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

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