Posted by: anneliemare | June 14, 2012

Getting there (and back again)

Sometimes the most memorable parts of an itinerary, especially a longer one like ours, are the journeys rather than the places visited. This is especially true if you manage to get a little bit of the beaten track, something I found a little harder this time around (compared to our previous trip) – it seems we’re often herded onto air-conditioned minivans, or into the back of buses to be grouped with other foreigners, for no apparent reason.

When we planned a day-trip to the Mekong Delta from Ho Chi Minh City, visiting My Tho and Ben Tre, we decided to avoid the regular tour buses and found ourselves a local taxi (as in 20-seater minibus, not the metered kind). As we waited for the bus to fill up, we got a number of curious stares and a couple of questions in Vietnamese, which, in the absence of an English-speaking local, had to be translated into gestures – the ultimate game of charades, except way more fun. Then, unexpectedly, one of the ladies in front of us offered us some longans, fruit from the lychee family, which we felt obliged to try even though we had no idea what it was while we were peeling them…

This seemed to amuse everyone on the bus greatly, so we received a second helping of fruit. A sweetish bread roll with sugary coconut in the middle followed, then two foot-long baguettes. Finally Dillon was given another baguette, and more bread! We refused every time, but our ‘hosts’ insisted until we gave in – who knows what else we would’ve been offered if we didn’t fall asleep during the journey.

The train ride between HCMC and Danang was another memorable one, which included another charades-session with our friendly (and helpful, considering we couldn’t understand any of the announcements) cabin-mates. It took me a while to figure out why the elderly gentleman on the bunk below Dillon’s slept with one eye open…but now I’m pretty sure it must have been a glass eye. Either that or he didn’t trust us at all.

Our tour in the delta included a rather bizarre but beautiful journey in a row boat. When we climbed into the boat, we were immediately given rice-picker hats to put on, and it looked like our ‘drivers’ weren’t going to take off unless we complied. A shortish row down a small channel followed, palms and lush undergrowth towering a couple of meters above us…and then, the heavens opened.

We’ve become quite good at spotting the afternoon rains. Granted, it’s not rocket science – the clouds are an obvious giveaway, but in this case we didn’t have anywhere to go or hide. We were given some plastic sheets to cover ourselves (not very effective), and off we went…two white kids in rice-picker hats, shielding our cameras against the torrential rain, passing other groups of tourists in the same odd position…it was magical in a slightly dysfunctional sort of way.

But the highlight of all the different modes of transport we’ve used so far has definitely been the motorbike taxis we hired in Ho Chi Minh City. Although there are plenty of cars on the roads, the scooter and motorbike are still king in this city.

We had flagged down two guys, pointed at the map, and off we went into the sea of egg shell helmets bobbing around in the late afternoon traffic. At one stage we were so lost that my driver had to put in more petrol, but it didn’t matter. I had been on motorbike taxis before, usually on a dirt track out to some lakeside backpackers or in dusty towns, but sitting on the back of a bike in this crowd, on a highway, was something else.

Posted by: anneliemare | June 3, 2012

Spicy fried frog and the temples of doom

Since my last post we’ve added another notch to our gastronomic belts – spicy stir-fried frog! Carly deserves credit for encouraging us to try this one, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. Plus the $2 cocktails probably also helped us make the decision…

We had a great time in Siem Reap – as predicted, the town has a much more laid-back atmosphere than Bangkok. We could walk everywhere we wanted to go in town, but arranged a tuk-tuk for two day-trips outside of the city.

The first one took us to the town of Kompong Phluk, one of a handful of fishing communities settled in the area on the small rivers leading to the enormous Tonle Sap lake. Since this is just the beginning of the rainy season, the water level is still very low, but it was still mind-boggling to see how high the houses have to be to compensate for the possibility of floods (or just a regular rainy season!).

The village of Kompong Phluk, built hiiiiigh up on stilts. When the rainy season is in full-swing the water level gets to a few centimeters below the decks.

We were taken out for a lunch on a floating restaurant on the lake itself. We were not the only tourists on the lake, and there are clearly a number of restaurants catering for trips like these, but we were trying to avoid some of the more popular village tours, one of which includes a visit to an orphanage. That doesn’t seem right, even if it is meant to raise awareness or elicit some sort of financial support.

Spotted on the way back from Kompong Phluk…

We tested our bartering skills at Siem Reap’s night markets that evening. I’m a bit of a pushover on a good day, but started getting the hang of it after a couple of attempts. Almost all the stall owners I met were very friendly, so the bartering usually went along with a lot of giggling (“you want to pay how much? no no no”) and then blushing on my part, but I managed to pay less than half the asking price on at least one occasion – a victory, if you ask me!

