Well, Sunday is a day of rest for so many in this very religious country. The group I am working with spent several hours in the late afternoon planning the rest of our week. More on that later. Though the hospital is open on Sundays (for obvious reasons), we chose to visit three genocide memorials instead of working at the hospital. So, we spent all of the morning driving from one site to the next. First was the national genocide museum, dedicated to Rwanda’s genocide of 1994 and with several memorials for many other international examples of mass killings in the 20th century (Jewish Holocaust, Cambodia, Armenia, etc.). Many of our team were visibly disturbed.
We visited a former mission where several hundred people had sought refuge, only to be burned to death in the church. On display were all the remains: skulls, other bones, clothes, etc.). One skull looked to be small and it had a metal spike sticking out of it. If you looked closely enough, you could occasionally find smaller bones still on the property, sort of randomly placed, not yet put in the official displays. Pictures were not allowed.
We visited a Catholic church where thousands of people perished in one day. This was one of the most disturbing displays one could possibly imagine. I understand there is one other genocide memorial several hours south of here that is more disturbing. Anyway, the caretaker was not available, so we could not actually get into the church. We could see piles and piles of clothes through the barred up windows. Then one of the locals led us around the back side and showed us the real memorial. There were underground mausoleums. Each held literally thousands of coffins, skulls and other bones, all on display. We were let into these vaults and examined many, many shelves, full of human remains. Many of the coffins were draped. There was one skull that was quite small sort of placed inside a larger skull, as if it were a baby with its momma.
I find this to be so incredibly confusing. The people here are so very gentle. They are affectionate. They are welcoming. There really is very little crime here. You do not see any evidence that violence is part of their history. In fact, as African nations go, Rwanda is known to be intolerant of corruption. How could something so horrific as the famous 100 days of genocide in 1994 happen here? It makes no sense.
Our driver was 12 years old during the genocide. He had never visited the memorials on his own, only as a driver for tourists like us. He told us he does not like it. It brings back the memories he desperately wants to forget.
The genocide was facilitated by some policies enacted when Rwanda was under colonial control. Long story short, the majority ethnic group, the Hutus systematically killed people from one of the minority groups, the Tutsis. They also killed Hutus who sympathized with Tutsis or Hutus who were married to Tutsis. The Batwa, aka Pygmies, were left alone. The law now requires all people to identify as Rwandans and they do not have identified ethnicities.