a hard day.

I am amazed at how quickly I can switch between feeling entirely capable and content here, to feeling completely overwhelmed. And this has been a weekend of the latter. So I am sorry if this is a little dark. I do not mean for this to be sensationalist. At all. I just need to write a bit, in an attempts to process.

I must preface the following, with the fact that my time in Rwanda has been unbelievably positive thus far. This is a beautiful country full of astounding people. Sadly it is also a country with a tragic past and complicated present. I am thankful that I am now able to associate so many things other than the genocide with this place. However, I think everyone should visit Rwanda, to see how far it has come and learn from its history. The extensive reconciliation occurring here is a humbling experience, and is proving to be an enormous lesson in forgiveness.

We visited one of the larger genocide memorials on the outskirts of Kigali yesterday afternoon.

I have been struggling with whether or not I wanted to go, but I have realized it is not a matter of wanting to go. But needing to go. I needed to face the things that happened here head on, to better understand them, and to pay respect to the people I have come to know as my colleagues and friends.

Yet three things specifically incited my decision this week.

First of all, Kathryn and I have decided to participate in a HROC workshop in a small village outside the city. We leave today. It is a three day seminar, which works to bring together genocide survivors with genocide perpetrators families, or the genocidaires themselves. This is to promote reconciliation and reintegration, as many people have never received any trauma councilling, and multiple prisoners have completed their sentences and are now being released back into their same communities.

Secondly, I rode behiend a dead body strapped to the top of a cattle truck last Sunday. It is the first time I have been confronted with a corpse outside of a coffin. Death has always been altered faces caked with thick layers of make up. Death is Wards Funeral Home in Weston. Death is oversized bouquets above shells of those who no longer resemble the people I love. It has become a formula of sorts. Not a body tied carelessly across three metal bars with no shred of dignity or respect. I am not sure which bothered me more; the fact that I was witnessing a corpse parading through the streets of a major city, or the fact that no one seemed to notice.

Perhaps when death is so a part of your history, you become complacent, or more accurately, numb. I am sure the pedestrians on the side of the rode that morning, have witnessed far worse within their lifetime, then the limp legs of a dead man swaying with the bumps on the road.

Thirdly, this week it really hit me the extent to which I am living in history. I discovered that my neighbourhood was home to the UN Belgium base in 1994. I pass by the building itself multiple times each day as it is adjacent to our market in kicukiro centre. A large white building with a promenade lined in palm trees. During the genocide thousands of tutsis and hutu-moderates sought refuge there under UN protection. So when Belgium lost ten soilders and decided to pull all of their troops, thousands of people were left vulnerable to be slaughtered. After the attack there, the interhamwe rounded up any survivors in Kicukiro and the surrounding areas. They were forced to march north to Sonotubes, a round-about approximately ten minutes down the road from us. But deciding it was too public a place for a mass execution, these people were turned back around and began a death march back through kicukiro. They walked directly past the compound we live behind, and were all killed on the top of the hill we live on.

And so yesterday we went to the memorial.

To be honest, I don’t really have the emotional stamina to re-write and re-hash, so I will simply include what I scrawled in my journal upon arriving home last night:

“I sat in a room of faded photographs and cried this afternoon. Hundreds and hundreds stung along metal wires. Faces frozen in emulsion. Weddings and birthdays. Studio portraits and candid snapshots.

I walked the paths of mass graves.

258,000 people beneath concrete slabs.

I browsed cases of skulls and femurs.

Only 2000 names known.

I knew the history, the stories, the statistics coming in. but it is entirely different being here, living here. Putting visuals to words.

It is nothing short of horrifying.

The seond floor was a memorial for children. Floor to ceiling photographs, each accompanied with a small write up. Name. age. Favourite: drink, toy, song. Best friend. Demeanor. Last words. Cause of death.

Hacked with machetes.

Bludgeoned with a club.

Shot in mothers arms.

Stabbed in the eyes, then in the head.

I have just sat here for the past few moments with my pen hovering above the paper.

I am at a complete loss for words.

I don’t know what to say.

This isn’t just information I am able to file away. I cannot imagine having lived through this. And the fact of the matter is everyone I see, everyday, were and currently are affected by the events of thirteen years ago.

A dark and swiftly flowing undercurrent.”

Yesterday afternoon was difficult.

I am wrestling with God a lot these days.



margeaux said...

I have been reading all of your blogs since you started to post but was unsure of whether or not I would be able to post a response, and thus did not even look to see if I could. But clearly I can and it is easier than I thought. This post moved me to tears. The way you wrote about your experience with this tragedy was beautiful. I don't think I could have dealt with this myself and probably would sit crying for days after. I know that you will allow this experience to be a positive influence on your life and how you see the world around you. Thank you for posting this.


Slim said...

Laura, words cannot express the trauma it is to your soul when you see this and try to take it in and comprehend.

It is truly gut/heart/soul-wrenching in a way that evokes anger and frustration and then perhaps (along with a lot of mixed emotions) impotence at the sense of one's own insignificance in the face of the magnitude of what you face. It is an earthquake in the soul.. and you wonder.. is my little drop in the bucket going to make a difference?

Laura, Someone once said, Love never fails. Hang on to that. Loving is the right thing to do, not because it works, but because its the right thing to do, regardless.

When I returned from India, the Lord gave me a vision (and I'm not even charismatic!), and I asked how this, my little drop of water in an ocean of need could possibly make a difference. And then I saw the drop of water turn red, and i knew it was the blood of Christ, and that made all the difference.

You're seeing the suffering; the evil. THIS, is what He died for. This, He wanted to redeem.

I prayed for you tonight.

Werner Peters

trev said...

i'm glad you are facing the history of this country head on. you are strong and wise to do so. i pray for more reflection time for you to digest the information and images you're receiving. take care of yourself before you attempt to take care of others.