Being back in Rwanda in many ways feels like a dream. The deja vu I felt upon returning was crazy, seeing old friends like Eric and visiting the same places.The first two days I was feeling sick and was unable to participate, so when I was finally better and able to join the group it felt like my first day here. I was soaking up the lush greenery and waving to smiling people from the bus and I felt tears in my eyes. I’ve been dreaming of returning to this place since I left last time and I can’t believe I’m back.
We visited a co-op and had the opportunity to play with all the beautiful children who lived around there. There is something delightful about young kids who come up to you and hug you without saying a word. They followed us around, holding our hands. One boy who held my hand taught me the Kinyarwanda word for cow, and said “Yes” whenever I said anything.
“What is your name?”
“My name is Molly.”
Another, maybe two years old, found immense joy in making whatever face I made. We played, hopping, laughing, and making faces, until it was time to go.
That afternoon we visited the Nyamata church memorial. This is a church where Tutsi thought they would be safe from the militia because in all prior conflicts churches had been off-limits. The Interahamwe blew the doors open with grenades and killed everyone inside. I had been to this church last year, but the reality of it was still staggering. Bullet holes in the ceiling, holes in the cement floor from the grenades. The pews were covered in clothes, dusty now, clothes that victims had been wearing when they were killed. The statue of the Virgin Mary had been shot at, though the bullets missed. The altar had examples of the farm tools used in the killing, as well as items taken from the victims; rosaries, Tutsi ID cards. One thing was pointed out to us that I didn’t recall from last time- there was a corner with blood on the wall where they had killed children by smashing them. I felt sick.
I knew what was coming this time, so I tried my hardest not to disengage when I saw the rows and rows of skulls underneath the church and in the crypts underground outside. Fractures and breaks from machetes and clubs, bullet holes, so many violent ways to die. Some of the skulls were tiny and I kept thinking that no one in the world should ever have to see the skull of a child. As humanity, we need to be better than this. I pictured the rows of skulls in front of me as how many people they would be standing in a room. I wondered who these people would have been today.
On the plane ride I listened to a Buddhist dharma talk on joy by Jack Kornfield, and he read an except from the poem A Brief For the Defense by Jack Gilbert. This poem reminded me of how Rwanda exists as a constant juxtaposition between loss and joy, and how we need the joy to exist with the sorrow.
A Brief For the Defense
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.