Rwanda - The Genocide

Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Rwanda  ,
Tuesday, May 22, 2007

This is Arianne.

She is four years old. Her favourite food is cake. Her favourite drink is milk. She enjoys singing and dancing. She is dead. She was stabbed in her eyes and head.

Look at her.

This is Irene and Uwamwezi.

They are sisters, aged six and seven. Their favourite toy was a doll they shared. Their favourite food was fresh fruit. Their behaviour was described as "Daddy's girls." They are dead. A grenade was thrown in their shower.

Look at them.

This is Patrick.

He is five. His favourite sport was riding bicycle. His favourite food was chips, meat, and eggs. His best friend was Alliane, his sister. He was a quiet, well behaved boy. He was hacked to death by a machete.

Look at him.

This is Thierry.

He is nine months old. His favourite drink was his mother's milk. He cried a lot. He was described as a small and weak baby. He died by machete while in his mother's arms.

Are you tired of looking?


800,000 people.

In April, 1994, something broke in Rwanda. Over the next hundred days, over 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsi (a questionable term in it's own right) were hacked, shot, bludgeoned, blown up, and burned to death by Hutu extremists. Children, women, the elderly, no one was spared from the madness of a nation that lost its conscience. Small acts of heroism were recorded. Some were saved. But they were far, far too few when faced with the horror that unfolded.

It has been said that anyone over the age of 12 in Rwanda is a victim, a perpetrator, or a collaborator. While this is an over-simplification, it is indicative of how wide spread this event was. No one who lived during this time was unaffected. No one.

I have taught about the genocide in the past. Lots of teachers do. Give a bit of history, assign them to read "We Regret to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families", or maybe throw "Hotel Rwanda" into a dvd player. Some students get a little weepy. Some could care less. Most wonder what they will have to know for the test. Few, if any, will ever walk the streets of Kigali. Few, if any, will see the skulls and the preserved bodies at memorials like Ntarama, Nyamata, and Murambi. Few, if any, will have friends who lost nearly every member of their family to genocide, who fled the country to escape death, who found the dead, abused bodies of their parents in their family home.

Fuck I hate having to write this. I hate having to teach it. It should not have happened.

I was a teacher. I think I was actually a pretty good one. I care about my students. I care about teaching them to think for themselves and think critically. But I hate having to write about this now.

This was an academic exercise for me before. It affected me, but on an intellectual, altruistic, macro level. It's personal now. I have walked the streets. I have friends who lost everyone. How can I write about the loss of their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents and do it any justice at all?

The world failed Rwanda. It stood by, watched, and did nothing. Rwanda failed Rwanda. Friends, neighbours, and family turned their back on each other and let it happen. Sometimes it was friends, neighbours, and family that did the killing.

Do I have to explain what happened here? Do you know why? The "what" is easy enough. The "who" is reasonably clear. The "why" can be explained, but I don't know if it can ever be fully understood.

The stories. You can't imagine the stories. If you can, and can relate to them, I am so very sorry.

And yet, this is a wonderful country. The people are friendly, if a bit reserved. They are "gentil" as the French word puts it. What an incredible irony when you think about what happened here. It is a country that is moving forward from an event that should have destroyed it. There are still many problems. Stay for a while, talk to people, and you realize there is still simmering resentment here and there, rumblings, uneasiness. But when you begin to understand what this country went through only 12 years ago, and the incredible progress, reconciliation, and forgiveness that has happened, it boggles the mind.

So, this is not a history lesson. I'm sorry. This doesn't get served to you on a plate. This country deserves you doing some work and understanding of your own. Read Philip Gourevitch's book, "We Regret to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families", Romeo D'Allaire's "Shake Hands with the Devil" and the documentary of the same name. Watch "Hotel Rwanda." Even better, find a copy of "Shooting Dogs", a (in my mind) better film. Read, try to understand, please. We, everyone, owes Rwanda that.

And look:

This is Fillete.

She was two years old. Her favourite toy was a doll. Her favourite food was rice and chips. Her best friend was her dad. Her behaviour was described as a "good girl." She was smashed against a wall and she is dead.

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