This morning we checked out of St Paul and drove to visit the Nyamata Memorial. The ride was about an hour from the city center, and as we drove farther and farther away, the more the transition from city to rural life. From the van, we could see people working in the fields by their homes - men hacking at the weeds with machetes and women picking corn, babies strapped to their backs.
One interesting observation was seemingly affluent homes and destinations (specifically a water park) and right next to it were dilapidated homes with children running around. It was a bit jarring to see the normalcy in this stark contrast. It would be interesting to stop and talk to them and gain new perspective if I am to come back in the future.
We reached the memorial and stepped out of the bus. The grounds were just as they were in 1994. Our guide had us all wait at the original gates leading into the church building. There was a large hole, where the perpetrators forced their way inside of the church. The ceiling and walls still had bullet holes and scrapes. In some places there were still stains from the hand grenades used. The clothing was piled all along the benches and in bags along the walls. The altar held shoes, pipes, and bracelets of the victims, along with spears, machetes, clubs, and sharp objects that were used. The air felt heavy. In the basement created after the genocide, they had on display skulls of victims, to remind those who come of how lives were lost brutally. Our guide in this part spoke of the sexual violence suffered by many women during this time. We went to the mass graves after and I could not bring myself to go down. Instead I reflected in the garden and the newly built church for a while after.
I spoke with our guide, asking how day by day he can be so unwavering and professional. His response: "I feel it is a duty to tell our history. It is difficult. But I pray all the time to God because he will protect me and the visitors."
Then began our trip to Muhanga. Several hours of winding up and down hills through the countryside.
The view from the room is beautiful, and I am excited for the next few days here.
I am honored to have been given this opportunity to go to Rwanda and look forward to growing from this experience, both professionally and personally. The Great Lakes region in Africa is of great interest to me, especially as a resident of the Great Lakes region in the United States. I currently work as a refugee resettlement case worker at a local agency in Buffalo. Conflict resolution and community building are two topics that are crucial in my work, and I am eager to both share my stories on those subjects and learn from the stories of others. Ultimately, through our collective stories, I hope to witness and engage in the solidarity that has developed in Rwanda since the mid-nineties. My hope is to bring that knowledge back to my work in Buffalo. The lessons learned can then be put into action by aiding in the development of programs that will have a positive effect on the families and communities that I serve.