Beauty and sadness

Things that happened today:

-Went to a market and got totally ripped off for a wooden spoon after laughing at Tim for getting ripped off for fruit (karma?).  Our guide Eric told me that I paid about 10x what it was worth. This led to the theme of the day being the most priceless spoon in the world, and landed me the nickname Spoon. I’m not even mad, I love this spoon because the story is now so hilarious.

-Spoke to adorable children who were playing in the street. They were fascinated by Rebecca’s tattoos. Eric translated the response of a little girl who looked very concerned- she said the bird and the flower were good, but not the snake. She was cautious to touch it.

-Then we went to the first of the genocide memorials we will be visiting. This site had, amongst lush green plants and beautiful flowers, enormous concrete slabs that marked mass graves where approximately 250,000 people were buried. Someone had laid a rose (now dried) on one of the graves, and I walked around unable to comprehend such staggering loss and destruction. The inside of the museum had panels that told the story of the genocide with horrific imagery amongst stained glass windows, paintings, and sculpture that processed the horror. One room was filled with photos of people who had been killed, all hung up with clips so if someone recognized a photo of a relative they could take it. Some people had clipped up notes to their deceased relatives or friends. These pictures were family photos, wedding photos, candids, selfies, pictures of people laughing, holding babies, spending time with friends. I sketched a few of them and reflected on the way this exhibit offered no opportunity to disconnect. These were not just numbers, these were not just victims, these were individuals who lived full lives before being murdered. In America we talk about genocide in numbers. Our memorials have no faces, have nothing to really connect us to the individual victims of atrocities. While drawing these smiling faces I almost forgot what happened to them. I was in the world of the photographs, and I felt bad about it for a moment before realizing that it’s important to remember people as the people they were, not what happened to them. The images of smiling faces had no connection to a brutal genocide, but at the same time they did, and that juxtaposition was striking.

The hardest parts of the memorial came next- one room was full of cases that held skulls and bones. Some skulls had bullet holes, some were cracked open, some were smashed apart. Some were very small. I thought of the children we had talked to on the street and I couldn’t stop crying.

The next room was called the Children’s Room. This room had photos of some children who had been victims of the genocide in an effort to show the individual horror, because they could not of course have a description for every victim. Each photo was accompanied by their age, some favorite foods and activities, and the cause of their death. Their ages ranged from nine months to seventeen years. Seeing photos of beautiful, smiling kids accompanied by “Age:2. Favorite drink: Milk. Cause of death: Smashed against a wall.” made me ill. Shot in the head. Grenade thrown into shower. Machete in mother’s arms. I was lost and wandering aimlessly with tears streaming down my face, thinking of the children I know, wishing I could have protected these ones. These kids would be around my age now. That nine-month-old could have been in my grade. These children were taken out of the world just as I was brought into it, and it seems so unfair that innocent people, even babies, can be the victims of violence so unimaginable when they had done nothing but be born in the wrong place in the wrong time. I could have been born a Rwandan in 1994. That could have been me if the cards were dealt a different way. I’m not sure how to process that thought, but it’s an uneasy realization.

-This evening we went to a gorgeous Italian restaurant (the idea of an Italian restaurant in Africa was so interesting to me) and de-stressed while eating pizza after a long and exhausting day. I feel very connected to this group and I'm glad to be a part of it.   

It is such a gift to be in Rwanda with Carl Wilkens- in the museum we found his picture and a description of him, and in the gift shop I watched a man pick up and examine Carl’s book while Carl looked around five feet away.  His knowledge and willingness to share his experience make for an incredible asset to our trip as our group processes what happened here. We’re so lucky to have the tools we have – theater, art, people like Carl- to explore this experience as it happens.