Category Archives: Travel

We Spoke to Former Rwandan Genocidaires – VICE

Editor’s note: All names have been changed. 

At the entrance to Nyarugenge Prison in Kigali, Rwanda, armed guards stand beside painted letters that read, “No Corruption.” Through the gates, I spot guards escorting inmates around. Prisoners wear pink if they are awaiting a sentence, and orange if they are serving one.

During the three-month long Rwandan Genocide 20 years ago, 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus died at the hands of their friends, neighbors, and colleagues. After the catastrophe ended, a huge amount of people needed to be prosecuted, but there were limited resources to conduct the trials. To speed up the prosecution procedure, a system of local justice called gacaca courts was brought in. Trials were held in villages, where victims and their families publicly confronted the accused before their communities.

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Schindler’s Witch: How Sorcery Saved Lives During the Rwandan Genocide – VICE

Twenty years after the Rwandan genocide, the country is still coming to terms with what took place during that period of extreme violence. Perpetrators are still being brought to justice, and heroic stories are still emerging.

One such story belongs to Zula Karuhimbi, a woman some Rwandans claim saved more than 100 people through “sorcery.”

After we learned that she lived in the southern Ruhango District, we drove from Kigali to find her. On the way, we stopped at a roadside restaurant, where we told the waiter we were searching for the “witch” who had saved lives during the genocide. “The witch who was honored by the government?” a customer asked. “I know where she lives. I’ll take you to her.”

He brought us to Musamo Village, where we abandoned our car and ploughed by foot through waist-high shrubbery. Turning into an enclosure, we found Karuhimbi asleep on a straw mat outside a tiny house. She was hugging a small child, who, we later discovered, was an orphaned boy she had recently adopted.

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Remembering the Genocide in Rwanda – Medium

In Rwanda no one is playing music. We’re sitting in a bar called Papyrus.

“That’s where there’d usually be karaoke.” The guy I’m with points towards a corner. “The place would normally be packed; wall to wall.”

It’s twenty years since the genocide against the Tutsis — when 800,000 were murdered by their friends, neighbours, and acquaintances — and this is a week of mourning. “Kwibuka20” signs are hung prominently everywhere in capital city Kigali; their slogan: “Remember — unite — renew”.

The past few days have been heavy with disclosures, admissions, apologies. On Saturday a former genocidaire told a packed stadium never to listen to their parents, because his parents were the ones who told him to kill. A Belgian soldier testified that his colleagues had seen “killers wielding machetes” in their rear view mirrors as they left behind the Tutsis they had been protecting. A survivor told us about the moment a Hutu leader told a group of Interahamwe to “start the work”.

On Monday United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced: “We could have done much more. We should have done much more.”

The press have been told to respect the emotions of those we talk to, but on a bus a man asks loudly: “So are there Tutsi or Hutu neighbourhoods?” “Would they just go door to door?” “Were there many incidences where people tried to protect themselves?”

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Irish Aid Blog Post 4 – Sally Hayden in Malawi

On my way to the airport my Malawian taxi driver asked me what kind of music I listen to. He added, cheerily, “My favourite type of music is blues music… Like Westlife!” Then he pulled out his Coast to Coast CD. After we ruminated over the chances of the band staging a reunion some day, I asked him whether, given their huge following, they had ever played a concert here. “Of course not,” he said. “Malawi is too poor for Westlife.”

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Malawi is a country of over 16 million people. The official languages are English and Chichewa. The average life expectancy is 54 for women, 52 for men. Formerly called Nyasaland, next year Malawi will celebrate 50 years of independence. One in seven Malawians have HIV or AIDS, though very few people talk about it.

There are no Twitter trends for Malawi. Neither are there, less surprisingly, for North Korea, though let’s not get sidetracked. When you enter Malawi into the Twitter trend search engine, it will ask you whether you meant Lusaka.

Malawians have a positive but somewhat cynical sense of humour. In some parts of the country ‘Osama bread’ has been renamed ‘Obama bread’. Kupinga ndale, the Chichewa for ‘practicing politics’, translates directly as ‘to throw an obstacle in the path that your fellow may stumble’. My taxi driver told me that this is representative of the fact that African politics is largely smoke and mirrors.

Some common Malawian names include Gift, Blessings, and Precious. Less common but still in circulation are Limited, Funny, and Omnipotent. Whilst on a tour of his factory last week, I discussed acute malnutrition with a man called Happy.