I’m going to leave out most of the detail on Angkor Wat, and use some photos instead. Let me just say that it was incredibly hot and overrun with tourists…and I STILL enjoyed it, which should give you an idea of how spectacular it is.

Yeah. These were the people who showed up for the sunrise at 6:00, so imagine what it looked like an hour or two later…

Dillon and I had been looking forward to the overgrown Ta Phrom especially, since we’d spotted it on an old National Geographic cover (not that old – from 2009). It was also one of several things that had inspired our trip in the first place. Unfortunately, we hadn’t counted on Tomb Raider partially ruining those particular ruins even further.

The doorway we had imagined to be in a peaceful corner of the crumbling complex now has a walkway leading up to it, and is one of two prime spots where everyone gets their photo taken.

Damn you, Tomb Raider!

Despite overheating completely, being obscenely sweaty and uncomfortable and generally wanting to punch camera-toting fellow tourists in the face, I enjoyed exploring this immense complex and would recommend it as a must-see for anyone who visits. Just take plenty of water along, I would say 🙂

Posted by: anneliemare | May 31, 2012

A moveable feast

One of many reasons why we were drawn to this particular trip, I have to admit, was the food – we’ve tried a wide variety of noodle dishes, fried rice, seafood, chicken and pork (but not the face), and we have yet to be disappointed. Bear in mind that we’ve eaten from food carts as well as some fancier places, although that was more or less by accident after walking long distances and getting a bit gatvol looking for somewhere to sit down.

The highlight for me so far has been a yellow curry with crab I ordered in Khao San road, although our last night in Bangkok offered up some serious competition when I was served stir-fried squid with a bang. I love spicy food, but generally not the kind that would give you hair on your chest. This stir-fry would give you chest hair, then singe it off with all of its chili-and-green-peppercorn-might. After mistaking a couple of these chilies for sweet peppers I literally had tears running down my cheeks (and this reporter can vouch for the fact that beer does NOT help in this kind of emergency)!

Chang beer – tasty, but no good when it comes to washing down spicy food.

Since we’ve left Bangkok and crossed over to Siem Reap in Cambodia for the next phase of our trip, there’s been a definite change of pace. I know I’ve already spoken about the traffic in Bangkok before, but it is seriously impressive. We were crossing streets quite often walking around in Chinatown, but always had to wait until a crowd of locals accumulated at pedestrian crossings so we could walk with them. Once, I even caught myself feeling relieved with a very determined looking old Chinese lady crossing between me and the rumbling cars and bikes, her bolla bouncing as she walked. She was even shorter than I am, but somehow, it felt safer…

Chinatown. Maybe a bad photo to illustrate how busy it was, but I didn’t have the camera out for those moments!

Siem Reap, on the other hand, seems like a much more laid-back town. The roads are filled with scooters and motorbikes and we’ll probably spend our nights out walking around and checking out some of the night markets, of which we’ve already spotted two.

The prices have turned crazy affordable in no time at all. Dinner, a huge serving of Khmer amok with pork and rice cost all of $2, and $15 has bought Dillon and I a double room for the night, with aircon and satellite TV (not that we’re looking for that, but it’s included), free, unlimited internet access and a complimentary half-hour massage for each of us.

I enjoy a couple of hot stones on my back as much as the next girl, probably with Roberto’s pan-flute hits playing in the background, but the two massages I’ve had so far we’re full-body experiences. Tonight, I had a lady working my thighs with her feet in a way that made me want to go to sleep immediately. Luckily, she followed that up with a couple of slaps and pokes with her thumbs that could only have been intended to check whether my femur was still hidden somewhere within the muscle. It was. We both felt it. 🙂

Posted by: anneliemare | May 30, 2012

Hustle and bustle

Public transport in Bangkok has been both incredibly easy and confusing. We’ve been using the train network (complete with aircon, what a blessing!) quite often, but once you get to the end of the line you have to rely on your own two feet, a metered taxi or tuk-tuks.

