Nyamata Church

I used to think I could have control over things. Yesterday I learnt this wasn’t possible in two different respects. I visited Nymata Church – a memorial to 10060 people killed within this church during the genocide.

I can’t control the past. I was 10 when the genocide happened and we did nothing. I can’t quite understand that.

Today standing next to the stools where the bloodied clothes of the victims still lay, I realised I had lost control of myself. There were a few tears, but yesterday was different. I wasn’t the first tourist to visit Nymata and I won’t be the last. I was overwhelmed by the calculated and needless destruction of life. My body went cold when I walked in you could hear the whispers of the dead. 10,060 people in a room which was maybe 30 metres by 30 metres.

You walk in the church past a black iron door which still bares the marks of the grenades and bullets that were used to prize open the door to the interhamwe could reach their victims. The minute you step in you feel suffocated by death, it was everywhere you could feel, see and hear it. All that remained was the clothes of the victims draped across the church pews. You couldn’t escape the claustrophobic oppression, murder, innocence and hopelessness in a small church in a beautiful town. It was crippling.

Piles and piles of clothes. On one of the piles lays a smart hat, the kind of hat my granddad would have worn. Nobody was spared.

You then walk down some clinically white tiled steps and I just dropped. You’re greeted by maybe 100 skulls all baring the marks of the genocide – machete wounds, club marks, bullets. Above them lay the bones all different shapes and sizes, some tiny bones that must be from a child. I felt numb and cold standing there. I can’t imagine what the murders looked like but only imagine the innocent. How the fuck did no one do anything.

There were more mass graves round the back where coffins of thousands of people still lay, such small coffins. As I walked through the rooms with the coffins I felt so pathetic. This could have all been stopped and limited but because of real politik, nobody cared. Politics is a passion of mine, but standing amongst the coffins it struck me how powerful and useless politics truly is.

I chatted briefly to the receptionist at the church and he explained more about the day the church was attacked. 10,060 people headed there for safety they locked the doors, crammed inside looking for safety. Then the interhamwe came. When they couldn’t get in. they went to a local army barracks, got some guns and grenades and headed back to the church. They used the guns and grenades on the door – you can still see the shrapnel marks on the concrete floor. Grenades were thrown over the top into the church, killing 50 people at a time. Then when the door finally gave way the interhamwe were still thirsty for blood and finished off the survivers with clubs and machetes. I can’t imagine the fear.

I was also told by the receptionist (I won’t use his name) his story about the genocide. He explained that during in April 1994 he saw both his parents killed. His father had all his limbs cut off and whilst he was still alive they raped his wife in front of him and her child. Once they had finished with her, they finished her with a knife. The child managed to escape.  I’ve heard many stories from different people along the way about the genocide, and I think that’s how you start to understand the scale of it, because everyone was affected by it and the affects of it are still real. We sat in a restaurant last night speaking with a waiter and he explained how his mother was killed in the genocide and his father fled. As a teenager he was responsible for bringing up 8 children. Because he worked so hard his brothers and sisters actually got their school grades before him. But now he spends his time working in a restaurant and studying for his civil engineering degree. He doesn’t drink or party as a 30 year old would do in the UK, he can’t because he needs to stay on the straight and narrow so his brothers and sisters do likewise. A truly inspiring man.

From listening to people and seeing the bodies, bones, skulls, weapons, clothes, blood, scars, landscape I can’t quite understand how so much hatred can be used to eliminate a race. This was never supposed to happen after the holocaust.

I was scared to sleep last night and rightly so. Nightmares, they left me sick. I’m genuinely scared about going to the Congo because the atrocities continue.

I left with vomit in my throat, tears in my eyes and consumed by guilt. You feel something other than guilt, because how can you be guilty when we weren’t aware of it? Knowledge is supposedly power, so I guess by knowing nothing then we are powerless. This is why I run to make sure that a lack of knowledge is no longer an excuse like it was in 1994. It is a bit late now over 1 million Rwandan’s died. IN the DRC 5.5million have already died, this needs to stop.

Today we go down to the Congo after picking up everyone from the airport. I don’t know what to expect.


5 thoughts on “Nyamata Church

  1. I hope you all make it over the border ok, reading your blog really brings things into a much starker reality.
    Your doing an amazing thing, all the UK Women for Women International office are thinking of you.


  2. Unbelievable, we are so lucky to hear the real stories of the people you met through your blog – keep it up CHRIS! And yes it’s normal to feel guilty and I’m sure that’s something the survivors feel too. But I think you’re right- I don’t think guilt will get us anywhere – knowledge and power will!
    GOOD LUCK with the run : )

  3. Chris, my heart aches for you and Dom. We need to hear these stories so we can share them, but I can imagine how painful it is for you to collect them. I continue to post links to your blog on my Facebook page so my friends can learn about this. You’re right. We can’t feel guilty or responsible for something we didn’t know was happening, but we can’t turn our backs now that we know. The bile rises in my own throat just reading your posts; hearing the stories firsthand and seeing with your own eyes the evidence of the violence and lives lost must be almost unbearable for you. Be assured that you’re making a difference. Stay safe – all of you. We’re thinking of you and praying for you.


  4. Keep it up bro…very proud of you!!! Just making people aware is a massive contribution and a step in the right direction. You can’t change the past but you can ensure people don’t repeat it. Keep safe xxxx

  5. Pingback: The end of the blogging and run for congo. « Kayaking for Congo!

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