Friday, June 1, 2012

Day 7

Today began early, like all days at the village, as we loaded onto our bus bound for Rwanda’s second-largest city, Butare. We drove to Kigali first to pick up a Rwandan guide who has been with the Tufts group for many years. Like many Rwandans, he is a genocide survivor and his story is truly incredible. He came with us as we continued on our journey through the hills of the Southern Province. When we finally arrived in Butare, we went to an artist’s cooperative that sold beautiful traditional artwork. After shopping to our hearts’ content, we had lunch at a Rwandan buffet and then continued on to the former Murambi Technical Institute.

It is very difficult to find words for the memorial at Murambi. The school was the site of a mass killing during the genocide. Threatened Rwandans from the surrounding area fled to the school to take cover under the directions of the government—however, because of its location, isolated amidst the hills, it was easy for the Interahamwe and government soldiers to attack and kill an estimated 50,000 people in one day. The classrooms where the masses hid now house their preserved bodies. Walking through the memorial, we saw piles and piles of human remains, each frozen in the moment of their deaths. Some bodies were reaching to each other; some shielded their faces in fear; some were clearly the bodies of children, one with its thumb in its mouth.

Murambi is unique among Rwandan genocide memorials because, towards the end of the genocide, as France attempted to establish a safe zone for survivors, they used Murambi as their base. The zone, known as Operation Turquoise, ultimately did nothing to stop the genocide or protect Tutsi survivors, as many killers or genocidaires were able to slip through the lines and continue with the massacres. The French soldiers committed atrocities of their own, most famously covering the mass graves to construct a volleyball court. There have even been reports that French soldiers took Tutsi girls who fled to Murambi for protection, raped them and threw them out of helicopters over the Nyungwe forest.

Murambi, like most places we’ve visited in Rwanda, is surrounded by a stunning landscape. The juxtaposition between the beauty and tranquility of the surrounding hills with the horror within the school buildings is overwhelming. In the silence we could hear sounds of life—livestock, children playing, the rumble of cars—and it was moving to feel life moving forward around us as we immersed ourselves in the country’s tragic history. While we walked over towards some of the mass graves, some of the local children even climbed under the fence to come and see us. It was a startling reminder that for many Rwandans, in spite of what happened in these hills, life must continue.

After walking through the museum on the grounds, we held an interfaith memorial service that was put together by members of our group. It was a difficult moment standing with our Rwandan guide and some members of the staff at Murambi as we tried to process everything that happened there. We piled back in the bus and made our way back to Rwamagana.

After almost five hours and one stop at our favorite convenience store, Ndoli’s, we arrived back at Agahozo-Shalom. Even though we were all exhausted from such a difficult day, we all agreed that it would be best to have a discussion to help process everything. We spent almost an hour and a half discussing memory, anger, forgiveness and a ton of other issues that came up after our experiences earlier that day. Our time at Murambi was a dramatic shift from our days at Agahozo-Shalom, but it was a transformative experience that definitely put our trip in perspective and raised new questions for all of us.

-Hannah & Sam Kelly

Day 6

Paige: When I first wake up I find myself grumpy, tired, and questioning why I volunteered for this trip. After this initial disgruntlement, I step outside of my room to put on sunscreen and bug spray and I am surrounded by beauty. These opposite moments separated by mere minutes caused me to experience the strongest feeling I've had here: gratitude. Nate and I have both experienced gratitude in many ways while being here: Gratitude for the funding, gratitude for the interactions with Rwandans, and gratitude for everything that we have in our lives. With the word gratitude having such a huge impact on many of our thoughts, Nate and I chose the word for today to be gratitude.

Nate: While I'd like to think I have always felt gratitude for the wonderful life I live in the U.S., Rwanda has expanded that gratitude tenfold. It is one thing to read about how lucky we are to have running water, food on our tables, two story houses, etc., and it is quite another thing to walk down the road in Rwanda and have little kids run out of their one-room mud houses to shake your hand and try out the one English word they know: "Goodmorning!" (which they say far into the afternoon). It's really a shame that fortunate people often have no idea how fortunate they really are. I'm very excited to come home with a new appreciation of the life I live, especially considering that much of America's wealth is derived from the exact variety of colonialism/imperialism that is largely responsible for Rwandan poverty. Let me just say I have never been appreciative of the beautiful innovation that is the washing machine.

Paige: We started off the day with service in the village. I walked into the kitchen and was surrounded by carrots that needed to be peeled. We sat down in a circle and began to peel. While peeling we talked about Rwanda thus far. We talked about reconciling the service that we do here versus helping others in the surrounding communities. We thought about how whether we were making an impact. This conversation was interrupted by the kitchen staff bringing out a fried egg with onions on a delicious piece of bread. Again I felt gratitude. The best food I have had this entire trip. And I knew that the snack for us was a form of showing their own gratitude: gratitude for the help and gratitude for the company. Even though we spoke different languages and had little to relate to each other about, we could connect on mutual gratitude.

Nate: I did Karate from age 6 to the end of last summer, so I was very excited yesterday to discover they had a Karate club. I became considerably less excited when they told me they meet at 5am, but I made the trek this morning, and I'm so glad I did. There are only four members, two experienced ones and two newcomers, but they blew me away. The experienced guys were sparring and doing kata (the karate equivalent of a dance routine) as if they'd been training for a decade, but they can't have been doing karate for more than a few years. As impressed as I was, I was also disappointed that I had nothing to teach them. That's why I was overjoyed when it turned out they didn't know any self-defense. For the next half hour I taught them defense against lapel-grabs, hair-grabs, bear hugs, and wrist grabs. They picked it all up right away, and we all walked away sweaty and smiling. I felt so much gratitude to be able to give to the youth in a unique way. Over the past few days we have been discussing whether we were justified in coming all the way to Rwanda when there are so many people who we could have helped at home without thousands of dollars of plane tickets; I won't pretend to know the answer to that question, but the experience of sharing a Japanese martial art with Rwandan youth is one I will never forget.

-Paige & Nate

Day 5: Tuesday

Today we started the day with the word perseverance in mind, as we continued to work on various service projects around the village. Some of us spent time in the farm or kitchen while others helped with landscaping and construction projects.

Before lunch, we met again as a group and had another discussion regarding our experiences here at the village. We talked about the dilemma people face when choosing where to donate their money. The discussion was based around an essay written by the philosopher, Peter Singer. Following this discussion we had the opportunity to meet with the House Mamas and Big Brothers and Sisters (Counselors) for the various families in the village. It was very interesting to hear what they had to say about village life and their motivation behind their work at ASYV. One of the Mamas told us that what she enjoyed the most about ASYV was the fact that she could be a mother to someone who would not have a mother otherwise.

The rest of our afternoon was filled with a variety of activities including soccer, basketball, and yoga. It was a great opportunity to spend time with the students during their free time and admire their incredible talents.

Tomorrow we look forward to visiting Butare and the Murambi Genocide Memorial knowing that it will be both an emotional and powerful experience.