Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sinamenya uko mbivuga.

Saturday, July 9

Sinamenya uko mbivuga. I don't know how to say it.

I learned that phrase today (Wednesday) in lecture, and I think it was very appropriate that I began writing this post shortly after. I think it's safe to say that Saturday was a difficult day for all of us on the trip. We traveled to the southern part of Rwanda to see the Murambi Genocide Memorial Center, which has hundreds of mummified skeletons from the Murambi massacre on display. It was a long day, as Murambi is a six-hour round trip from Kigali, and included some very sensitive experiences. I think this quote sums up my approach with this particular post:

Photo courtesy of Pinterest.

Hopefully I can achieve at least that much.

The day began with another beautiful drive out of the city. Of course, as a girl with an "aggie" background, I was very curious about what was being planted in all the fields. Emmanuel (the "Rwandan friend" who has become closest to me and my roommates on the trip) pointed out the different crops by the road, from sugar cane to pineapple to banana trees. Again, I noticed many beautiful blue doors on the houses and storefronts. Emmanuel said this had no significance, though; it's just personal preference.

Driving out of the city.

I also saw some very adorable goats tied up outside people's homes. As I mentioned yesterday, I have developed quite an appreciation for goat meat since being here. My reaction was something like this (to the amusement of my roommates):

"Aww, what a cute goat! Maybe I should become a vegetarian."

... short pause ...
"Nah, I'd kill it myself."

I took quite a few pictures of this adorable goat.

History Lesson in Nyanza

On our way to Butare for lunch, we stopped in Nyanza (the former capital of Rwanda) to visit the Museum of Rwandan Ancient History and the Nyanza Royal Palace. The "Royal Palace" is a replica of a traditional king's home: a hut made of sticks and bamboo. I wasn't really supposed to be taking pictures (oops), but I got one of the ceiling from inside:

There were also two smaller huts behind the king's hut, one for the milk maid and one for the beer boy. They were both young virgins from the community whose only job was to make the king's milk or beer. They were not allowed to have any contact with the outside world, and the queen mother had sole discretion over how long they remained in the king's service.

They also had some very cool cows behind the huts. One student on the trip asked if these were the kind of cows I had at home. Ha!

The Museum of Rwandan Ancient History was right next to the traditional palace and housed inside the former residence of King Rudahingwa of Rwanda - the last royal palace used by Rwandan royalty. (A more elaborate palace was built on a nearby hill, but King Rudahingwa died a few months before he was scheduled to move in. That palace now houses an art museum.) We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, but we did learn that the king was 7'4" ... and used a normal-sized bathtub. That got some laughs from the group.

Murambi Genocide Memorial Center

After lunch, it was time to drive the rest of the way to the Murambi Genocide Memorial Center. We had been warned the site would be graphic, and our professor encouraged us to not go in if we didn't feel comfortable. Although she was living in the U.S. in 1994, she lost many members of her family in the genocide, so she has not yet visited the site and doesn't know if she ever will. I find this completely understandable, especially after seeing what I did in the memorial site.

Murambi was a technical school that over 65,000 Tutsis used as a hiding place during the early days of the genocide. Local government officials and a bishop (unfortunately - I'll focus more on the religious disappointments of the genocide in Sunday's post) told them they would be safe at the school, but in reality its location in a valley made it the perfect spot for a massacre. On April 21, the French soldiers at the school abandoned the Tutsis, and Hutu genocidaires attacked the school and massacred over 45,000 Tutsis. Most who managed to escape were killed in a nearby church.

Many of the bodies have since been excavated from the mass graves and placed in the outer buildings, where they were actually killed. The limestone in the ground preserved the skeletons so that sometimes I could even make out a face as we walked by door after door of rooms filled with bodies. A few still had rags of clothing on their bones, but most were naked. There were rooms with men, rooms with men and women, rooms with women and children, and a room of just children. The differences in size of skeletons was obvious, and there were even a few toddlers and babies lying side by side.

It was extremely difficult for many members of our group to see, especially those students who are from Rwanda or had relatives here during the genocide. We also saw the site of the four mass graves, which had a sign that basically said, "French soldiers played volleyball here," over the bodies of the people they had abandoned. There was also an open mass grave, without bodies in it, but which showed the size and depth and the graves. Some people - mostly children - were thrown into the graves alive along with the corpses.

After walking the outer grounds, we went inside the memorial center, which was very similar to my experience in the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center. I went through it fairly quickly, partly because I already knew most of the information and partly because I needed to be alone to digest everything I had just seen. I sat on the low wall outside the center to record some of my immediate reactions in my journal. As I sat there, children in the village right outside the gates began singing. I'm not sure if it was a school or church, but it was eerie to hear how happy they sounded, even though they lived next to such an atrocious piece of their history. From another direction, I could hear the squealing and laughing of more children.

As if that juxtaposition wasn't surreal enough, the very location in which I sat provided a harsh contrast between beauty and tragedy. Behind me, I knew there were long buildings filled with bodies and a shed full of dirty and bloodied clothes that had been removed from the victims. But around me was one of the most beautiful views of Rwanda I had seen yet. The sun was setting over the hills, which rose up on every side of me, carpeted with green trees and dotted with small houses filled with presumably happy families. Pictures were not allowed in the memorial (not that I would have taken any, out of respect for the victims), but I did take the opportunity to take a picture of the view. Of course, my camera cannot truly capture the image or do my memory justice, but I will leave you with that picture - a reminder of how quickly beauty can turn into something ugly, or vice versa.

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