Friday, June 24, 2005

Different impressions of Rwanda

Not good blogging this but still: this was written before the next post and contains some of my very first impressions of Rwanda

We went to the hotel, Milles Collines, where both Hotel Rwanda is set and A Sunday by the Pool in Kigali was written about (as in, real things happened there too). To add to the authenticity, they are now filming A Sunday there and we think that the writer was there, eleven years on still sitting by the pool writing and smoking. Apparently in recent weeks people have come for a swim to find period UN trucks and refugees pouring in, which must be disconcerting for some - this is why much of Hotel Rwanda was in fact filmed in South Africa.*

So from relaxing by the pool we went to see AVEGA who, as everyone I have baskets to in recent months knows is the widows and orphans association and the people who make the baskets!! We gave them the money raised from sale in Britain and discussed a business plan for their future. We were told that since November everyone in Rwanda now has access to retroviral drugs, though this seems to be uncertain and is not the message we got in Britain [and it is not the message we have had since but that is another story]. The money also pays for trauma counselling and help with transport as many of the widows are now giving testimony to the Gacaca courts. The process involves all involved going to the scene and establishing the truth about what happened.

We were then taken to see the house of a woman who makes th baskets. It was out side town and like mose of the houses here, her house was one of a few overlooking a courtyard. Inside a boy was looking after the strangest looking ducks. The woman's house was two rooms, very sparse but prettily furnished and with pictures from magazines on the walls. She looks after her own children as well as some orphans, the oldest of whom was the football fan, a very striking tall boy. We were told that he was too traumatised to play football.

We were able to watch a basket being made and hear how they are dyed with paint. Hearing the translation third hand through French, I couldn't quite establish how long each basket takes to make, it might have been five days and she gets three pounds for each basket. She said that she couldn't always sell as many as she could make as there was no longer a trade in the local market and we tried to tell her that the British market was about to grow. It was difficult to communicate but I would have liked her to know how enthusiastic people were about the baskets. Plans are afoot to import far more of the baskets and I hope this will finally give her a steady income.

After meeting this warm family, back through dirt roads and past waving primary schoolchildren straight to the uncomfortable luxury of the Intercontinental Hotel, Rwanda's most exclusive. Not a happy contrast.

* Postscript: a few days later still we went to find the pool drained, its bottom covered in rubbish. They were filming one of the final moments of the book, when the refugees at the hotel had drunk all the water and eaten the birds from the aviary. I was rather moved by the moment but no-one else found it very believable.

1 comment:

Alex said...

Interesting about the anti-retroviral drugs - has a new law been passed or scheme introduced?

This time last year the situation was quite dire for Rwandan AIDS victims, including those who contracted the disease through rape connected to the genocide.