The world is full of atrocity.
In human history; ancient and recent. In modern day; from Syria to Iraq to Myanmar and South Sudan. Stories of pain, mass murder, terror, and prejudice are told from all corners of the globe throughout recorded time.
Within these records are stories of human triumph, reconciliation, and the pursuit of justice. It's a cycle. World response to modern atrocity is typically politically motivated, regardless of each NGO's idealistic pamphlets. Horrible things happen - the world either responds or doesn't...people create memorials...then horrific events occur elsewhere. This will not end until the Good Lord calls us home. It's broken humanity.
I know enough to know how little I know. But one thing I have learned - after traveling the world the past 7 years - is that there is evil and there is good in the world and through evil comes good - eventually.
Today, a public affairs officer from the embassy was gracious enough to spend her Sunday morning driving three english language program participants to two genocide memorial churches just outside of Kigali. This officer has been instrumental in the creation of a preservation grant for one of the churches that will enable preservationists from the US to travel to Rwanda to train locals to preserve these sacred spaces. This preservation is necessary for future generations to bear witness to the dark period in Rwanda's history and to ensure that it is not forgotten or repeated. It was an honor to be with her while experiencing these places. This project is very dear to her, and it was inspirational to hear the history from someone who has invested her heart and work into this place.
Out of respect to my Rwandan friends and readers...I don't need to get into the nitty gritty of what occurred in these churches. You can read about it here or here.
The basic gist: On April 25, 1994, 10,000 Tutsis who had sought refuge inside the Catholic church, considering it a sacred space, were brutally murdered. They were mostly women, children, and the elderly. In 1994 there were 32,000 Tutsis living in the area of the church. Only 2,000 of those Tutsis in this area are known to have survived the genocide. Behind the church is a mass grave that houses 45,000 bodies - earthly remains of souls that have left this cruel earth. Inside the church, the alter cloth is blood stained. The pews are covered in victims clothing. The ceiling is riddled with bullet holes and blood splatters. Rows of exposed skulls line an underground passage. Coffins are piled randomly, some covered with a family name written on a cross, some unmarked.
Genocide is dirty and senseless and leaves a mess for those who survive.
It's hard stuff. As a visitor, you wonder whether it is even appropriate to be there, to turn this atrocity into tourism. But, our embassy officer reminded us of the importance to tell the story. To learn and listen and repeat it to those willing and able to hear. To write this blog, to tell our friends.
Horrific events occurred in Rwanda in the years leading up to and culminating in the 1994 genocide. Unspeakable, unfathomable acts. A reality that my neighbors, moto taxi drivers, students, and friends live every day with. A reality I will never pretend to relate to or understand. This is their story. This is their pain.
As we stood in the garden beside the mass graves, I asked our tour guide why she became a tour guide. I was, and still am, mystified that she could tell the story over and over without some kind of serious mental instability. She replied that as a genocide survivor, she has the responsibility to tell others what happened here. She said that this is her history and it cannot be repeated. By telling the story of the thousands who died in that church - she is somehow helping others to bear witness to the events and honor the dead.
For 20 years after the genocide, the town of Nyatarama did not have a church. Their church was a mass grave - an important memorial, but still not a functioning church. But in 2014, a new church was finally built only 400 meters from the place where just one generation ago a majority of the town was slaughtered. They have their church back. They are rebuilding. Memorializing. Preserving. And at least on the surface - reconciling.
I will never, ever understand the events of April, 1994 in Rwanda.
I don't need to.
But I do need to show you these pictures, let you know that this church exists, and spread the hope that by awareness, human horror can somehow be stifled. Or at least let those living with this reality be honored.
The world is full of monstrosity. North, South, East, West, no corner is immune.
This is Rwanda's unique pain.
Let's bear witness and honor her.
'For the dead and the living, we must bear witness," -Elie Wiesel.
walk slow. xoxo.