I do not have a title for this journal. I cannot put words to the feelings that I am experiencing. Today has been an exceptionally difficult and emotionally draining days of my life.
We started out this morning at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. They have a huge garden in which many victims have been buried all together. Then, inside is sort of a museum. On the ground floor there is the entire history leading up to the genocide and then the details of the genocide and where Rwanda has done since the genocide. All of the facts were accompanied with pictures. On the second level was a brief overview of genocide in the world and the many different genocides that have taken place throughout the twentieth century. Then there is a few rooms dedicated to the children in which a few pictures are displayed and some information about the children is given (ie. their favorite foods, last words, favorite person, and how they died). That was by far the hardest room because it is always difficult to put faces to the numbers. You can just read numbers and not feel anything but, seeing faces is just haunting. There were also a ton more pictures without any details and I tried to look at each and every one. While the museum was impactful, it was no preparation for what lay ahead of me today. But it also made me extremely upset because it just further reinforced how much some tiny bit of Western assistance could have done to stop the incidents of genocide from occurring. And I know that one of the key players in the genocide was just tried and it is true that if the Belgian troops which he killed had not been killed there would have been much more assistance and there may have been a chance of stopping the genocide sooner and saving more lives.
AFter lunch we visited two churches at which mass murder occurred. They obviously could not be used as churches after that so, they have been turned into memorials and they have basically been left pretty much they way they were at the moment that the murders occured. AT the first church, the sign read that more than 5,000 people were killed there. Inside, everything was left as it was and all of the skulls and bones of the people killed were layed out on shelves. I was completely struck and I felt like I was almost going to fall over. In addition to the bones and skulls being there, the clothing of all the victims was hung all over the inside of the church. In the back there were all of the shoes and jewelery or other belongings of the victims. These 5,000 people were real, they carried rosaries, they had pens in their pockets and the had watches on. It is impossible to understand this from a book and the smell of the room was extremely nauseating and overwhelming. It is even difficuly to describe in order to give it justice. During the Rwanda genocide overall a lot of people flocked to the churches because in previous years when there were revolts, the churches were generally safe and people would not murder people there. But, this was not the case in 1994. In fact, in Ntarama, the first church we stopped at, the mayor of the town told people to go and hide out in the church and then the same mayor led the Hutu killers up to the church. Essentially, the churches actually made the jobs of the genocidaires easier because it gave them targets where they could kill 5,000 birds with one stone, so to speak. It is really disheartening and faith inhibiting. But yeah, so we spent some time in that church. At first when we walked in I was just so blown away and shocked that I couldn’t really move or process it and I was extremely reluctant to take pictures. But, then I realized that it is necessary for people to know about this and to see these pictures and these remains, as painful as it may be to see, even in a picture. So, I took pictures and I tried to document the somberness and the extreme sorrow and pain that was present in this one room church. The room was just filled with an indescribable aura but, it really made me realize that genocide is really the ‘failure of humanity’ It is the point at which people do not consider their fellow human beings as people or humans, or even animals, which deserve life and respect.
So, the story at Ntarama, the first church, was that after the mayor led a huge group of Hutu killers to the church, they approached on foot with guns, machetes, anything they could find(some of which are lying in a corner of the church still) and th surrounded the church where the people were trying to hide. Then, they just killed everyone. Then they set another smaller building on the church property on fire nd many people died in there. A few people in my group were walking through the church grounds and they heard something crunch under their feet and they realized it was the crunch of bones. The person who gave us a brief explanation of Ntarama was a survivor of the attack on that church. He had somehow managed to hide in the bush with a few other people and he lived off of peactically nothign for about 2 months.
The second church, whose name is escaping me, was very different. It was a much bigger church;thus, many more people were killed there. I believe that it was more than 15,000. In this church they still have the altar cloth that was there on the day that the church was stormed and this cloth is just covered in dried up blood. There was blood splattered against all of the walls. Many of the brick walls in the inside of the church had pieces missing from them or they had small dents in the walls and this was because the killers threw small children against the wall which in most cases killed them instantly. Underneath this church, they have built a room in which they have the skulls and bones of the victims are in a glass case. At the bottom of the glass case is a casket which houses the body of a woman who was killed violently. Her story was that she was quite beautiful so, the killers all raped her many times and after that, instead of just killing her they stuck a tree branch up her vagina and pushed it through her body and it came out of her head. She died holding her 3 month old baby to her chest and the baby is still in the casket with her.
OUtside, in the back of the church, there were 2 mass graves/coffin holders. These graves were built after the fact to give the victims some sort of proper burial/ death respects. So, you have to climb down a flight of stairs in order to get into these graves. They are quite dark once you are down there because there are no lights obviously. And in the first mass grave, there were just many caskets stacked on shelves. They tried to put as many people in there as possible and most of the caskets were unidentified people. In the second mass grave, there are no caskets, it the same setup where you walk down into the dark grave and then there are small corridors on both sides of the stairs in which there are shelves on which there are many skulls and bones. It is quite frightenigng but, at least these graves are giving the victims some sort of proper burial and they are not just falling to the waste side.
So, yeah, that was out day. WE then came back and had a group discussion, which I had to lead with another girl. It was our most difficult discussion yet, obviously. But, I hope that at least I am able to educate other people about the atrocities that have occurred and I have the hope, however naive it may be, that if people are aware of how destructive the actions of the past have been to our evolution as human beings, they will think twice before committing any more acts of sheer madness.
Attempts at Hope, Peace and Love from Rwanda.
I wrote the majority of this post on Friday but, because of the nature of it I wanted to read it over and complete it before I posted it. Thus, it is being posted now.