I love good hard rains. The kind where if you decide to walk out in them, you might as well bring shampoo and soap and shower while you are it. This will explain the giant smile on my face as I walked up the hill to meet Aimable (A-ma-blay) (Program Trainer for As We Forgive). Well the rain, and the fact that I have the ability to laugh at myself. Because I was not walking up the hill, but running, in pirate-themed rain boots, with a giant plastic poncho flapping about my legs and holding a teeny tiny red umbrella. If I was afraid of standing out because I’m white, I should give that up now; because my demeanor clearly made me a sore thumb. Running turned out to be entirely unnecessary too. Aimable didn’t arrive for another 30 minutes, giving me sufficient time to stand guard with the 20 other Rwandans waiting out the rain under the local store front.
One moto ride and 30-minute bus ride I found myself walking along the side of the “highway” towards a church site where an estimated 50,000 people died in the genocide. Because this is the last Saturday of the month, most services are shut down or on a slow schedule (the last Saturday of every month is reserved for community re-building work). So the first two gates to the memorial we approached were closed. Short story is I went for one very loooong walk down a red dusty road.
The church has been left as it was 16 years ago. Bullet holes cover the tin ceiling and mark the sides of the entrances. Inside, benches are covered with all the clothing and personal effects of the victims. The piles of clothes are faded in color now and covered in dust, but still reminders of lives once lived. Beneath the church, and in cellars dug in the courtyard, are all the remains. Those with family members to claim the bodies are collected as family units in coffins labeled with the family name. Those left unclaimed were arranged according to age and the bones laid out on shelves. We walk down steep concrete steps into the dark underworld to gaze upon the slashed and smashed skulls of murder victims. As I walk back up, I catch a glance at my feet and cringe. I’m still wearing my pirate-themed boots and notice that I have tiny skulls and cross bones all the way up my thighs. Above ground in the center of the church is an altar covered in a dirty white sheet with a collection of jewelry and identity cards on top. I found out that it is not a dirty white sheet, but a bloodstained sheet. Upon this altar, a pregnant Hutu woman was cut open after she chose to hide with her Tutsi husband rather than live with her brothers. This altar serves as a tribute to her life and that of her unborn child.
This country holds dearly to its memorials. There are several, in villages and cities all across the country; said to serve as reminders of what evil does. Sort of a “lest we forget” mentality, made clear to me as Aimable prayed for me at the end asking God to protect me from the spirits that might make me fall into evil, as the killers were lead astray. Walking away left me more with a heavy heart for the rest of the country right now. It is good to remember, but it is better to move forward wholly. Not just in economic growth but also in mental healing.
We stopped for a late lunch and watched an impromptu concert turn into a Saturday night dance club. Another 30-minute bus ride and moto trip brought me back to the local supermarket. I bought flour so I could make bread tonight and had to turn back for an umbrella. It was pouring again when I walked back into the safety of my home.