Waiting for the Sky train – you never have to stand there for more than five minutes, really…

The tuk-tuks are a lot of fun, so we’ve used them a lot as well – we thought we had a pretty good idea how much a journey should cost, and decent negotiation skills, but considering how many different prices we’ve paid for journeys of a similar length (up to about 200 baht at night, where 4 baht = R1), we are pretty clueless. And then today, on our last day, Dillon has the idea that we should take one of the long boats (water taxi’s), and it costs us 14 baht to cross the entire city! So we were taken for many rides, in both the literal and figurative sense…

Our visits to Chinatown has definitely been one of the highlights of the city. We didn’t go as far as ordering a bowl of shark fin soup, although there was plenty on offer, ranging from 500 baht for a smaller bowl to thousands for a whole steak. We even spotted a whole pig’s face, but left that untouched…the spring rolls and fresh pomegranate juice were tasty enough 🙂

“I want to take its face…off…”

We also spent a night out in Khao San road, a popular area for backpackers, with lots of stalls selling t-shirts and summer dresses and LOTS of watering holes. There were a bunch of good quality live acts playing everything from Johnny Cash to Bob Marley…even a bit of acoustic Lady Gaga, which actually verged on the surreal.

It’s obvious that the goods (and vibe) on offer is aimed at young Westerners of Gap Year-age…and it gets a little bit depressing. Maybe the new colonialism is having young white people making (and passing) out on your front porch while you serenade them with the tune of their choice. And serve them beer by the yard or “nice cocktails, very strong”, as they were offered to us.

At the same time, I guess Bangkok is just selling their adolescence back to them – Hunter S. Thompson, John Lennon, The Doors and your false sense of freedom on your parents dime, all on one T-shirt, very nice price. I wonder if this is all they experience of Thailand?

We’ll be leaving for Siem Reap and Angkor Wat in Cambodia tomorrow, so our Thai adventure ends here – hopefully we’ll be able to post more news from there soon.

Posted by: anneliemare | May 28, 2012

Bangkok, baby!

Bangkok is everything we expected and hoped for, and more – tall skyscrapers and wooden shacks all jumbled up together, with lush tropical trees and creepers everywhere. Busy streets, strange, spicy smells, food carts everywhere, cooked ducks with their necks bent back hanging from hooks in the steamy display cases.

We were hoping for an experience that would be all-consuming, completely foreign and stimulating in just about every sense of the word, and we’ve seen all of that in just one day. This bodes extremely well for the rest of our month long trip!

The plan is to head east to the Cambodian border and to spend about a week there visiting Siem Riep, Pnomh Penh and (of course) Angkor Wat. Then it’s on to Vietnam, where we’re hoping to have at least two full weeks to travel from Ho Chi Minh City in the south to Hanoi in the north.

In all fairness, we’re missing most of the Thai highlights (or rather, pretty much only seeing Bangkok) because of our plans for Vietnam – if we had more time we might’ve aimed for Chang Mai in the north west or Phuket, or somewhere similar, in the south.

I’m happy to report that we’ve already tried three different kinds of local beer, got caught in the rain, stuck a straw in a whole coconut and drank all its salty/sugary goodness, ordered at the kind of the place that ‘farangs’ (foreigners) have to point at a picture to be understood and tried a very gooey rice pudding for the first time. In other words, as far as the bucket list goes, we’re making good time 🙂

Bangkok in the rain…we have waterproof bags for our cameras, but otherwise we’ve accepted that we’ll probably get soaked at some stage.

Crossing the streets is a bit scary. You can measure the intensity of the risk (tuk-tuk, motorcycles, buses and cars) by the number of expletives I use as I run. “Shiiiiit” is bad, but “shiiiiit-shitshitshitshitSHIT” is worse 🙂

We did a teeny tiny bit of shopping as well, but this is definitely not for the faint-hearted. If you’re like Dillon and I and you get a little antsy in Canal Walk, Bangkok will freak you out – the big wholesale mall we visited was packed and had so many shops I suspect it made Dillon’s asthma flare up. Carly and I had a quick look around but we only visited a tiny section on one floor, and that still included about 15 shops in itself.

The plans for tomorrow are more or less as follows:

  • Pick up our Vietnamese visas from the embassy
  • Visit some of the ‘big name’ (read: touristy) sights like Wat Pho and the Grand Palace
  • Visit Chinatown, a market near said sights once the beaten track beats us
  • Check the English papers to see if there’s a separate section in the obituaries for death by electrocution. Even in the city centre, every lamppost has an enormous bundle of wires attached to it, and there doesn’t seem to be much concern  for frayed edges, dangling bits or generally just the height at which they’re strung…

You’re not surprised that he’s holding that, are you? 🙂

My Pad Thai’s on a boat. If I look slightly panicked it’s because I have no idea how much of it I’ll be able to finish on my own.