The colours in Malawi are red-tinged. The roads are dusty. Many times I thought I was getting a tan, only to have it wash off. The sounds when you’re falling asleep are of insects, howling dogs, and distant voices.

Malawians don’t eat out. A friend called Elias told me “In Malawian culture if you want to try Indian food you find an Indian woman and get her to invite you to her house”.  Several people spoke to me of poverty with the same breath they used to offer me food.

Expats in Malawi talk about how difficult they find returning to their “real lives” abroad. Their friends complain about low wages, or hospital queues, or a single power cut. They find that actively forcing themselves to empathise with people’s complaints creates a disconnect, a situation where they begin to resent their home countries, and the people who live in them.

I told Malawian friends that Irish people often get depressed. “But why?” they asked. “Maybe it’s the weather”, I said, and tried to explain a month of grey skies.

I’ve learnt a lot about poverty on this trip, but I still can’t comprehend it. Poverty isn’t tangible, it’s a series of omissions. It’s a lack of security, a lack of entertainment, a lack of opportunity. It’s a lady who has sat on her porch every day for two years because she broke her leg and her local hospital couldn’t fix it…


Irish Aid Blog Post 3 – Sally Hayden in Malawi

In a small brick church with a roof of straw and plastic bags a preacher speaks of heaven as being a country free from sickness and corruption. 200 metres down the road a woman sits for twelve hours in the same spot every day, hammering stones into chippings, which she sells to buy food for her grandchildren. Their parents died from Aids, and her husband is long deceased. When I ask her what the biggest problem in her life is at the moment she says “Young people. They’re not as respectful as we were when I was young.”

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In a local bar a government official’s son boasts about how expensive his car is. Later that night a white South African asks me whether I want to join his group, the “white people group”, because I might be “scared of all the blacks”.

In the market a dreadlocked man wearing an ‘Eat Pray Love’ t-shirt tells me that Irish people would make great Rastafarians. At a lodge a few miles away someone from England explains how he came here to volunteer organising soccer matches in an orphanage and was hired as the coach of the national football team, aged just 17.

At a public debate on corruption Victor Charles Banda from the Anti-Corruption Bureau proclaims “What I have seen is such that our government system is completely corrupt. When 10% of the population are getting richer abnormally and you are walking barefoot you should be worried.”

Mother’s Day in Malawi is a national holiday. 1 in 36 women die in childbirth here, compared with 1 in 8,100 in Ireland. A fourteen year old whose mother died in May tells me that poverty is the feeling of embarrassment when she’s talking to someone who has everything, and she hasn’t even got shoes.

When kind, tambourine-wielding Bishop E. I. Lazaro says “I hope we are of the same family because in heaven there is no skin colour”, I think it would be nice if everyone lived by those sentiments. It would be nice if the officials at the immigration office didn’t expect me to skip the queue, or if the bar down the road didn’t only turn on football matches for white people.

When I came to Malawi I brought a suitcase full of old leggings, runners, and large-sized men’s t-shirts, which I would like to believe says more about my prejudices than my terrible fashion sense. People make fun of Westerners in Africa for leaving all their good clothes at home and dressing like they’re going on safari. While packing I didn’t consider that I might end up dancing in a night club with beautiful girls in heels, or driving through Lilongwe in a convertible with a best-selling hip hop artist.

It’s hard to describe the things that exist and don’t exist in a developing country.

There isn’t an organised infrastructure. Complex improvement plans are in place, but there are several, they’re NGOs and they’re competing against each other. There isn’t transparency. It is estimated that 30% of the national budget is lost through fraud…


Irish Aid Blog Post 1 – Sally Hayden in Malawi

One of my new friends here has joked that there should be a video game called ‘Driving in Malawi’. You would spend your time dodging goats and chickens, and on either side of the road would be smoking trenches, the kind that replace footpaths, and double up as a means of waste disposal.


Malawi is incredible. This was a country that I couldn’t even begin to imagine, that barely gets a mention in histories of the continent. 694 pages of the tiny-fonted tome that is ‘The Scramble for Africa’ sees one passing acknowledgement, on page 678.

