Hello, dearest friends and family,
I hope that before reading this post you’ll read the one Carrie posted yesterday, titled Success Story. That will give you a picture of current-day Rwandan life, especially for those women that we’ve had the privilege of helping over the past year. For those of you who have contributed to our program, it’s because of you that our Cooperative members’ children are healthy. Before discussing some thoughts about pre-development life in Rwanda, I want to share this link with you, which will allow you to continue helping this beautiful country progress.
Although Rwanda is today a lush, prosperous country full of smiling faces and optimism, just 17 years ago it was quite different. I can’t count now the number of times that I’ve read and researched the history of colonialism in Rwanda. Over the past three years I’ve read countless books, articles, and journals about colonialism and genocide; I’ve written papers, watched movies, and had conversations about it. Yet I never fail to feel absolutely amazed when I re-read the story, and yesterday I witnessed the most moving and torturous memorial I’ve ever seen.
At the end of a long, windy dirt pathway outside the former town of Gikongoro lies the hill of Murambi. In early 1994, after nearly 100 years of Belgian and French colonial influence in Rwanda, local leaders decided to build a much-needed secondary school (high school) at the top of Murambi hill. Nearly completed in April 1994, it began to serve a completely different purpose. The genocide began on April 6, after former-President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down on his way back from a meeting in Tanzania (at which he was supposed to be putting an end to the chaos and fighting in Rwanda), and soon after Tutsi individuals across the country began to seek refuge in churches, among other “safe” places. In Gikongoro all of the people seeking safety in the churches were directed by local leaders, priests, and their neighbors to the secondary school at the top of Murambi hill–here, they were told, they would be protected by soldiers. As soon as they arrived it was clear that they were doomed. While soldiers did line the borders allowing certain people to enter, the recognized that once they were in the school there was no turning back. Soon after the 6th of April the water pipes were broken. Nobody was given water or food–or anything else–for days. By April 19 over 50,000 men, women and children had entered the school, and by April 21 only 14 survived.
Rwanda has recovered because they have forced themselves to reconcile through an open, transparent society in which education is at the forefront. To remember the 50,000+ victims of Murambi, nearly 850 individuals were dug up from the mass graves, their bodies preserved with limestone, and they were placed on tables in the school. When we first arrived our guide began to explain that the bodies were “systematically” placed for everyone to see. This word is used often here; Rwandan society is full of order and discipline. Our guide went on to explain that genocide is, opposed to war, a systematic, orderly destruction of a particular population. It is clear that this was not war; there are children lying on the tables. There are pregnant mothers lying on the tables. The sight of these rooms was absolutely gut-wrenching. Some of the mothers had tattered and torn dresses on. Some of the children had shirts on that still showed signs of cartoon characters. Many of the women had only underwear on, which had clearly been torn in the acts of rape. Many men and women still had hair, which was often replaced by machete wounds, gashes, and holes in their heads. Murambi shows every sign of innocent people battered by genocide.
Like I said, Murambi school is at the top of a beautiful hill. The surrounding area is filled with lush green cassava trees, pine trees, banana trees, and every other type of tree and bush imaginable. Some of our Rwandan friends have told us that they’re simply not impressed by the natural world anymore–it’s all they know. After being in the rooms of Murambi school, looking past piles of dead bodies through a window that showed only green on the other side, I understood why it has become unimpressive. People say that hills have secrets. If there were ever hills that had stories to tell, they are those in the Land of 1,000 Hills.
I feel that it’s important for everybody to see, read and understand the brutality that has faced this country. What I feel is even more important is for everybody to understand that it could have been stopped. So. Many. Times. Prior to the late 1800s ALL Rwandans lived peacefully among one another. When the Belgians entered the country, and after only thirty years gave each person an ethnicity card (and with it a whole new identity), they began a process of destruction that ended with events like Murambi. “Independence” in 1962 was simply a way for the French to control Rwanda even more through their close ties with the Hutu government. French soldiers were based at Murambi, and across the country, before, during and after the genocide. They were at Murambi hill on April 6, April 19, April 21, and all of the days in between. In May the French soldiers finally decided to tell the UN they needed to put an “end” to the fighting, so they launched Operation Turquoise. This was their way of hiding the rest of the killings when they believed the international community might step in (what a silly idea that was). The UN was notified of the genocide for months before it occurred. The US government was notified shortly before, during, and after the genocide, and yet it took nearly ten years after the fighting had ended for anybody in the US government to even speak the words genocide and Rwanda in the same sentence.
I don’t say all of this to lay blame–although, in some ways, I do. But really, I say all of this so that anybody who believes that every person on this earth is part of what we call humanity will stand up and fight against future genocides. The Rwandan people, and I, have deep faith that this will never happen again–in Rwanda. But I want to take this opportunity to ask anybody who is reading this, no matter what you believe, what faith you practice, or whomever it is you answer to, to pray in your own way that the Rwandan genocide can be a lesson for all of humanity. Pray that the leaders of Libya, and others across the Middle East, stop the systematic brutality in their countries. Support organizations that help prevent and stop genocide; write letters to your government; talk about it. Rwandans have proven that humans are an enormously resilient creature; don’t let others be forced to prove it again.
All my love,