December 31st, 2015
Today was one of the most moving and powerful days I have ever had in my life. Genocide is always such a hard subject for me to dive into, given the severity and details of the situations. How do I even process what I have just seen? We have just visited the Belgium Memorial, which from an outside view looks like any normal building in Rwanda. The story behind this place, however, leaves one with such a feeling of discomfort and sadness. In April of 1994, ten Belgian Commandos were surrounded by militia who were Rwandan. They ordered the commandos to disarm, and in exchange they would be granted safe passage to a UN base. Instead of this, they were led to a military camp, now this memorial, and attacked by 100 soldiers. They hid in a building, protecting themselves with a few firearms they had concealed. They fought to their death. The building is still preserved, bullet holes and all.
The Belgian commandos who died resisting the militia are just one example of who was targeted in these situations, and how they were killed makes me so uncomfortable. The thought of being cornered with your unit, men you have worked with for a good amount of time, and just being riddled with bullets is so jarring and terrible. These men were only a few years older than I am. The thought of being in that position is horrible.
There was a painting at this memorial that really impacted me as well. It depicted images from the genocide in Rwanda, as well as the Holocaust and even the genocide in Cambodia. These images were in the background of painting, all in black in white, while in the front children and people of all different races picking roses. Such powerful imagery and a beautiful vision for the future.
I have a pair of Converse that I've worn for about four years. They're really beat up and dirty, but they have too much meaning and history for me to part with them. I saw a picture of a boy wearing a pair that was almost the same... he was a victim in the genocide. The most shocking thing about this whole experience has been how many similarities there have been between the victims and myself.
Then came the genocide memorial. We were greeted by a very nice man who encouraged us to not keep any emotions sheltered. The introduction to the museum was a video that featured survivors of the genocide telling their stories. Most of them saw their families killed in front of their eyes in the most inhumane ways possible. Such brutality that no one should ever have to witness.
The memorial itself was very well put together. It began with a brief history of the country and what led up to the 1994 genocide. What amazed me the most from this was how carefully planned this was. From 1959 onward, this was all bout to happen.
Then came the section that dealt with the genocide itself. The images that I have seen of bodies on top of bodies is something I will never unseen and never forget. Innocent men and women were forced to kill their neighbors, friends, and their children, knowing that they themselves would be killed. People would be taken in to be tortured and their attackers would slice their tendons so that they couldn't run. They would watch their family members be tortured and killed while they themselves waited for death.
The Hutu men would repeatedly rape the women and children, some of the men were even knowingly HIV positive. Church leaders would offer refuge to Tutsis looking for a place to hide, and then hand the churches over to the militia. In turn, the militia would throw grenades into the churches, or throw open the doors and open fire with machine guns.
I saw footage of a man hitting another innocent man with a machete, followed by a child with a giant scar on the side of his head. How does someone find any reason to do that to a child?
As I left the room, I began to feel very overwhelmed. I stopped as I was about to enter the next exhibit. My whole body felt achy and heavy. I instinctively sat down on the ground, and the first thought I had was "What if this were my family?" I immediately began to cry.
Eventually I made my way to the next room, and my spirits were immediately lifted. The room was full of stories about individual who did everything in their power to help others during the genocide. Men and women who stood in the face of death and resisted, saving the lives of many in the process. One man, Yahaya Nsengiyumva, saves about thirty people in the genocide. Beatha Uwazaninka recalls the day he saved her life in this story:
"The interahamwe killer was chasing me down the alley. I was going to die any second. I banged on the front door of the yard. It open almost immediately. He took me by the hand and stood in his doorway and told the killer to leave. He said that the Koran says: If you save one life, it is like saving the whole world. He did not know it was a Jewish text as well."
Amoung the rest of the exhibit were many different, but very powerful rooms. One contained the pictures of thousands of victims. They could fill every photo album in my house at least twice. Another room contained the skulls and bones of other victims, more than the size of my middle school (specifically 6th, 7th, & 8th grade). The most powerful room was one filled with pictures of children as old as sixteen and as young as nine months old. They were all killed in the most unimaginable ways, and there was a little bio about each of them. Some were shot, some were hit with machete, one two year old girl was smashed against a wall, a little boy was burned alive. I could in no way hold back my tears.
The most incredible part of this whole experience is that this place an absolute utopia. How was it once like this? This society should be a blueprint for the rest of the world. I am in absolute awe. This place is a paradise.