We visited a genocide memorial this afternoon.
It was deep.
At first, I wasn’t convinced I should write about it. It was a powerful, moving, sobering, and reverent experience that is difficult to put words to. But I came here to share story, and if there’s one takeaway from the memorial it’s that silence is oppression.
In 1994, there was a genocide in Rwanda. Over a period of 100 days, more than a million Rwandan Tutsi (a Rwandan social class) were murdered by Hutu (another social class) extremists. There were a multitude of political and cultural reasons that led up to the genocide that I won’t get into discussing. Instead, suffice it to say that it was a period of absolute brutality, and was quite shocking to read about.
The museum did not try to gloss over things or cover them up. Not only were there videos of Rwandans describing their neighbors turning on each other and murdering them, there were also dozens of skulls and bones of victims. Reminders of the horror that occurred in those 100 days were raw and plentiful. I could see last photographs of victims, sometimes moments before death. Children’s clothing. Propaganda. Images of bodies. So many bodies. I could not make it through what was called the ‘children’s room’ - a sequence of rooms dedicated to the children who lost their lives during the genocide (which listed, in detail, the children’s friends, favorite foods, personalities, cause of death [often brutal, by machete or rifle], and most disturbingly, their ages, which barely rose into double digits). Tragedy is a powerful thing.
The most amazing thing about the memorial was that Rwandans don’t try to cover the genocide up and pretend it didn’t happen. Instead, the center memorialized what happened. The guides throughout the center had a distinct determination to tell this story, to make sure people know how it happened, and that it doesn’t happen again.
I don’t think I can write any more on this subject. We will be processing and discussing this as a group tomorrow. From the dead silence that was present on the bus driving back to the guest house tonight, it is apparent that we all need it.
I can’t end this blog on a depressing note, so I will just share one amusing thing that happened today - as we were walking to the memorial, a group of children waved at our group, and referred to us as “Muzungo” - slang for “dizzy” or “foreigner,” commonly used as slang for “white person.” This proved heartily amusing to many mixed race members of our group, particularly Tierra, who proudly exclaimed, “I’ve never been called a white person before! This is so exciting!!”
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.