Thoughts from the TIGE camp

-I was less afraid than I was last year but still felt the initial nerves spring up upon seeing them. These men had killed people, who knows how many. Some were old and some looked very young. I wondered how young they had been when they joined the Interahamwe in 1994, and how hard those conditions must have been for young boys who were raised with propaganda and told it was either kill or be killed.

-I recognized some faces- a small man who danced with enthusiasm at the front of the group as they sang and waited, a man with sharp bone structure and defined cheekbones who smiled at us. I realized that it seemed like some faces were missing and I wondered who had left since last time. Had those who were missing completed their sentences?

-Eric translated for us; a brave feat for someone whose childhood had been affected by the genocide.They told us that they pictured America as a place where no one is poor and opportunities abound. When we explained that there is violence and tension in America, one asked us “We have one unified Rwanda now. In America, you are very smart. If America is so smart, why can’t they do this?” 

-We talked about how challenging the prison system in America is and they said they would want to come to America and talk to them- the prisoners/killers and the system workers- about their rehabilitation and what is possible. The very notion of that is mind-boggling and if America has any sense at all they will find a way to make that happen. Treating our prisoners as less than human does not rehabilitate citizens, it creates lifelong prisoners.

-They enjoyed our performance and I left feeling light and joyful. It feels strange to look back on that experience, but the fact is that we picture both the victims and perpetrators as two-dimensional. All people involved in the genocide were people just like us, and it will help us more as humanity to imagine them complexly. Instead of asking “How could those people do that?” we must reflect on ourselves and ask “What causes and conditions could cause me to do that too?” Only then can we prevent things like this from happening again.