Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Clean Kigali

I've been to a few African cities. Clean is definitely not the adjective I'd ever use to describe those cities. So when my friend KB told me about how clean Kigali is, my eye brow raised in skepticism, almost like a reflex reaction. "You have to see it to believe it. Kigali is so clean, you can't find a plastic bag litter!" KB added adamantly.

So to Kigali I went, for seeing is believing.

The plane landed on a rainy day. As it approached for descent, I could see some parts of city were flooded. "Oh this is not going to be fun, and not going to be clean!" I thought.

I went out for a walkabout to get myself orientated on the city. Rwanda is famously known as the Land of Thousand Hills. Kigali, the capital is spread over some undulated hills. After the horrific episode in spring 1994, the city is rebuilding slowly but steadily. Roads well paved and high-rise beautifully erected and there are even city landscaping carefully manicured. The city is set abuzz, vibrant and full of energy. Businesses and investments are coming back to town and Rwanda as a nation is moving on forward together. There isn't the tiniest hint of the atrocity of the genocide.

And yes, the city is clean, spotless even. It's true that there's no litter on the street at all, or the back alleys or the side lanes for that matter. Cigarette buds, plastic bottles, candy wrappers, plastic bags, none in sight. What floored me with the cleanliness of the city was that there was not even fallen leaves from the trees lining alongside the roads. I was truly impressed.

Yes, now I'm a believer!

It was not until I visited the Kigali Memorial Center, I found the city is just sterilely clean, artificial and fragile. Are they not trying too hard, to clean up the city? And cleaning up the city, is it not an effort to polish off the stubborn black stain of the nation's past? Suddenly the cleanliness of the city was reduced to merely a cheerful facade, to hide the hideous monstrosity happened some 17 years ago. Are they sweeping it all under the carpet, for when it's out of sight then it'll be soon out of mind?

So there it stands firmly, the Kigali Memorial Center. The exhibition documenting the genocide through photographs and survivors accounts on video and various articles such as the victims' clothing and the killers' machetes. Many a time during my visit I would want to skip ahead. But the exhibits were as powerfully captivating as they were eerily chilling and torturously painful. They are reminders to Rwanda that hatred can be spread so easily, driving normal folks to do some insanely abnormal deeds. More so, they reminders to the world that inaction is just as hurtful and guilty as action.

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