Just a week after landing in Uganda, I packed up what little I had unpacked and took a midnight bus to Kigali, Rwanda. For those of you that don’t know about the little gem that is Rwanda, let me give you the low down. The entire country is no larger than Maryland, but it’s insane what they’ve managed to pack into their borders: a handful of dreamy lakes, a big portion of everyone’s favorite endangered mountain gorillas, and endless, intricate farmland stretching over a world’s worth of rolling hills in what I’m sure is Mother Earth’s favorite patchwork blanket. It is this last earthly delight, the zigs and zags of every shade of life imaginable that had me mesmerized once we crossed the border.
After 15 hours of drifting back and forth from sleep to scenery, I truly couldn’t tell where the hills ended and my dreams began. I kept seeing myself within the frames of a film and could nearly hear the narrator’s script describe our winding journey into the green. But, my daze ended when we reached Kigali, Rwanda’s sprawling capital.
Kigali is a proper city with stoplights and everything. In just two days, we managed to see the entire thing from the backs of motorbikes and the tops of hills. Tiny, wooden houses were packed into the carved out slopes, seeming to balance precariously on top of one another. Like an ant hill in the middle of a forest, Kigali is a sudden explosion of life in an otherwise mellow country.
But, like any other visitor, the most memorable and astonishing and heartbreaking part of our time there was the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. Even after learning about the genocide in school, I had never fully understood it until that day. The irrational ethnic division, the atrocities that built up to the final outcome, and the horrendous role the Western world played. It had all escaped me, blurred together simply as tragic history not to be repeated. But seeing the facts, the figures, the timeline of events laid out before me made my head spin. How could this have happened? How could we have turned our backs on human beings like that? From the beginning, it was our fault. Us, the outsider, those who rule with no understanding, those who must claim everything for themselves and ruin what they can’t hold. Nevermind race or nationality, this was a problem caused by ignorant dominance, imperialism. Blindness.
I sat, surrounded by skulls with holes and cracks so precise you could feel the moment of impact. Femurs and clavicles shattered. Floral summer dresses taken from anonymous bodies. Piles of shoes and keychains and combs and toys; things that used to belong to people that should still be alive. Then, I entered a room where rows of photos of victims hung heavy with scribbled notes from their survivors. Tearful children who never knew their parents, and regretful parents who never got to know their children. Needless to say, I didn’t make it out the same.
Kigali broke my heart, my perception of humanity. I tried to imagine the frank internal monologues of world leaders. I tried to imagine what was happening in the mental haze of the Hutu as they brutally murdered their Tutsi neighbors and friends. It made me sick, and it made me question our minds. So fragile, so receptive to persuasions of evil, so easily apathetic. Our flaws are magnified in masses. We are so weak, it’s frightening. However, it’s humbling to remember that we are incredibly imperfect as a species. There’s endless room for growth, for betterment. Evolution hasn’t stopped yet, people; remember that! Keep your eyes open for ways to improve our condition. Keep love in your heart and justice in mind. And open your eyes to the world around you while you’re at it; these kinds of things are still happening despite what we claim we’ve learned. There are atrocities happening right now; don’t fall easily into the idea that we’re so far beyond our past. If you want to learn more about this dark time of human history, read this.
1. Pictures from inside of a bus don't do this place justice.
4. The mellow end of the taxi park.
5. Rainy night on the back of a ticky-ticky
6. Little houses on the hillside.
7. A boy and some hills.
8. "Let us prepare future generations so that they do not experience what we have experienced". It didn't seem right to take photos at the memorial, but this was the last wall I saw before leaving.