Saturday, April 12, 2008

14 ans depuis...

This week is the national commemoration of the 1994 genocide here in Rwanda. Two Rwandan friends took me to the Kigali Memorial Center today, amongst thick crowds. A grenade had been tossed into the place the day before--perpetrators and survivors do not cohabit well, and anti-Tutsi 'genocide ideology' is still very much alive and well in the region.

The experience was heavy and I choked up, but emerged strangely grateful that I had been in the country for the immediate aftermath of the primary wave of killing. Today's visit also brought back a lot of memories from that period of my life that had faded or simply been repressed. I've always contextualized my time in Rwanda in 1994 as just another relief mission to a war-torn country, but I now realize that it was something else entirely.

It's easy to say, but genocide is the most extreme human transgression. That thought needs a visceral connection somehow, otherwise it remains purely intellectual--subjective and forgettable. Today I grasped in my bones that there is nothing else at the bottom of the human psyche after all other trap doors have given way. Beyond madness, beyond reason, beyond fantasy, beyond brute physicality, genocide is the final cul-de-sac at the bottom of human consciousness.

There are several genocide memorials around the country; this one is both a museum and an unmarked cemetery with enormous mass graves in submerged cement containers. Name placks are fixed to an adjacent wall, somewhat like the Vietnam Memorial in Washington.

Survivor stories are playing on video screens positioned throughout the tour, which occurs largely underground. That of Valentine runs: "I lay down again among the dead bodies. It was three days after the killings, so the bodies stank. The Interahamwe would pass by without entering the room, and dogs would come to eat the bodies. I lived there for 43 days . . ." [read rest here]

Rwanda is recovering slowly; there is security and infrastructure, the two main ingredients for human prosperity in a post-conflict country. Latent tensions between Hutu and Tutsi are spreading, however, and many I've talked to are not optimistic about the prospect of peaceful cohabitation.

More on all this later...

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