Posted by: anneliemare | May 2, 2010

Excuses, excuses…

After a few long-haul journeys and some internet problems (first time on the trip, mind you) we’re something like two or three weeks behind on the blog!

What that effectively means is that, while we’re currently at the end of our time in Malawi (in Blantyre and heading over to Mozambique), I have yet to start blogging about everything we saw in Tanzania. I’m not sure exactly how to handle this yet, so I’ll give a brief overview, hopefully with some more interesting stories to follow.

In all honesty we didn’t do Tanzania justice this time around, partly because we couldn’t really afford the big game parks in the north (Serengeti, Ngorogoro), and partly because these are ultimately better explored using your own transport.

We did manage to spend a whole week on Zanzibar, by far the longest stay of the trip, and definitely one of the highlights. And yes, I braided my hair and took photos of how ridiculous it looked 🙂

One thing we DID do in Tanzania is take the Tazara express train from Dar es Salaam to Mbeya – after doing a 16 hour bus drive to Dar, I can tell you 30 hours on a train is pure luxury! We even managed to spot giraffes, wildebeest and what we think were impala from the train on our way through the Selous game reserve…so we had a budget Tanzanian game drive after all.

A few bus and matola (new name for matatu around here) rides got us to Nkatha Bay in time to catch the MV Ilala ferry that runs on Lake Malawi. We chose to take it all the way down to Monkey Bay, sleeping out on the first class deck for a total of three nights.

Maybe it was because it was one of the things I knew I wanted to do all along, but the ferry trip will always stand out for me, and also deserves a separate entry with all t he details. Let me say for now that it was quite beautiful, very comfortable and kind of romantic (even though we didn’t shower for 4 days) to be out on the water so long – we even had a full moon to light the way.

In the end I’ll probably be blogging about the last two or three weeks of our trip from Cape Town, making myself sick with nostalgia while I’m looking for work…but who knows, maybe it will ease the transition into the ‘real world’ 🙂 For now we just wanted to confirm that a) we are alive and b) we are still really, really enjoying the trip (and wanting to share that with you)…

Posted by: anneliemare | April 21, 2010

Some gastronomical adventures

Phew! Thanks to an internet malfunction, we spent a good two hours sorting out that last post, so we need a bit of a change of pace. So here’s a few examples of the food and drink(s) we’ve sampled as part of our travels thus far…

1. Matoke (green bananas) – To us, these taste a lot like sweet potato, which is all fine and well when it’s mashed up and served on the side…but when it’s grilled over open coals, looks like a banana and tastes like a sweet potato, it might make your brain squirm a little!

2. Tilapia (Nile perch) – Tasty fish from Lake Victoria, grilled, deep-fried or served with a sauce (and always with chips), these have been yummy every time we’ve tried it.

3. Goat’s meat – Both the stew and nyama choma (sosaties in Swahili) sold by the side of the road were very tasty, once you forget how cute the live ones are. These sosaties, along with the aforementioned grilled matoke and corn cobs, are the food stuffs most commonly sold by the side of the road. It took us a while to test the sosaties, just because the rest of the goat it comes from is usually hung near the barbecue.

In Benako, Tanzania, in fact, the (half a) goat still had it’s ‘socks’ on – a little bit of its pelt was still attached to the hooves dangling over our sosaties on the grill.

4. Miscellaneous fish (red snapper, blue marlin, shark, barracuda) – You can blame the Forodhani food market in Zanzibar for making us try shark meat. Your choice of meat is arranged on a sosatie and grilled in front of you at this evening market, situated near the harbour in Stone Town.

 Window shopping is almost impossible, since each stall has a bunch of touts that will take you by the hand to a stall that pays them commission (these touts are called papasi on the island, meaning ‘ticks’ in Swahili, since they are especially ferocious here).

5. Sugarcane juice with lime and ginger – Fan-friggin’-tastic drink, also sold at the Forodhani market in Zanzibar. The cane is mashed in front of you by running it through a kind of grinder, then it’s folded double and slices of lime and ginger are placed in the fold, it’s put through the grinder again and you get a sweet, frothy glass of awesomeness coming out the other side. We drank so much of it, we felt a bit naar (but in a good way) 🙂

6. Beer (pretty much every kind) – Part of The Big Plan for The Big Trip has always been that we’d sample local beers along the way. So far it’s only been commercial beers, not the lukewarm DIY brews like the one we tried in Lesotho (once was enough for me, I think).

