So far I haven’t mentioned the events of 1994, but I feel like I need to bring it up sometime, and now is as good a time as any.
Yesterday we visited the memorials at Ntarama, Nyamata, and the Kigali Memorial Centre, which serves partly as a museum. The group I was in visited the churches (Ntarama and Nyamata) first. Nothing prepares you for what you see there.
I went to Dachau with my parents a few years ago, and that was a starling experience. Even though you know you’re standing on ground where hundreds of thousands of people died, it’s not something that is overly present. It’s the weight of the knowledge that gets to you. Ntarama was a strikingly different experience for me. When you walk into the church, you see the church essentially as it was 17 years ago. Bloodstained clothes have been kept there to show the sheer masses of people who were brutalized in that very place. You see the belongings that people brought to the church, believing that it would be a place of refuge.
And then you see the bones. Both Ntarama and Nyamata kept the bones. The skulls astounded me the most. Some that have things poking out of them as if something had been forced through the head. In others, you see the sliced sections from the machetes. The most horrifying were the skulls with large gaping holes and smaller holes around them. These wounds were made by clubs that had nails on the ends of them, which were meant to cause more suffering. I’d never seen bones that showed the kind of brutalization that these bones had endured.
My immediate reaction when I saw all of the bones and all of the clothes was that I wanted to get away. I wanted to turn around and walk out of the church and never see them again, but I knew I couldn’t do that. I knew seeing these things was important, no matter how horrifying. I got to a point of nausea when the guide started explaining to us why there were large, dark splotches on the wall. When the Interahamwe militia came, they would pick the children up by the legs, swing them, and bash them against the wall to kill them. Seventeen years later, the blood is still on the wall.
After the initial horror, deep sadness. It was all I could do not to sob over the memorials. And after the sadness, only anger. How could humans do this to other humans? How do we have the capacity for this kind of evil? And how did we say “never again” after the Holocaust, only to let it happen again? Who will stop it the next time?
When we left Nyamata, a pack of school children was waiting outside the memorial, and they swarmed us because it’s always very exciting when they get to greet a large pack of Muzungus. The children were laughing and were so cheerful. One of my friends said, “But these children are so beautiful.” The question that keeps running through my head is how that kind of beauty still exists in the midst of something as ugly as genocide?
I still feel like I don’t have the right words for what I experienced yesterday. I have feelings. Frustration, hopelessness, sadness, doubt. But I don’t have any words.
Rwanda is more than the genocide. But you can’t know Rwanda without knowing of the genocide. I know I haven’t done these memorials any justice in what I’ve written, but I hope it gets someone thinking because we need to think about this. Our little western bubble needs bursting and we need to take a look at what goes on in the world around us while we sit and ignore it.