Today we visited another genocide memorial. Rather than a large, official structure, right in the middle of the city, this one was much more raw and visceral. It was a Catholic church, where several hundred Rwandans were slaughtered during the genocide as they took shelter.
Growing up Catholic, church has been a reverent place for me. It was a rather stark contrast to see one as a place of such a horrific event. The church had been perfectly preserved from the genocide. It felt as if it could have happened mere weeks ago, rather than 25 years ago. There were bullet and shrapnel pieces still stuck around the doors and ceilings from when the church was forcibly entered. You could still see bloodstains on the ceiling from victims who had been killed with machetes. Clothing from the victims was neatly folded on many of the benches - many of them covered in bloodstains as well. Much of the clothing was small, sized to fit an infant or toddler - another reminder that this genocide did not only affect adults, but on children as well.
I felt seriously unwell during this visit. How could a reverent place of worship - a place of refuge - become the site of such a horrific event? I could not reconcile those two in my mind. I could not bear to stay inside the church for more than a few minutes at a time. I could not bring myself to walk down the stairs to the basement, where the graves were. Instead, I merely sat on the ground outside the church and thought. This was much more material than I had anticipated processing.
I took many deep breaths. I focused on the ground below me, and the clear sky above me. I listened to the cool breeze rustling through the trees, and the sounds of schoolchildren playing in the field just over the fence. I found a still place in the chaotic center of my mind. I am hopeful that this experience will continue to unpack itself as we journey along this trip.
I am traveling to Rwanda with the intent of a sponge - I want to absorb as many unique experiences as I possibly can, and bring them back to share with my culture. I am a multifaceted artist, and Rwanda is a treasure trove of valuable experiences to draw inspiration from. As a visual artist, I look forward to seeing unique handmade art, and letting it inspire an artistic vision. As a musician, I look forward to hearing vastly different than what I’m used to, and letting that inspire music from my soul. And as a teacher, I’m looking to see teaching methods different than what I have known. I want to bring these gifts back and share them with my culture.