Guilt and Reconciliation

Guilt and Reconciliation

This afternoon we visited the Rwandan Genocide Museum in Kigali. I have struggled to understand the point of constructing museums in honor of massive extermination campaigns. However, the most important aspect of my two hours in the Genocide Museum was witnessing the busloads of Rwandan high-school and university students visiting the museum. Often in low income countries, museums and other historic parks are tourist and foreign visitor hotspots but today I was surprised to witness Rwandans of all generations solemnly walking through the memorial.

Walking through the carefully arranged memorial with the machetes and victim's skulls and clothes from mass graves was incredibly difficult to process. On one hand, it's crucial for today's Rwandans to confront the events of 1994 and previous with honesty and respect. But on the other hand, it was extremely uncomfortable to see the products of violence that was completely and conveniently ignored by the rest of the world. Furthermore, some nations were actively training and financing the architects of the genocide and the militia that killed up to one million people. One million people- what does that even mean? On the way out of the museum, one quote let me register what I had just seen. " The interhamwe ( militia responsible for the slaughter of the Tutsi minority) did not kill a million Tutsis, they killed one another, then another, then another"...

I believe I've mentioned in previous blogs that I come from a big family- 8 immediate siblings and a huge extended family. Virtually no Tutsi family was left without many family members dead or tortured, living as rape victims or the guilt of surviving. About 25,000 Rwandans are buried at the genocide museum and when I read the names of those buried, I was horrified to realize that every victim was part of a group of 10-12 family. As I walked away, I was disoriented and remembered the hundreds of wedding pictures, vacation snapshots and birthday celebration pictures of the victims featured inside the memorial. Most Americans can look in their family albums and relate because these are universal moments of joy. In each face, I could see my family's faces.

Around the corner from the memorial is the hotel that is featured in Hotel Rwanda, Hotel Des Mille Collines French for "Hotel of the 1000 Hills." For many of us, this blockbuster film was our first engagement with the genocide. As we drove past it, I kept transplanting myself to this scene 14 years earlier and could imagine the roadblocks and the killer mobs. When violent crimes or deaths occur in our homes, we tend to move out because we are not able to live in the same house. Nearly every home in Rwanda was affected by violence- 99% of Rwandans witnessed violence or murder. They don't have the choice to leave because there is nowhere to run to...

Many of us on the delegation felt guilt and anger about how America did not intervene to stop the killing. Even though it is far too late to take anything 'back', we can help Rwanda recover by supporting UNFPA's efforts to provides counseling, support and women's health, or in general just by supporting UN and grassroots programs aimed at unity, peace and reconciliation. I am hopeful that the U.S. will increase such support.