Monday, June 13, 2011

Day 8 --> Butare/Murambi

Our day started off fairly early with a two hour bus ride to Butare. We were overcome by the beauty of the Rwandan landscape throughout the drive. The rolling hills, numerous banana trees, and brilliant blue sky were mesmerizing. After arriving in Butare, we were given time to buy crafts and gifts for our families and friends. We then had a delicious Rwandan buffet-style lunch and stopped at a women’s co-op for ice cream.
            The day quickly became emotional, impactful, and thought-provoking, even though it started off fun and light-hearted. After lunch, we made our way to Murambi to see a genocide memorial. The memorial is located at a school where tens of thousands of individuals fled during the 1994 genocide, after being promised protection. 55,000 people were believed to have been at the school, yet there are only 14 known survivors today.
We were fortunate enough to hear the story of a Rwandan genocide survivor as soon as we arrived. He told us of the notable increase in discrimination and hostility leading up to the genocide in 1994. His father, lying on his death bed, warned him to flee the country to protect himself. Once outside Rwanda, he joined the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front), which worked to take over parts of Rwanda to put an end to the ongoing genocide. He eventually learned that almost all of his family was murdered. This survivor (who will remain unnamed) spoke with us about how he considered suicide, his desire for revenge, the influence religion had on him, and how the memories of the genocide still haunts him and his wife to this day. All of us were so honored that he shared his story with us and will certainly never forget it.
            Next, the tour guide discussed the history of the memorial and led us outside to the mass graves, where we took a moment of silence. The horrifying events that took place at Murambi contrasted with everything one might expect in such a location. Outside the gated memorial, overwhelmingly beautiful mountains stretched as far as the eye could see. There were small houses and farms right outside the gates, and the laughter of children playing broke the silence. It was hard to comprehend that atrocities were committed there and that tens of thousands of individuals were buried in such a small area.
            We walked through the school after visiting the mass graves. Preserved bodies of those murdered at Murambi were lined up on tables in a few of the classrooms. The bodies were still intact because they had been buried deep in the mass graves and had not been decomposed. Additionally, they were preserved in limestone. Seeing these bodies had an indescribable effect on us. It is one thing to imagine the atrocities of the genocide, another thing entirely to see the dead. A number of the bodies were still in the same positions as when they had died- poses of intended protection or self defense. Many of us felt sickened, especially when witnessing the bodies of the young children. How could the international community not intervene? How could genocide occur so soon after the Holocaust? What happened to never again?
            A memorial service was held after we finished the rest of the tour. We said a few prayers, talked about how the memorial affected us, and were given time to collect our thoughts. The long ride back to Kigali also gave us time to try to fully comprehend what we had seen.
            In Kigali we had a delicious dinner at an Indian restaurant, which helped lighten the mood after an emotional day. We discussed the impact of the genocide and the importance of forgiveness after the genocide. This day truly reinforced the importance of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda. From what we have witnessed, the Village has done an incredible job in reinstating a sense of community among individuals, providing love and hope, and fostering forgiveness among orphaned children. The Murambi memorial left us with a sense of despair, but the smiles and enthusiasm of the children at ASYV gives us hope. Seeing first hand what these children have gone through makes the work of ASYV even that much more impressive. Even though the atrocities committed in the past seem unforgivable, somehow the Rwandan people have managed to restore a sense of community and hope. It is truly incredible to witness.

- Lauren and Arielle, 6/2/11

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