It was a wonderful day today…experiencing “forgiveness.” Killers and families of the killed live side by side. Extremist Hutus tried to get rid of every Tutsi in Rwanda from 1992…ending with the spring-summer 1994…genocide. Perhaps 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered. In 2003, the Rwandan government asked the killers to admit their guilt. Many did and victims began to forgive the “perpetrators”…with help from the Church. Today, we listened to a man talk about his father’s murder in 1994 and then we heard from a man who participated in the mass killings. They live together now in the village, as do many from “both sides.” They built the houses together and set it up so that a “Hutu” family lived beside a “Tutsi” family...throughout the village. They teach their children not to hate and to identify as Rwandans…not by the tribe names (the way colonialism divided the people).
We also visited the Nyamata Church. In 1992, Hutus had wanted to kill the Tutsis in this region and the Tutsis found refuge in the church. A nun, Sr. Tonia Locatelli, demanded that the Hutus not kill anyone, that the Tutsis had done nothing wrong. The only killing that took place was the murder of Sr. Tonia the next day after she spoke out using the media. In spring 1994, when the genocide was in full swing, the Nyamata Tutsis took refuge in the church, but it did no good. The Tutsis had the iron doors locked, so the Hutus threw in grenades (one can see the whole through the door and shrapnel marks on the ceiling and walls. Women inside the church tried to protect their babies from the grenades and shrapnel by putting them at the back of the church. When the Hutus could finally enter, they smashed the babies against the wall. We were able to walk down into what is called a mass grave. We saw many skulls and rows of bones. It is the final resting place for these people.
This may be hard to read, but imagine…twenty years later, most of these people have been able to forgive what happened. They understand what colonialism did to their people…what the Europeans did by grouping Rwandans into economic groups - minority Tutsis were preferred. The Hutus took advantage of their own numbers when de-colonization took place. Now, Rwandans are recreating their identity. Do you remember when the Amish girls were murdered a few years ago? The elders of the Amish community went the same day to visit the wife of the murderer of their daughters. The elders wanted to offer her their help.
On a happier note, we all had fun watching ceremonial dancers in a village – male and female – and then danced with them. We sat and watched women weaving baskets and then picked out several to buy. The not only showed us how they weave the baskets, but also they handed us their needle to pull it through. It was a “cooperative,” where these women work. They make their own money from this work. It started as a way to bring the people back together. Hutu and Tutsi women learned to weave the baskets…side-by-side…and they talked about what happened. Rwandans do not hesitate to talk about the genocide of 1 million people in their country. They have faced it…admitted that it happened…and moved on to forgive.
We visited a health center and a primary school (it was Sunday so no pupil were there). We visited a farm that is part of the Millennium Village Project (in a number of struggling countries). The 59-year-old farmer (whose wife had 19 children…and looked good…not tired) showed around his farm…many different types of fruiting trees and crops. Years ago, the farmers had enough only to feed their families and perhaps some locals…but now, when the weather cooperates (no so much this year), they can produce enough to export. The farmer dug into the ground and pulled out a cassava root. Our guide, Gertrude, peeled it and cut pieces off for us to eat. Tasty! To me, it tasted like a combination of coconut and kohl rabi.
It was a full, interesting, thoughtful, fun, and important day. For one to understand the Rwandan genocide (and any genocide) truly, it is important to travel to the sites of genocide and, if possible, talk with the people. For those who do not understand me well…well, I found this to be a spiritual day in my life. Forgiveness! Genocide – death, yes, but FORGIVENESS! If you still do not understand me…that I did not note this as a “sad” or “depressing” day, no prob…this is simply I.