Tusker, White Cap, Bell Lager, Club, Nile Special, Primus, Serengeti, Kilimanjaro, Safari…the list is getting pretty impressive, as are our bellies. Is it sad to admit that we’ve kept at least one label of each brand? Mmm…

Posted by: anneliemare | April 21, 2010

Gisenyi, Goma and the volcano (no, not that one)

One of the fun things about the kind of travelling we’re doing is meeting other travellers and sharing stories and tips. In our case, the tips come mostly from Dillon’s side, but I still like hearing about other people’s plans or past experiences. Mostly it’s fun to meet people who are living the life they want, with money being a means to an end rather than a measure of one’s success.

You don’t have to share the same goals to find these meetings interesting – I quite vividly remember spending time with my dad at the Knysna yacht club, and meeting an American guy who quit his job as a computer programmer to sail around the world on his own (!). He was selling map software to other sailors to earn what he called “beer money”. Enough said 🙂

Anyway,  I was getting so carried away talking about the rainforest that I forgot to mention Jock and Kim, an American couple working in Musanze who invited us over for supper after a chance encounter at our hotel. The invitation came literally 2 minutes into the conversation, which is the kind of spontaneous hospitality that I love, and which I hope to dish out to others in the future.

I don’t want to talk too much about the evening itself, since it would be unfair to expose them like that…but I thought it was worth a mention. I’m starting to think one of the best things about travelling via public transport (as opposed to an organised tour/safari) is the fact that a) you get to meet so many people, tourists and travellers alike, and that b) you often have to trust/rely on the help and hospitality of strangers. And you should know that we haven’t been disappointed yet!

So, back to business…

After Musanze, we moved on to Gisenyi, on the shores of Lake Kivu in the west of Rwanda. We stayed in town rather than on the shore, since this would save a substantial amount of money. We did, however pay to use the swimming pool at the Lake Kivu Serena Hotel (very fancy shmancy), but swimming in the lake itself turned out to be even better.

We used the town as a base to visit Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, just across the border. As you can imagine, tourism isn’t exactly booming (yet) in the DRC, but the Nyiragongo volcano in Goma (also towering above Gisenyi) has become an attraction in itself. The last time it erupted in 2002, it left a large  river of volcanic rock running through the heart of the town, most of which has now been broken up (although it’s still clearly visible, often being ground up to make bricks by the side of the road).

Now tourists can hike up the volcano and sleep by the lava lake at the top for a night – eerie but thoroughly amazing, according to the one Chinese traveller we met who had done it.

I found it a little jarring to be a tourist in what is quite obviously a (barely) post-conflict country. UN peacekeepers, planes and trucks are all clearly visible throughout the town, as are pretty much any global NGO you can think of. The streets are covered in an ash-like dust, and deeply rutted. And then, when we popped into a hotel for a drink, we were plunged into a colonial oasis, with a cruise ship moored at the lakeside and someone singing karaoke at the bar. Weird and obscene at the same time.

Needless to say, we didn’t spend a whole lot of time in Goma.

To end of a surreal day in a surreal way, we got caught in a rainstorm on the way back through the border and huddled in a stranger’sdoorway with a group of locals for about 10 minutes or so, watching steam rising from the hot tar road. Once again the 4×4’s drove past without stopping…

Posted by: anneliemare | April 11, 2010

Kigali, and stinging nettles in the mist

While I couldn’t not blog about the genocide memorial, I’d like to point out that there is much, much more to this country than its painful history.

We happened to be here during Memorial Week, a week of remembrance during the first week of April (the time at which the violence first broke out in 1994). We’ve seen communities gather and share stories of their experiences in community halls, churches and other similar spaces – proof that the healing process is far from over.

But, at the same time, the tourism industry is flourishing, the people are friendly and welcoming towards visitors and this relatively small African country boasts some truly amazing natural beauty. While Rwandans will clearly never forget, and rightly so, you get the impression that they don’t want the past to define their future.

Kigali itself is cosmopolitan and clean, with tree-lined suburban street and some high-rise buildings under construction in the city centre. It has a definite ‘upwardly mobile’-feel to it. As a result, however, it can be quite expensive (by east African standards) – we splurged a little on a delicious dinner at a Tandoori restaurant, but didn’t spend that much time in the city.

From Kigali we headed north-east, to the town of Musanze (formerly known as Ruhengeri), a popular tourist destination mostly because of its proximity to the Volcanoes National Park. We were headed to the park too, of course, although we couldn’t afford the steep (500$) fee to track Dian Fossey’s famous ‘gorillas in the mist’.

