It’s present in every memorial and in the thousands of NGOs and United Nations fund for something that make base in Kigali. “The European fund for something development related”, “L’Organisation Internationale pour la something else”, “United Nations committee for this and that”. Everywhere. The collective guilt of the Western world plastered all over, desperately trying to make amends after……what happened.
It is their past, it is their present and their future. I half whisper the word every time I say it, but people in Kigali seem to measure their lives before and after what happened in 1994.
“Oh before the genocide I used to work at X place and now I work at Y”
“After I lost my parents in the genocide, I went to live with my aunt and that’s how I went to school”
“Your hair reminds me of my sister’s. The Interhamwe got her when we were little”
It’s not surprising really, when 1 out of every 7 people died in the space of a couple of months. What IS surprising is how much two decades have transformed the country, and how new generations are working hard at making amends and building bridges.
But I wonder if it doesn’t get old. An entire country’s history overlooked by something that isn’t endemic to Rwanda (as the Kigali Memorial tries to point out with several rooms dedicated to the Holocaust, the Khmer Rouge and the Armenian Genocide). Nevertheless, most tourists come to Kigali exclusively to see the memorials. The popular national parks and wildlife attractions close by are in Uganda and Kenya. People come to Rwanda to experience “that place where something terrible happened”.
“Oh it’s awful isn’t it? I cried at the Memorial.
“Have you seen Hotel Rwanda? We’ve been to Des Milles Collines”
“I have been to all the memorials. It’s a powerful experience. Let me show you on my phone.”
A whole country stained by the brutality of a couple of months and the incomprehensible lack of response of the “Western World”. Useless Muzungus (foreigners). I would rather look at the…uhm…genocide, as a testament to the courage and humanity of all the Rwandans who helped each other, who stood up for their neighbours and who now work day in and day out to “rebuild” and “reconciliate” and “mediate” and any other NGO-safe word we have to explain how a people heal after such brutality. The word “Interhamwe” means something like “pulling together” or “working together” in Kinyarwanda, and as ironic as it might sound, that’s exactly what the Rwandan people are doing. Working together.
The story of the twentieth century is written in blood the world over. Hopefully Rwanda will be known by future generations as the country that rebuilt itself with its head held high.
Au Revoir Kigali, back to Kampala now for our last week of adventure.