‘Home St Jean’
November 5, 2010

For the last two nights I have been staying at the small town of Kibuye on the banks of Lake Kivu.

Kibuye is about half way down the eastern side of this ‘inland sea’ which runs for almost 100km along the Congolese border. It is the most easily accessible lakeside town from the capital city of Kigali, about three hours by mini-bus.

The first hour of the journey is relatively gentle but the two-hour stretch from Gitarama is something of a slalom course cutting through hillsides and teetering around precipitous valley sides. Despite that it is a well made and maintained road and a tribute to the engineering skills of the Chinese who built it.

When I arrived at the bus depot, looking a bit green about the gills as if I’d just come off a fairground waltzer, I was approached by a moto driver who was not at all phased by transporting my suitcase as well as me complete with rucksack up the steep hill to my lodgings.

I have been staying in what the Bradt guide-book describes as ‘the cheapest accommodation in Kibuye.’ It is called the Home St Jean; a Catholic guesthouse perched on a hill-top at the edge of town which enjoys panoramic views of the surrounding lake.

It has recently been renovated and my comfortable en-suite accommodation (with a very good hot shower) opens on to a shared terrace directly above a beautifully kept hillside garden with a steep path down to a small lakeside beach. All of this for 15,000 RWF (£15.00) per night!

I have been awoken each morning by the first rays of the rising sun dancing on the water and the echoing voices of singing fisherman as they paddle across the lake.

Apparently Home St Jean ‘took a battering’ during the genocide. I’m not quite sure what that entailed but certainly the Genocide Memorial Church, which shares the same promontory a few hundred yards back up the track was the scene of a terrible three-hour killing spree, by a mob fuelled on banana beer and armed with grenades, in which 11,400 Tutsis died.

It seems incomprehensible that Kibuye, with its idyllic, tranquil lakeside location and picture postcard vistas, was the scene of the most comprehensive slaughter of Tutsis in the whole of Rwanda.

There had been a relatively high proportion of Tutsis, about 20% of the local population, totalling around 60,000. When the French arrived, after the genocide, they estimated that 90% of the Tutsi population had been wiped out leaving few witnesses to the crime.

The Genocide Memorial Church remained a broken and desolate reminder of these events for a number of years but has now been lovingly restored, with bright new stained glass, mosaics and wall hangings and once again each Sunday it is filled with the joyful sound of worship.

It still amazes me that so many people have managed to cling on to their faith in the aftermath of such carnage.