I spent the last week back in Arusha, a town in northern Tanzania where I lived 5 years ago. I spent the week marvelling at the changes that have occurred since I was last there. I left in May 2002 and returned for ten days in September 2003. At that time I remember being amazed at the new parking spaces that had been painted along the main road. Development in action! This time however, huge new fancy hotels, a new covered market place and a relaxed atmosphere were cause for surprise. The UN has now been here for around 6 years and the changes are marked.
Other welcome surprises were the range of food you could eat – Ethiopian, Chinese, Italian, fast food – all of which had more than one outlet in the town. My surprise can be attributed not to there having been a lack of all this 5 years ago – but a lack of all this for the last 8 months in Rwanda. And the food! So good! So quick! A meat skewer and grilled potato can take over an hour and a half in Rwanda. One timed meal in Arusha (pizza and pasta) took literally 5 minutes. It was incredible – did they read our mind when we walked in the door as to what we were going to order?
I got to catch up with some friends, walk the old paths in the hills I used to know (the stream having been replaced with a roaring river ensuring wading wet legs all round) and visit old haunts. Memories flashed in front of my eyes at times, as though walking into an old photograph. It was such a welcome break.
We also visited the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda – the UN courts which are trying the big players in the genocide. As I shivered in the air conditioned viewer’s section of the court, I thought of the thousands of local trials, gacaca, going on all over the country in the burning heat. It was interesting to see the fear on one witness’s face – a big guy who used to be in charge of one of the northern towns in 1994. He wasn’t even on trial – but his outburst at one point to the judges “You don’t understand how frightening it is to be here in front of you big people – ça me fait trembler!” showed how close the line between witness and defendant could be.