Today we have officially been here a week! So far we have created some memorable and entertaining stories for our team as well as our housekeeper. We somehow created a fermented soup when our crockpot broke, made half cooked beans on our little stove, learned to wash our clothes in the bathtub, dealt with the lovely side effects that accompany malaria medication, and managed to lock ourselves out of the bedroom from the inside forcing our housekeeper to take the lock off completely. Every day has brought a new experience, testing our boundaries in some way or another.
Yesterday, I think, is the biggest emotional challenge I have faced so far. Visiting the Genocide Memorial in Murambi pulled my emotions in multiple directions as I began to understand the complexity leading up to the massacres. The school was placed on a beautiful hill with mountains surrounding it on every direction. Stepping out of the museum and taking in the serene view, all we could think about was how such a horrible thing could happen in such a beautiful place. There were 24 classrooms lined with 18,000 of the 50,000 bodies that were killed. The extent of the preservation gave me chills. The patches of hair made the bodies come to life and I could almost see the screams of the children.
What we saw that day is impossible to put into words, yet it is a picture that will be engrained in my mind forever. To me, what really made this memorial become reality was discovering that our tour guide was a survivor. What I appreciated most was that he did not tell us this right away. He let us soak in all of the information and walk deep within our thoughts. It wasn’t until I started talking to him about why he chose to work at the memorial did he provide me with that information. I was overwhelmed with emotions and questions when he spoke those words. I couldn’t believe that anyone could survive what I had just seen nor that I would be fortunate enough to be blessed by their presence. He was amazingly patient when he told his story without a drop of hatred. What he said at the end resonated the most with me. He thanked us for coming to visit and learning about his history but to please, please share these stories with everyone we meet. Tell the world what happened to me, my family, and my country.
This blog is our small contribution to his request. Leaving him and the memorial I felt almost stupid and incredibly frustrated that I had only learned about the Rwandan genocide a year ago. This is the second largest genocide after the Holocaust yet it was never mentioned in any of my history classes throughout high school or in any public health classes at GW. Why is there a whole museum dedicated to the Holocaust yet nothing is mentioned about this catastrophic event? How did I not know that a million people were killed within 100 days in a country that is a similar size as my state of Vermont? How could the UN have been located in Rwanda, bearing witness to the events leading to the massacre, yet were able to turn their heads and leave? All of these questions arose and of course there were answers to them that seemed reasonable at the time, but now make no sense to me.
As we were leaving the memorial, my friend Peter turned to me and said, “I hate coming here because you have to see our dark history.” Yes, this is a dark past, yet it is important to remember that every country has a dark history. The difference is that Rwanda has chosen to literally dig up their past so that we are faced with the reality of what occurred. Within 20 years they have recognized the problems of the few and have reached back to the values that their culture is rooted in, putting in great efforts to unite their country once again. We have only been in Rwanda for a week now but so far I think we all can agree that the people we have met have an amazing spirit and have welcomed us into their peaceful home. A home where “there are no Hutus and Tutsis, just Rwandans” -Frank Ndore, RPF officer.