This week has been so busy, I guess I need to get used to this. Monday morning my cousin Denyse went with me to school to show me which buses to take and where to go. Mama wanjye (my mom) said that if I left at 8 I would get there on time but I ended up being about half an hour late. Once we all got to the SIT center we left to go visit genocide memorials. We went to three in one day, which was rather exhausting. First we went to the South of Kigali to visit Ntamara and Nyamata. Both are churches where mass killings took place in just a couple of days (April 15th and 16th).
Ntamara had four buildings to go through. The chapel had clothing and personal belongings of the people who were killed there. Along one wall stands a shelving structure with skulls and other bones laid out for people to view. There wasn’t any glass or rope keeping people away from them – just rows and rows. The experience was not quite what I thought it would be. I expected to be much more emotional in the presence of the remains of genocide victims. The building that really got to me at Ntamara was the old Sunday School room. The tour guide told us how babies were removed from their families and put in this room to be murdered. The wall still had a large dark spot where they were smashed. There was also a long (maybe 7ft?) stick with a pretty blunt point on one end that was used for raping and killing women. Our tour guide said that women could bleed for two hours before passing on. This was a lot to take in. Again, it didn’t hit me as hard as I thought it would while I was there but every time I think about being in that place or looking at my pictures or just writing about it now it affects me in a different way.
Nyamata was a chapel with an unbelievable amount of clothing piled on the old pews. In the back there were mass graves that we were allowed to go down into. This was a much more intense experience. After walking down a set of very steep steps turning left or right brought you to an unsettling number of human bones. The narrow space between the shelves on each side made it so you could only turn around without touching the remains. Being that close to so many people who were mercilessly massacred and backing away from them only to be closer to the ones on the other side of you was unnerving. Similarly to Ntarama, the experience grows on me each time I think about it.
The third memorial that we visited was the Kigali Memorial Center. KMC is much more geared towards the international community. You walked through and read informational material (albeit a huge amount of it), looked at photos and watched videos of survivors. There were three sections to the museum: the largest that focused solely on the Rwandan Genocide, one that was dedicated to other genocides across the globe and the last section that was dedicated to the children of the Rwandan Genocide. This last part got to me. There were large photos of children with a couple of facts about them below (name, age, favorite food, what kind of child they were, their last words and finally how they were killed). The exhibit humanized the children and made you feel a personal connection with each of them that made it very difficult to read that last line and think that someone could have actually macheted or clubbed that beautiful, loving, innocent child to death.
Needless to say, Monday was a very long day.
The rest of the week we had Kinyarwanda classes every day, we had a an overview of present day Rwanda in terms of city planning, development, culture and basic history and a professor from a local university lectured to us on Rwandan history from the pre-colonial period up through the present day. The vision 20/20 plans for Rwanda and Kigali are interesting and ambitious. President Kagame has done a great job so far of moving the country forward from basically nothing in 1994. Kigali is peaceful and clean and development is moving forwards. Some questions I pondered with professors from the symposium were whether the current rate of development is sustainable? How is Rwanda, if it is even capable of doing so, going to move from a situation of negative peace to one of positive peace? What sort of revisions to the constitution will be made if Kagame ends up running for re-election in 2017? What changes would Rwanda see if someone else comes to power and would another ruler be successful at holding such a strong hand over the country’s future development? Just a couple of things we discussed on the bus ride to see Hope Africa!
Additionally we attended a symposium held by SIT at the Hotel Des Mille Collines. Wednesday we attended a luncheon keynote and dined with academics who were both from and teaching around the world. Afterwards we just hung around the hotel and used the internet. Thursday when we came back we attended different lectures of our choice. I heard ones on Bosnian identity, political philosophy on collective and individual identity, Acholi identity, comparative accounts of memorialization in Israel and Rwanda and finally one on memory and art. We met so many interesting people at this symposium and everyone was interested in what we were doing and how our stay in Kigali was going.
Wednesday night one of the guys in our group sang with the performer at the Mille Collines for over 2 hours. It was really fun and then afterward the performer was kind enough to give us a ride home so we wouldn’t have to run to catch the bus. I think this is the night that there were about four inyenzis (cockroaches) in my bed…I’m warming up to them though :p
Thursday we went to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Unfortunately the person who was supposed to speak to us about Rwanda’s Tribunals was not there so we just got a tour of the library. It was really interesting though and will be a great resource for doing any research we might have to do later on in the program! Thursday night we attended a performance called Hope Africa. It was absolutely breathtaking. It featured traditional dance and songs in order to tell the story of the genocide. It ended very happily though by encouraging remembrance in order to reconcile and move on. The performance and everything that it represented was beautiful. I really enjoyed it.
Friday was a pretty regular day: class and then we went to the Mille Collines to use the internet and went home.
Saturday has been fun so far! I had fresh imyembe (mango), mugati (bread), tea and roasted corn for breakfast. Then my cousin taught me how to do my laundry. This was a pretty intensive process. I hand-washed everything and she helped me other wise it probably would have taken 2 and a half hours instead of a little more than one. I honestly do not think my clothes have ever been as clean as they are now. Four of my knuckles are also raw from rubbing my clothes so much. It was a good experience though. I think I might try to wash my clothes more often so that I only have a handful of items to wash at a time instead of two weeks worth!! Then I came to town to try to buy an internet modem but they are still out of them (they have been since we got here). I think tonight I might go dancing with my cousin – or I might just go to sleep. It has been a pretty exhausting day and I am hoping to start running tomorrow.