I would call this “genocide” day. We visited the Murambi Memorial. Murambi had been a school, and over 25,000 Tutsis were murdered there in the 1994 genocide. The “school” lies on hill surrounded by other hills; this is an important point to the story. Tutsis were encourage to go to the school as a place of safety, but in reality, the killers planned to “concentrate” the Tutsis in the school. If any Tutsi tried to flee that hill, Hutus on the surrounding hills could see them and go after them.
We started with the memorial museum, museum material that both reinforced what we learned at earlier sites and added to our knowledge. Our guides then led us to a place of covered mass graves, noting that bodies continue to be found (often in remote areas). Bodied can easily be added to the concrete-covered mass graves.
[Skip the following paragraph if you do not want to read about the bodies we saw in the schoolrooms!]
The guides then to us to the classrooms; but, these were no longer classrooms. The rooms held the bodies of many victims. The bodies lay on (perhaps) 24-inch high wide wooden shelves/benches. These are the actually bodies of the murdered people. They have been covered with lime…apparently to preserve them. YOU cannot imagine. We saw a body with an outreaching arm…another body with a mouth wide open…eyes open…smashed skulls…pieces of clothing sticking out…some with hair on the skulls. The smell in each small room was overpowering…I believe it was the lime. One after the other…many classrooms of bodies…
I believe that students of genocide must see this particular site (and the Nyamata Church).
Outside, as we passed from room to room (one room had only babies and children), we could hear the people talking from around the nearby hills. When a dear one dies, some might wonder how/why the world goes on with no one noticing. (Thinking of you, R) Here, as these bodies lie in these schoolrooms, life in Rwanda goes on. I believe that these victims of the genocide would be happy that their fellow Rwandans have been able to unify.
Our main guide (I will call him “D”) told us that he is one of two survivors from his family. He was 19 years old at the time. The time was tense and many had spent time on the hills watching to see if something was going to happen. “D” went home to have lunch; he went out to the porch to see his father. At that moment, armed men came and shot his father (while “D” was directly next to his father). “D” ran into the home to tell his family and then ran away from the home…up a hill. A younger brother followed him, but the younger had to go in a different direction when men shot at him. “D” spent time hiding in a marsh; he eventfully decided to leave the marsh. He ended with a group of people hiding on a hill and then found his brother. The rest of his family had been murdered. This happened in Nyamata. One thing that I noticed “D” said more than once was, “That was my decision.” He may have felt some survivor guilt, but a young man of 19…well, he wanted to survive.
“D” also showed us the outside mass graves (under grass and soil). He showed us the barracks occupied by French soldiers during the genocide, and he noted how the soldiers played volleyball over the (already) mass grave. I asked him how the Rwandan people feel about the French today. His answer was quite thoughtful! He noted that Rwandans cannot blame all French, that it was only a number of Frenchmen there in Rwanda and their leaders that could have done something…but did nothing. He also said that the French took the black box of the downed presidents’ plane (recall that the genocide started immediately after the airplane carrying the president of Rwanda and the president of Burundi crashed in April 1994.) “D” said that Rwandans simply want the truth. Rwandans are moving forward and they want all the facts of the genocide…there is nothing to hide. So, why does France hold onto that black box? he asked. I noticed in one of the Rwanda newspapers that a city in France had planned on holding a memorial service in April this year to commemorate the genocide, but it cancelled it when leaders did not like that President Kagame (of Rwanda) noted that the French should have done more in 1994.
In the afternoon, we visited the National Museum of Butare. We saw many traditional items used by the earlier Rwandan people. We visited another royal family hut (this was an original) and did some shopping of traditional woven handicrafts.