June 3rd, 2019
The best way to describe today was emotionally charged. I woke up this morning after a full day of traveling feeling completely rested and alert. I was greeted by the rising sun and the luscious green landscape as the rest of Kigali was also awakening. The view from my door this morning was breathtaking and felt like my first sip of the endless beauty that Rwanda has to offer. I took a morning walk with some of my new friends and got a taste for Monday mornings in Kigali. The biggest noticing I had was the slower paced lifestyle of the civilians in Rwanda. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry to get to school or work, nobody was engulfed in their phone catching up on emails or social media. It was a stark contrast to life in the US, but a refreshing one. The people were so curious when they looked at us, but you could tell that their stares were not menacing. So far, the people have been so warm, welcoming, and kind.
The memorial site was really informative and painted a horrifically vivid image of the atrocities that took place during the Rwandan genocide. It is so easy to point fingers and blame the Hutus, but after reading some of the propaganda that was fed to them, I hesitate to think I would have behaved differently in their shoes. Learning about the strategic plan that the Hutu extremists had, the brutality of the attacks on the Tutsi people, and the number of lives that were lost puts me at a loss for words. I got really emotional in the children’s room, and two children stuck with me the most: one child whose best friend was “his mum” and another child who died by being slammed into a wall. Those children would be only a few years older than me now. The way that these children were humanized by this made their narrative even more powerful. A quote I found in the memorial that really spoke to me was “If you knew me and you really knew yourself you would not have killed me.”
Amongst all the terror, there were also many stories of bravery and hope. My absolute favorite was the story of Sula Karuhimbi, a “witch-like” woman who used her reputation for being possessed by evil spirits to scare the Interahamwe away from her home, sheltering and saving the lives of 17 Tutsi’s. She basically told the Hutus that if they stepped foot into her home, they would be killed by evil spirits. Not only do I love the story of a strong and powerful woman, but I love how she used her strengths to save lives. Another wonderful quote I found was “he who saves a single life saves the entire world.” This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Ralph Waldo Emerson. To save a life is to save a world, because each life is an entire world in itself. The stories of those who saved lives during the Rwandan genocide did the hard thing that ultimately put their own lives at risk, and I think we as humankind could learn a thing or two from those people.
The colonialization that divided and labeled the Rwandans is what ultimately led to the genocide, and it’s scary to notice that the same pattern is happening in the US. We have developed a mentality of “us vs. them.” Humans are much more alike than they are different, and the labels that we place on people have an influence of dehumanization. It is a lot easier to compare Rwanda to other countries I have traveled to, but much more difficult to consider how my own homeland parallels the negative observations I have made. I think that is the same with all judgment, and learning to see the trueness of yourself before labeling others is an important step.
About the Author
My name is Amanda, and I am thrilled to be joining you all on this exciting journey! I heard about this opportunity through the lovely Gabrielle, and it was an opportunity I couldn't refuse. I am a dual major in Middle School Math Education and Psychology with a minor in Spanish, and I am a Columbia, Missouri native, so I attend college a far 10 minute drive from my childhood home. As much as I love Missouri, I want to broaden my world-view through personal experiences as much as possible. I spent my summer in India observing and working alongside a Middle School Math teacher and realized my passion for international education. I spent my winter break in the Dominican Republic working in classrooms and teaching English to students of all ages. My thirst for international educational opportunities has only grown stronger, so when Gabrielle told me about this experience in Rwanda, I couldn't say no. I have two main hopes to get out of this trip. The first is to collaborate and learn from teachers in Rwanda to become a better teacher and human. The second goal I have is to learn a very different approach to teaching mathematics through drama-based learning. I have no experience in this realm and I'm excited and nervous to break out of my comfort zone to learn and practice drama-based education.