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Thursday, August 13, 2009

In Rwanda

We crossed the border south into Rwanda this morning, and followed a winding smoothly paved road around dozens of the "milles collines" (thousand hills), below terraced fields and above neatly squared off rice-paddies in the valleys.  We felt immediately welcomed by the surprise that Americans are not charged for entry visas, by the neatly organized and spacious border area (such a contrast to the Uganda/Kenya border with its clot of trucks and aggressive hawkers), and by the good tip from our border agent that in Rwanda they drive on the RIGHT.  Wow.  That's a little detail we might have missed until a collision.  The road passed many tiny settlements, each with large signs in Kinyarwandan proclaiming a "Jenocide" site in crude stenciling.  I suppose the country is small enough that everyone knows there way, because we have yet to encounter so much as a street sign . . . leading to lots of stops to ask questions, and lots of puzzled looks as our English does not go so far here.  

Our goal for the afternoon was the National Genocide Memorial in Gisozi, just outside Kigali. It was a powerful experience, extremely professional, factual, with personal stories, videos, photos.  What struck me most was the first-person plural point of view, rather than a dry historical style, the events were told "We were colonized . . . we were told . . . ".  There were copies of the identity cards issued by the Belgians in 1932 which began to divide Tutsi and Hutu, copies of the Hutu 10 commandments, the pamphlets that led up to an organized and systematic horror.  There was the report sent to the UN months prior to the genocide which warned of imminent disaster, and was ignored.  There were photos from the insides of churches where hundreds, even thousands, of bodies decomposed.  There were a few display cases of the farm implements, machetes, chains, weapons, and actual news footage of the carnage.  There were stories of heros, an elderly lady who hid potential victims in her animal sheds then pretended to be possessed in order to scare away the Interhamwe death squads, the man who managed to get 400 children to safety.  There was an entire room where hundreds of family photos were hung on strings of clips, poor quality serious typical photos, of relatives lost, real people not numbers.  There was a section devoted to the truth-and-reconciliation community-based court system called gacaca, where thousands and thousands of perpetrators have been tried.  The atmosphere was somber, with some stained glass windows and sculptures, and even gardens transforming the mass graves.  The message is clear:  this was a human tragedy on an unimaginable scale, the trauma has warped an entire generation, and we must keep the memory alive, educating and proclaiming as a means of prevention.  A disturbing history, but one we wanted our kids to encounter, something that happened within Luke's lifetime and not very far away.  Jesus said the truth would make us free.

Back in Kigali we explored, found the hotel upon with the "Hotel Rwanda" movie was based.  We bought cheese, crackers, and imported grapes and made an impromptu picnic by a spectacular fountain in a small park in the center of the city, which made us feel like we were real tourists in Europe instead of dusty missionaries in Africa (memorable!).  The city is clean, low-rise, quiet.  In our guidebook we found a reasonably cheap hotel, in an obscure corner of the city, up on a hill, peeling paint and past-its-prime but a good resting place for the night.

3 comments:

Pam said...

My first thought reading this post is how courageous you are. So much unknown, such violent histories, and still you forge on. My prayers are with, great adventurers!

Amy Pasqualini said...

I'm reading "As We Forgive" by Catherine Larson about this very thing...the horrific and unimaginable things that happened in Rwanda not so long ago. Thank you for sharing your experience. The book has been a difficult read but the forgiveness that is being experienced there is truly amazing and God given. Enjoy the rest of the trip...I'm praying for safe travels!

Tricia said...

Good memories. I will keep praying for safety as you travel. God bless.