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Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Road through Rwanda

This morning dawns slowly, blue-grey of Lake Kivu meeting the misty blue of the sky on the horizon, as black kites circle and swoop and fishing canoes return to shore.  We swam in the crystal-clear lake waters yesterday, and enjoyed fresh fish at sunset.  This is a Presbyterian retreat center, simple cheap rooms perched on a steep hillside of a quiet peninsula jutting into this high winding lake, a place of enormous calm and beauty.  This is also the town of Kibuye, where 90% of the Tutsi population was murdered in 100 days in 1994.  
This tension between beauty and brutality makes Rwanda an unsettling place.  As we drive the spectacular curving well-maintained road west, vistas of terraced fields and rising hills, cool air at 7 thousand feet .. Julia is waving out the window and getting dozens of people to respond, women with huge clay jugs on their head smile and wave back at her, or groups of youth heading to market.  But then we round a corner and I see a crowd of men presumably heading to work somewhere, and the nearest one holds a machete, and I can't suppress the vision of this group going out to kill.  Fifteen years have passed, the country climbs out of disaster.  But the memories are not far away.
Pamela gave me an excellent book, As We Forgive, which follows the stories of a few real people through the genocide, but focuses on the aftermath, how they have managed to come to terms with the suffering or the guilt, how they have chosen to forgive and live together.  It is a powerful book which I highly recommend.  In one story the boy hid in cliffs around this lake where I sit now, perhaps within view of this very place.  In another high school students refused to identify their friends as Tutsi and before they were shot in their classroom they said "We are all Rwandans."  It was a time of courage and sacrifice as well as a time of evil, the latter calling out the former.
As moving and healing as those stories are, we still wonder as we drive through this country, as we are greeted by smiling ordinary people, how the genocide came to be in a place so beautiful and orderly.  Years and years of fear and hate being propagated and encouraged, yes, that was true.   But the very group action and attention to order reminds one of Germany (and the Germans were the first Europeans to colonize Rwanda, they only lost it to the Belgians after WW1).  Could the same qualities of culture that produce weekly street-sweeping (yes, in Africa!) and forbid trash, that give group identity and make people willing to take collective action for good .. . also be the ones that are bent towards evil?  In our virtues we may be most vulnerable to disaster.  For we are all Rwandans, all the same in spirit, and all capable of harm on such a cataclysmic scale.  And that is probably what makes this place unsettling, the deep knowledge that like the country of Rwanda, the human heart (mine!) can be a place of beauty and brutality.

1 comment:

Pam said...

I am full of thought and reflection on this post. All I can say is I have no comment yet, but thank you.