Two days ago we visited a second genocide memorial, this time a church where 10,000 people had gone for protection but where they then ended up being slaughtered. It was horrific- you could see the holes in the ground from where a grenade had blown the door open, windows were broken, and you could see bullet holes in the ceiling. The pews were covered with piles of clothing collected from the victims-pants, dresses, a small pink flip flop, a tiny shirt with a cartoon character. The statue of the Virgin Mary had been shot at (because Hutu soldiers said she would protect the Tutsi) and a cross had been used as a weapon. Below there was a case filled with skulls, and a coffin holding the body of a woman who had been raped, killed, and mutilated after death. Going outside we saw more mass graves, two large headstones, one with names of people identified, one completely blank. There were two graves with stairs so we could walk down into the crypt. One held caskets, one held caskets, bones, and skulls. I went into both, and I realized something interesting about my personal response. I would think, going into this, that skulls would have a more frightening, “creepy” impact on me and that I would prefer being surrounded by coffins, but having experienced both I realized that the coffins were the only thing that made me afraid. The skulls upset me greatly, but looking at them- some smashed, some with bullet holes, a few that seemed the front of a baby’s skull because their entire skull wasn’t fully formed- they didn’t scare me. I cried, and I was moved, but seeing them for what they really were instead of faceless boxes made me able to face reality instead of being caught up in fear. Fear makes us lose our connection, which is one of the reasons I think these kinds of memorials are so effective. The facelessness in the U.S in the ways we process things keeps us from processing at all.
While there, we had the incredible gift of meeting a pastor who had lived through the genocide and wanted to tell his story. His friend translated for him, saying that his entire family had been killed- his parents, wife, and four children (all under the age of 5). He said he has forgiven the perpetrators because anything that doesn’t promote peace isn’t helpful. He expressed his joy that we were there and that we would continue to tell his story. Carl led us in prayer with this pastor in a moment of absolute connection that moved me nearly to tears and that I will remember for the rest of my life. So many gifts keep opening up all around us.
Then we went to Akagera National Park. On the drive there we had to pass through a very impoverished town, and it was very difficult to see. I'm not used to looking at that much poverty in the face, and it was jarring. Children were asking for water bottles and offering to sell things as we drove past. However, they were very excited (especially the children) to wave at us and make a connection. Connection is quickly becoming one of the themes of this trip for me- it's everywhere, we just have to look for it. We stayed the night in the game park in a beautiful hotel and went on two incredible safaris (one each day) where we opened the roofs of our cars and stood out. Rob and I stood most of the time and got covered in red dirt being blown from the car in front of us. We ended up looking like we had gotten awful spray tans. We saw incredible wildlife- I saw THREE elephants that I was so excited about I nearly cried. We also saw baboons, impala, giraffes (from a distance), hippos, and more. Standing out of the top of that car I felt like I was flying through this astonishing savannah landscape, and it was magical.
This juxtaposition of beauty mixed with sadness is a huge part of Rwanda. It is a place that the United States has much to learn from if only they choose to look.