Africa Part 4: Genocide, Naps and Tetris

6 08 2008

This post is part of a series:

African Village
African Village

I seem to have reverted to the sleeping patterns of a 4 year old. As the sun sets, I finish my evening meal and fatigue overwhelms me. I stumble back to my tent in the dark and promptly fall asleep, the time being no later than about half past seven. In the morning, I awake with the sun and am dressed and have eaten breakfast before its even 6 o’clock, then mid-afternoon I crash again, joyfully drifting off in to my now almost daily afternoon nap.

You may just think I am lazy – and perhaps you are right – but it’s not just me operating on the same schedule as the sun. As soon as the first rays of light penetrate the darkness there is a cacophony of birds, dogs and people all up and about starting their new day.

We’ve now been in Malawi for a few days; the temperature has dropped as we’ve gone south (I’m not even sweating right now!), Wendy has Malaria and I’ve discovered after a lifetime of not liking peanut butter, it’s actually not that revolting after all.

Trouser Socks: Sexy.

Transport has always been an interesting adventure since arriving on the African continent. Our trip to the Malawi border, like so many other journeys since we’ve been here, was bursting with people. Our 14 seater bus was crammed full with 25 sweaty people plus luggage, babies and sacks of god-knows-what filling every square inch of interior space, bouncing over the uneven, potholed roads providing us all with the teeth chattering, bone shuddering experience known affectionately as an ‘African massage’. Time estimates are, shall we say, relaxed. Supposedly two hour journeys take five and departure times are likewise irrelevant: we waited 17 hours in Dar Es Salaam for our train to Mbeya to arrive.

Africa is a continent of walking. The roads, littered with bicycles and pedestrians, leave little room for the few automobiles trying to traverse the tarmac. Drivers of the smokey, rusty, broken down clap-traps drive with one hand rested on the horn, honking incessantly to clear a path through the mêlée of human traffic.

Like their roading system, Africa is a land of differences. Obviously, there are the big things such as poverty, civil unrest and superstitious tribal culture, but there a little differences also. For example, all soft drinks are sold in glass bottles which you have to pay a deposit for. After one has enjoyed their carbonated beverage and returned the bottle, your deposit is refunded, then the bottles are sent back to Coca-Cola HQ to be sterilized and reused again and again.

Misty Roads
Misty Roads

Africa is also a land of contrast. The people we have encountered have been ubiquitously friendly, although like anywhere, some of them are out to make a few shillings profit, but most are just happy to say Jambo (hello) and find out about the strange muzungo (whiteys) that happens to be passing through their towns. I find the warmth and civility of these people makes it all the more difficult to believe the atrocities which have, and continue to, occur in this part of the world.

A few weeks back we visited the Genocide Memorial Museum in Rwanda, our sombre visit made all the more poignant by the tears and moans of sorrow erupting from one poor Rwandan woman overwhelmed by the experience; only 14 years on, this is still a fresh and painful memory for many.

Before colonial rule, Rwanda was inhabited by two tribes, the Hutu and the Tutsi. Unlike the vast majority of African tribes, the Hutu and Tutsi lived peacefully as one. They married one another, lived in the same towns and had happy lives together.

Setting Up Camp (Again...)
Setting Up Camp (Again…)

Then the Belgians arrived. With superior firepower they seized control of the small country and after putting the locals through a degrading process of testing and experimentation they decided that genetically, the Tutsi were the superior people and elevated them to ruling class; for the first time creating a disparity between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. From then on, between the people that had once lived as brothers, a gulf of hatred grew.

This aggression finally came to a head when in 1994 Belgium withdrew from Rwanda, removing the power from Tutsi and handing it to the Hutu who had by then been treated unfairly for so long. This reversal of power led promptly to a backlash against the Tutsi which rapidly spiraled in to mass killing; the Hutu openly slaughtering Tutsi on the streets. Laws were then passed revoking the citizenship and all rights of the Tutsi, effectively sentencing all every Tutsi man, woman and child to death.

People killed Tutsi members of their own family, and along with their parents, children were macheted to death to prevent another generation of Tutsi from arising. With little support from the rest of the world, the violence quickly spiraled out of control. Bill Clinton later stated that not sending support to Rwanda was one of the biggest regrets of his career.

Tough Times In Lilongwe
Tough Times In Lilongwe

If the experience of the museum wasn’t painful enough, there was a separate wing dedicated to the children of the conflict. Below large pictures of smiling children, often the only remaining pictures the families had, were plaques stating information like:

Age: 14 months
Favourite Food: Ice Cream
Favourite Activity: Playing with his older brother
Died: Macheted to death


Age: 3 years
Favourite Food: Chapatti
Favourite Activity: Singing in church
Died: Grenaded in a bathtub

It was truly heartbreaking. I still find it hard to digest that a land full of such kind people – or for that matter, human beings in general – are capable of such horrific acts. Surprisingly though, Rwandans seems to have well and truly left their history in the past and have again come together to be a comparatively prosperous, successful country. Perhaps in the face of such ghastly events, one has no choice but to bury the hatchet and move on. Still, I found it surprising to see their smiles.

We’ve recently starting seeking out local markets in search of produce for our meals. My cousin Michael is a chef, so we haggle over the price of fruits and vege then return to the campground for him to work his culinary magic while I play sous chef, slicing and dicing and trying to learn the tricks of the trade. The markets are an experience in themselves; loud, boisterous men trying to hock their various wares, just today I purchased a cheap watch which instead of a second hand flashes the words “I love you” sixty times a minute. Classy. Africa seems to inherit the world’s hand-me-downs – tatty old clothes, worn-out shoes, and toys I remember from my early childhood are proudly displayed as modern technology (Tetris! Sweet!).

Elephants Of The Serengeti
Elephants Of The Serengeti

It’s been an odd transition coming to Africa, in many ways it feels like stepping back in time, but at the same time there are a lot of parallels to life in the West. Everyone has cellphones, even those living in mud huts, and a huge proportion of the young men here are dressed in British football team jerseys. Primitive shacks are adorned with huge satellite dishes, yet piped hot water is practically unheard of. Similarly to my experiences in South East Asia a few years back, I find it striking how joyous the people are in these impoverished places; perhaps there is some truth to the old adage that money doesn’t buy happiness. That said, I’m so looking forward to a hot shower, not sleeping in a tent and having regular, fast internet access.

Man I’m a nerd, I miss my internet … bad.





One response

6 07 2009
2008 Round-the-World Trip |

[…] Part 4: Genocide, Naps and Tetris ( 06 Aug ‘08 ) […]

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