Although you could register to climb to the peak of some of the volcanoes, we opted for a straightforward forest hike instead. As it turns out, this was a wise decision. Our guide, Denise, explained that people often underestimate how strenuous these hikes, and the gorilla tracking itself, can be. “After 20 minutes they are exhausted,” she said. “And then the gorillas are four hours away!”

Our hike climbed about 400 to 500 meters around the edges of one of the volcanoes, called Bisoke, and ended up at a crater lake on its flank. At 3 100 meters above sea level, we could really feel the altitude, but the hike was worth it – the forest was so many different kinds of green it was a little disorientating.

We did get stung by nettles once or twice, and I slipped quite spectacularly in the rich mud (it is the rainy season, after all), but that didn’t even matter. From towering bamboo to tall, dense trees and stinging nettles up to shoulder height, it really was a beautiful walk.

Our next stop was the town of Gisenyi, on the shores of Lake Kivu – I’ll try to blog again tonight, but if I don’t, it’ll have to wait a few days. The next leg of our journey takes us all the way across Tanzania, so it might take a while before we settle somewhere and find an internet connection…

Posted by: anneliemare | April 11, 2010

Please, do not step on the mass graves

I know it’s a bit of a blogging cliché to apologise for not having posted so long, but I imagine our silence might need a little explanation. I blame our visit to the Kigali (genocide) Memorial Centre last Monday, because I left knowing that I would have to write something about it, and dreading it at the same time.

I tend to be weary of such museums or centres – in South Africa I suppose the same goes for places like the Apartheid Museum and Robben Island, although the latter has less of a curated feel. It’s difficult not to imagine the curators chuckling over clever symbolism, reducing history to select images, captions and cardboard cut-outs.

But, like its South African counterparts, the Kigali Memorial Centre manages to overcome its obvious brick-and-mortar limitations to represent the flesh-and-blood historical reality.

I don’t think anyone can visit the centre and remain unaffected by the scale of the tragedy (travesty!) Rwanda suffered in 1994. Almost a million people were murdered in the 100 days of complete mayhem that swept the country from April that year (the death toll rises considerably when you take into account the run-up to the event itself, and its aftermath).

The sheer scale of the massacre is difficult to comprehend – over 250 000 victims are buried at the site of the centre itself (the title of the post was copied from a sign outside the main buildings). Keep in mind that the country’s total population at the time must have been between 7 and 8 million.

Images of the dead are powerful enough – bodies strewn across roads, in churches and schools, left for days but with machete cuts still visible in the decaying flesh. No-one was spared, and those who weren’t targeted were burdened with resisting and risking their own lives, or the guilt of having done nothing to prevent the needless deaths.

At the same time, you have to consider the warning signs prior to the actual genocide, the international community’s refusal to heed these warnings, and their subsequent hesitation to act once all hell broke loose. Some of these deaths, at the very least, were preventable.

There is a lot of material in the museum to bring the madness of this sequence of events home. To some, it’s the so-called “Children’s room” that makes the genocide real – pictures of children who died in the genocide are displayed alongside descriptions of their favourite foods, what made them laugh, what their last words were and how they died.

To me, it was the story of one of the interviewed survivors. Video footage of their testimony is included throughout the memorial, talking about their experiences, about forgiveness, and about moving on with their lives.

The man, a little boy at the time of the genocide, told the story of his last few days with his mother. Food was scarce as the scale of the genocide escalated, so some families managed to bribe the Interahamwe (“Those who kill together”, the Hutu militia responsible for most of the killing) with food.

As a result, his mom only had beans in the house, and (since she knew he didn’t like beans) she scrounged around to find a small piece of passion fruit to soften the blow. That was the last meal he had with his mother, he said, giving in to his tears. To this day, he can’t bring himself to eat passion fruit.

It was such a simple story, but one that communicated the ridiculousness of the whole situation – families torn apart, trying to maintain some sense of normalcy in the face of what was just complete madness and horror. To think that his mother would still worry about her son’s eating habits just before her murder made it seem all the more unexpected and incomprehensible.

Maybe it doesn’t make a lot of sense writing it here, and I am sorry if it gets a bit too personal, but I think it’s worth talking about and describing, if only to make the genocide more real to more people. After all, the centre was built with the belief that remembering and spreading the word is probably the only way to prevent something like this from happening again.

Let me just point out that I don’t equate what happened in Rwanda to apartheid in South Africa, nor do I think curators are evil – the descriptions and comparisons I include here are meant to illustrate my own discomfort with the idea of representing human tragedy in a museum. I have great respect for the curators who do so successfully!

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