15 November 2012

Rwanda: The Kagunga Landslide - Meet the People Dealing With Its Aftermath

Last month, a family of four tragically perished in a landslide in Kagunga cell - Gikondo sector in Kicukiro District. Weeks later, Society magazine went back to discover how the deceased's relatives and the rest of the community was holding up.

When it rains, residents of this tiny Kagunga literally kneel in prayer for it to recede in peace. While others see rain as a blessing, Kagunga residents consider it a curse! The majority of the houses here hang on for dear life as the rainwater rubbles down, terrorising residents.

The mood around the village is sombre as they silently mourn the ones they lost. 30-year-old Mukamugema Drusilla, a close relative to one of the deceased, and mother of three, lives in perpetual fear. Besides dealing with a family loss, she still resides in the room attached to the very house where the victims met their gruesome death.

Society found her resting on a dirty worn-out mat in front of her rickety one bed roomed house. From a distance, this mud and wattle hovel looks like a cardboard makeshift. In a weak voice she welcomed us offering a wooden bench to sit on. After explaining the reason for our visit, she immediately came to life, recalling the events of that tragic day.

"I know we are all destined to die but it hurts me that her (Mukeshiman Irene) last minutes on Earth were sad ones," she remembers with teary eyed.

On that day Irene, a fruit vendor, returned home tired and weary. Seeing the onrushing rainclouds she joked that the rain that threatened to pour would send them straight to their Creator.

"Before it rained, she hurriedly lit the charcoal stove to prepare dinner for her jolly kids not knowing that that would be her last supper," the inconsolable Drusilla narrated.

Every time it rains, runoff from the hills would bypass the neighbor's compound and head straight for the rickety walls of her hovel. Sadly, on the night of 30th October, the walls collapsed.

"When it started to rain, she took the charcoal stove inside to prepare dinner and also keep the house warm. I went inside too and it rained so hard that evening that I clutched at a rosary, praying to the Virgin Mary to take away the unwanted blessing," she recollected, hand on her gitenge.

Gripped by this tragic tale, we sat there, hanging onto every word.

"Though the rain made noise on these old iron sheets, I heard a big thud that made my heart skip a beat," she continued, pausing to wipe tears from her swollen eyes. "Without a thought in my head, I went out to see what happened."

"The sight will never leave my mind! The brick fence-wall from Kalisa's house had fallen, collapsing on Irene's house. The weak shack gave in, killing her and all her children. I raised an alarm that attracted some neighbors, but by the time people gathered to help, it was too late to save the innocent lives," she narrated.

"We tried to remove the debris from the bodies only to confirm our fears - three lifeless bodies lay there. I wailed like a lunatic but no amount of tears would bring back those innocent young souls who still had a lot see and learn. Death robbed us badly", she mourned.

Porter, Bosco Niyomugabo, the deceased's younger brother who lives a few houses away from the scene of the disaster, was among the first people who heard the alarm and came to the rescue. "I still can't believe they are gone; they left a big hole in my heart! I still see the faces of my nieces and nephew whenever I lay down to rest," he sadly commented.

"I blame poverty for my sister's death; we saw it coming but had nothing to do about it! My sister worked so hard to cater for her family but she couldn't afford a decent house with the little she earned. I feel so bad and sometimes, I blame myself. I tell myself, if I earned enough money at my place of work and built my sister and her children a decent house, they would still be here with me now," Niyomugabo lamented amid tears.

A few meters from this grief stricken place, is another family surviving only by the mercies of the gods. "I have stayed here with my family for three years and there's not a day I don't pray to God to let my family see another day. Our house is shaky and is built on the hills edge, but what can we do about it? We are mere tenants, and this is the cheapest abode we could afford," said 28-year-old Clemantine Mukamugeni.

Sadly, many residents in this area seem to have resigned and accepted whatever fate has in store for them.

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