Since I arrived in the 17th least developed country in the world, two weeks after handing in my master’s thesis and completely alone, everyone has been so helpful. A presidential candidate took me to lunch, and then helped me move my luggage between accommodations, a broadcast journalist offered to share sources, and is bringing me to see his newsroom. Malawi’s biggest music festival, ‘City of Stars’, offered me a press pass. I am particularly excited to see the ‘Malawi Mouse Boys’, a four-piece band that divides their time between singing gospel music, and catching and barbequing mice, which they then sell to people on kebab sticks.

I’m talking to everyone, and learning everything from cultural niceties to political secrets. In Malawi “you’re looking really fat today” is a compliment, and calling something “Chinese” is an insult. Meanwhile, the country is still reeling from last week’s assassination attempt on government budget director Paul Mphwiyo, and fingers are pointing in all directions.

Politics dominates the discussion in all sectors of society, and the word ‘corruption’ permeates. When invisible, it is a noun to be resigned to, an immeasurable drain on development. When visible, it is a matter for huge condemnation…


The Lion, the Sheep and the Kiwi

“Now when I feel an earthquake I pause in bed to guess its ranking on the Richter scale and then fall back asleep”.

Aristotle claimed that everything we see is an imperfect replica of a better version in a more perfect world. This is how Ireland compares to New Zealand. In our antipodean equivalent every colour and contrast is enhanced. Visualise higher mountains, bluer skies, countless waterfalls – though existing in a landscape that’s strangely reminiscent of home.

Cinematically this country has worked as a canvas for Narnia, Middle Earth and Mordor. And business keeps booming, with Tintin, Avatar and Yogi Bear all recently calling it home thanks to the “Jackson Effect”. Far from claiming indie-style that you had heard of this island-duo before they were famous, embrace your inner hobbit. There’s nothing like cruising over New Zealand mountain roads with the Lord of the Rings soundtrack blaring.

The population’s identity is hard to place. Unlike their Aussie counterparts, New Zealand for the most part accepted their indigenous, and the Maori culture is revered, respected, and used to inspire fear in less worthy sporting opponents (Haka anyone?). However the historic British influence has not vanished completely. The South Island still boasts towns named Cromwell and Middlemarch, and discovering that locals had stayed up until 3am to watch William and Kate’s nuptials was certainly no surprise.

Yet your trip may start with a reminder of the fragility of nature. Christchurch is a broken city in the middle of paradise. The series of earthquakes have obliterated its heart, leaving only a shell of suburbs and memories. The city centre has been destroyed, and the locals pause while answering requests for directions to recall what still exists and what doesn’t. Surrounding rubble makes lingering houses appear prominent and guilty. But the unshakeable Kiwi sense of humour lives on, and to the unsuspecting tourist little the population say straight-faced should be unquestionably believed.

The South Island is easily navigated. A functioning car and a group of people who you can put up with for long periods of time are the dream. Leave a week to see everything, or an eternity to take it all in.

Franz Joseph should be your next destination. There is nothing cooler than trekking on a 12km long glacier. Above you on either side is rainforest, shot down the middle with a broad frozen cascade. Spikes and waterproofs are provided. As you ascend your able guide will hack steps for the less capable walkers, and possibly a table and chairs for lunch.

After the steady silence of ice, prepare for a shock. Queenstown is to an adrenaline junkie what a backstreet alley is to the real deal, and hearts in this town beat faster than anywhere else in the world. Whoosh through the air upside-down on the world’s largest swing. Go skydiving and bungee jumping all in one day, and spend the night celebrating your survival. And if fear has you reverting to your childhood, get the gondola up to Bob’s Peak and go luging.

Dunedin hosts a beautiful university, and more importantly Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world. San Francisco forgotten, this climb will have you crawling up and rolling back down.

Rangitata, close by, is where the backpacker’s rite of passage, that ever revered “white-water rafting”, is waiting to initiate you. The Rangitata hostel is also in the running for the record number of tourists that can be fit in one room. Each bunk bed is three stories high.

Milford Sound is highly publicised but unforgettable cruising spot and Mount Iron in Wanaka is another hike worth sweating for. Meanwhile Puzzling World is a shrine to the bizarre, and offers both a maze and a monetary prize to any psychic who can locate a hidden item, a challenge which six “professionals” have failed so far.

Supernatural activities aside, the allure of New Zealand at its base qualities is undeniable. The effect of your surroundings will alter even the most hardened urbanists, and soon you’ll find yourselves irresistibly drawn to previously unappreciated amusements like hiking, scenic cycling and bird watching. Aristotle said that personal beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of reference. So ignore this article and seize any chance to see for yourself.