Fruits of Reconciliation
Wow. Today we were witness to something absolutely mind blowing.
I do not remember the genocide. If you happen to be seasoned enough to clearly remember 1994, you may have heard about the genocide as it was unfolding. About how there had been many previous massacres over decades. Perhaps you heard the president’s plane was shot down which caused the rebel uprising. You might remember hearing about thousands of people being killed by the hour. Or maybe you remember the rush of support sent in for the refugees escaping the borders. Perhaps you didn’t hear anything until ‘Hotel Rwanda’ was released. I know I had not been aware of anything before the film.
If you’re like me, disliking history, I apologize for the next few paragraphs, but the genocide began long before 1994.
In 1932 identity cards had been issued to all Rwandans. There were three options- Hutu, Tutsi, Twa or National (presumably white?). The monarchy was predominantly Tutsi, backed by the Germans at the beginning of the century, then Belgians. According to the Genocide memorial, if you had ten cows, you and your kids were Tutsi, but it seems there were also distinguishing physical features- tall, skinny with long noses. Less than ten cows, short, stout and wide nosed made you a Hutu. Starting in 1957 the Catholics got involved and things got nasty. In ’59 an ethnic cleansing was started and Tutsi were exiled, hundreds of thousands of them, forced to leave their homeland. Then in ’73 a new president came to rule and extreme discrimination, random violence and propaganda began. When the government is putting its countrymen into refugee camps, you know things are not going well. So, of course, those tall skinny kids ran far and wide. The exiled Tutsis formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front who finally invaded in 1990, but President Habyarimana and the French stopped them. Anyone was Tutsi was incriminated. Newspapers, journals and radio were spreading hate against their Tutsi friends and neighbors. The memorial had the ‘Ten Commandments’ displayed which basically said you hated Rwanda if you did not hate Tutsi. It was awful!
On 4 August 1993, the Arusha Accords were signed to bring about the end of the war. By this time, the UN had forces on the ground; the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda (UNAMR), led by Lt Gen Romeo Dallaire. He basically told the UN over and over and over again that things were real bad. Send help. Told them the militia had weapons and training- all set up for a massive attack. In January of ’94 he was asking permission to take out the extremists, but was denied the opportunity. And he was not the only one to know a massacre was festering. Apparently UNAMR were there to implement peace, not prevent a war.
On April 6, 1994, the Rwandan President was flying to a meeting to implement the Arusha Accords, signed in August of 1993 to end the war. The meeting was called to implement the agreement and bring peace to a war torn nation. Instead, his plane was shot down. Shit hit the fan. Shooting started within the hour with roadblocks and house searches. There were death lists to be completed. Powerful, moderate Hutu officials were killed within the day. The RPF was seeing blood, foreigners were pulled out immediately. Dallaire said he could stop the violence, but instead of aiding Rwandans, the only effort was to remove foreign citizens. 5,000 troops was all he asked for. Gah!
Instead, the hate propaganda went on- “the graves are not yet full” the radio said. Normal people believed neighbors had infested Rwanda and needed to be eliminated. Having lived here only a few weeks, I can see how interconnected this small country is. It would be like looking for everyone with green eyes within an hour’s drive of your house. And having all the authorities insisting they were ruining the country. But to try and imagine the harassment, encouragement, brainwashing that could turn an entire population against itself? Were living conditions so bad that a day of following orders to kill all Tutsi was justified for the drinking and looting that followed? Is a full belly so compelling?
100 days. 800,000 Tutsi killed. Thousands of moderate Hutus.
The US and the rest of the world said it wasn’t a genocide. They didn’t need to send any aid.
Today we visited Ntarama where 5000 people were killed soon after things began. It seems everyone sought refuge at the small little village church (Catholic is must be noted). It’s about the size of St Patrick’s back home, very small. 30′ by 60′ but maybe a little bigger. Those who weren’t gunned down outside tried to hide inside. Those who weren’t killed when the grenades were thrown inside were hacked apart with crook shaped machetes, clubbed over the head, raped, speared, hacked or, if small enough, grabbed by the knees and bludgeoned against the brick walls. Yup, that was the babies. They showed us the wall in the catechism room where this took place. As evidenced by the blood and brain matter in the corner. In the cooking hut, people were tied and made to lie down all across the floor on mattresses which were then set aflame before the wall was pushed down on top of them. Words cannot describe what it is to walk into this place.
We walked past hundreds of skulls. A thousand femurs. Piles of tattered clothing. Down the coffin lined aisle holding what’s left of the 6100+ bodies of those killed there to the sign saying “If you really knew me and you knew yourself, you would not have killed me”. Past the bloody corner in the schoolhouse. Over the dirt heaps from the collapsed wall. Into the quiet corner overlooking the gardens.
The team leader said a prayer.
We left in a rush. I felt miserable. Imagining being one of the people running to a “house of God” for protection. Trying to imagine following orders demanding the slaughter of kinsmen. Thinking about my country, good ole ‘Merica, looking away. It was a very long fifteen minutes to our next stop.
The next stop being a house dedication ceremony. Restorative justice. The fruits of reconciliation.
Long story turned really, really short because I need to pack up and get ready to fly to Burundi in a few hours: the house was built by genocide killers for genocide survivors through Reconciliation. Evangelism. And. Christian. Healing. After trials and prison time, things were said to be impossibly hard. Unimaginably so. REACH offers seminars and workshops for people the opportunity to work together towards conflict resolution, restorative justice, frank honesty. We were told the killers talk about what they’ve done plus the survivors need to face what happened. And together for the healing that can only come from forgiveness. Perpetrators were required to apologize, it sounds like, but not personally. Through REACH, people are given the tools needed to release the killings. People at the event said things went from not being able to talk with one another (Duh!) to able to live together in harmony.
As if trying to put myself into the Killer or the Hunted situation wasn’t hard enough. Trying to imagine life after? What would it be to come out of prison and have the world turned against me? Imagining trying to live with the reality of actions taken- orders followed. Yeesh. Or imagining the life and family hacked apart in front of me. Starving for months, hoping and praying someone would come to the rescue.
Trying to imagine forgiving someone who had mercilessly killed my entire family? Wow.
At a Rwandan ceremony like this, it is normal to greet every single person you cross paths with. It’s hard to acknowledge that every person over the age of 20 would have been affected by the genocide. Directly or indirectly, everyone lost something (many people I’ve met are refugees who were living outside the country in 1994). So, unbeknownst to me, I’d greeted the killers. I’d greeted the builders. I’d greeted those seeking reconciliation. I also greeted the woman whose house we were at. She was so warm and welcoming. The emotion in her voice carried with it undeniable joy. Or was that heartbreak and loss? She did not seem upset. She spoke of how freeing the REACH program had been. How thankful she was. How blessed she was. All with “perpetrators” seated just behind her. Hutu and Tutsi moving forward together.
She has seen enough death in her life and is choosing to move forward. The director of REACH called her house the fruit of reconciliation. Having had her life taken from her by neighbors, now they have given her a new life. She is someone I could learn something from.
She’s my new hero.