Remembering

Typed on the 2nd of July at Bourbon Coffee Shop (with the internet down).

So, today was a day that I had been anticipating for, well for a few years now. I had in mind two goals, two places I wanted to go. First was the Kigali Memorial Center, the city’s memorial of the 1994 genocide and an exhibit about other genocides in history. It was really interesting and really informative, which is what I expected. The exhibits were split into Rwanda before, during, and after the genocide and addressed issues like ethnic divisions and justice after the war. Here are some pictures from the memorial.

But the thing that loomed ahead was the memorial I had wanted to see since I first read about the incident a couple of years ago. The church in Nyamata.  In early April of 1994, when the genocide first began after the President’s plane was shot down, thousands of Tutsis fled to the church in Nyamata.  They were safe for a couple of days before the Interahamwe militia broke down the gates and lobbed grenades at the church before using guns and machetes to kill those inside.  I’ve heard figures of up to 10,000 victims.  It’s something difficult to imagine, and seeing the memorial was something that really struck a chord.

So after a half hour matatu-ride and a short trip on a bicycle, I got to the church. It was a simply brick building with a serene lawn, with everything draped in purple and white flags. I walked in and immediately was taken aback by the pews. Each pew in the church was covered in piles of clothes – the clothes of the victims. The clothes were also scattered all over the floor throughout the church.

From here I went into the vault immediately under the church. Here there was a three-tier shelf that laid it all out for me. The very bottom was a casket draped in white cloth. Above that was a shelf with row after row of skulls. In the center were some bracelets and identification cards (each of which said “Tutsi” on it). The top tier, just about at eye level, was a pile of bones – femurs to scapulas to ribs, laid bare. I knew the memorial was displayed like this, but I was still a little on the defensive, and when I saw that someone had scribbled a name onto one of the skulls I got weepy. After reflecting for a bit I got out of the church.

After walking out of the church I faced the most daunting task – the mass grave behind the church. First, there was a grave for an Italian humanitarian worker beside the church – she had warned about the impending genocide and called on people to intervene before she was killed. Behind the church were two large slabs of stone marking the grave. Each one had a staircase that led underground to the tombs. Inside were stacks of caskets (each with the bodies of far more than one victim), shelves lined with hundreds of skulls and bones, and dozens of purple and white flags. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but you at least know what you’ll see.

Needless to say, it’s a powerful statement, seeing these reminders of the genocide.  It is such a different idea of remembrance that we have at home, and it’s such a different way of addressing an issue like this. It definitely brings out emotion, and if you’re like me it just makes you think that the event this church represents isn’t a solitary event. This happened all over the country in 1994, and things like it have happened around the globe in the passed century. Seeing the memorial was something I had to do, and I think it’s something that will stick with me for a long, long time.

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One thought on “Remembering

  1. Pingback: Nyamata Church Massacre | Historically Speaking…

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