it. Besides the alternative being my sleeping in the abandoned, rusted out car in the compound below, the view of Kigali was beautiful. The balcony faced northward with its back to the central part of town, yet one could still see some of the city, with the honking cars and heavy foot traffic below. More impressively, one could see the valleys and the rolling hills stretching out for miles, each equal in beauty to the one before it. Julie and I sat out on the balcony, had a nice chat, and I watched the sun go down for the first time over Kigali town.
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