Saturday, May 19, 2007

To Listen

I thought it was unspoken. So I decided to search a little to try to comprehend the Genocide. I've read several books, dissertations on the subject, ruminations, opinions, thoughts, seen the pictures and the Genocide remains controversially an enigma to me.

I should have been truly listening.

I went to visit two genocide memorials last week with David. We were told to take a minibus but we don't know the system, so we weren't even sure that we would be going. In our guidebook it is a mere paragraph.

We ended up taking a taxi, very expensive but cost appprox $25 US per person and I'm glad we did. My rationale was that if we came then we should give the respect that such a site is due. It was very troubling. We went to Nymata first. Its a small town and the church there was the site of a massacre so large in scale that it is mind boggling. Thousands of people (estimated 10-20 thousand) went to the church for sanctuary, they were slaughtered there. The thing that touched me most was that by chance we had chosen to go on the anniversary of the massacre and there was a memorial service being held. Our presence after the interesting ride along red roads and marshes that lead to the Nile was not by chance. I do not believe in coincidences.

Thousands of people came to commemorate the memory of their loved ones. It was really poignant, the looks on some peoples faces, ranging from resignation to extreme silent grief. There was a room piled to the ceiling with clothing of the dead. Dark and musty, it was all that they wore. There were so many people milling around. You brushed those that survived and those that wish they didn't. My hands, elbows, shoulders, thighs, they were enveloped by people. There was a room with a glass cabinet full of skulls and femurs. Beneath this a coffin draped in white with a purple cross on it. A lady who was impaled. There was a guide who took us around, she only spoke Kinyarwanda and spoke to our driver, Patrick, who by chance happened to speak good French so he spoke to David who translated for me. The guide had short hair, a face that looked solemn and she walked with a fortitude that I found beautiful. In the church she pointed out the pulpit, the blood stained alter, the light that filtered through lacy holes in the aluminum roof made from raining bullets. She guided us to the alcove that would likely have been used for baptism. Against the wall, a dark stain, smooth rounded bricks and she illustrated with action how the interahamwe had taken babies and children and bashed their skulls and bodies against the very site. With grace, she took us down to a room, down steep stairs that were all uneven, peoples faces close by, more bumping and an underlying smell of dampness and something sweet which permeated the air. When my eyes adjusted to the dark it was like a living horror film. I had not expected it, I thought the glass case in its white trim and fluorescent lights were all there was to the memorial. That itself was horrific enough.

Rows and rows of grinning skulls, small, large, half missing. I had enough knowledge to be able to distinguish a bullet entry point, depressed skull fracture from a club, machete chop: coronal, axial, partially both directions. You name it. It was so hard, the sheer numbers of it overwhealms. The smell, the filtering light, the swallowed bitterness of the people, it made for an atmosphere that I can only describe as tragic. I choked on it and tried not to cry. How could I cry when the brave that surrounded me were praying for their loved ones and looked with eyes wide open? My heart physically hurts.

My comfort, my solace, the children. Beautiful, beautiful boys and lovely girls. Dark shiny skin, smiles that penetrated the occasion and uplifted me. They circled around us, called us muzungu fondly, and fondled my hair. It is useless explaining that I am half Chinese and all Asian. They only know black and muzungu. That is our only difference.

Patrick took us to another site, Ntarama. It was close by, there another 5-10,000 killed and their artifacts left in the church. Bibles, a childs book, clothing, the picture of a loved one, Bic pens, rosaries and the statue of a crucified Christ. My heart, my mind, my soul, it was crying in incomprehension. I took pictures, it was very difficult to do it at first because I had to get close. Patrick wondered why we were not taking pictures. There I took one of a skull with a metal arrow head still in it. I found it difficult, I could not focus through my tears, but after a while, it filtered the tragedy and my fingers stopped shaking and I could see through the lens a type of clarity. If the children and the sister, and brother and sons and daughters and mothers and fathers could forgive then what was there to understand? Perhaps it is not as simple as that. Perhaps one cannot call it forgiveness. All I see is that these people live together, beside each other, drink the same water and grow the same food. All there is to understand is only that love exists and persists and through sadness and anger and bitterness, it continues on. With these people, I see hope embodied.

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