Saturday, July 3, 2010

the genocide memorials

[I just tried to upload a series of pictures and that effort to tide you over, here's a picture of the countryside around Ramagana. More pics next week when I return, I promise!]

So, the genocide memorials. We went to the Kigali memorial early in the week. As I understood it (and I might be wrong), it isn't an actual massacre site, but rather a place where the bodies of those killed in the Kigali area have been brought for a proper burial. There is also a museum where the Rwandan genocide, as well as other genocides, are analyzed and memorialized. It was a very moving experience, and over 280,000 bodies are buried on the site, in large concrete vaults. The vaults are 9-10 meters deep, with the coffins buried one on top of the other. In the area of the vaults, there is concrete slab after concrete slab - the tops of the sealed vaults. Even more sobering is the area down the hill a bit where more vaults are being built, because remains of victims are still being found and moved to the site. The site is beautiful, and definitely a holy spot.

Yesterday we went to Nyamata. The Roman Catholic church was the site of a massacre of over 10,000 people. In 1992 people took refuge in the church during an earlier attempt on the lives of Tutsis and those in the church survived. In 1994, that was not the case, and the church still bears the scars of bullets, grenades and even blood on the altar paraments and walls. It is no longer a church, but a memorial to those who died. When we entered the church we saw row after row of benches, where members of the congregation used to sit, now piled with the clothing of the dead. The clothing was also around the altar, and a special section in the back for the children's clothing. It was, indeed, sobering and incredibly sad. I was particularly struck by the statue of the virgin Mary looking down on the piles and piles and piles of clothing. It seemed she was blessing those who used to wear them. I wish I could draw - pictures are not allowed in the church (obviously) and I don't want to lose that image.

The Lutheran pastor from Nyamata was with us, and he told us that Rwandans have chosen to keep these kinds of memorials in order to truly remember. There are already people who deny the genocide, or say that it wasn't as large as people say. Robin Strickler (one of our hosts) told us that it is sometimes referred to as "accidental killings during war." The evidence clearly shows that it was well planned and executed, to devastating effect. So, with Dwight Eisenhower, we go to these places, so when someone denies it happened, there are now 25 more voices to say, "Yes it did! And, never again." Except it is happening again...and will happen again...

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