“They were our neighbors.” “My mother used to give them food.” “He was my father’s business partner.” “They were our friends…”
In October 2015 on my inaugural visit to a country which I’d come to love and frequent, I walked through the dimly lit corridors of a place with a lump on my throat and a knot in my stomach.With every step and stopped and watched the videos of recounts on the screens against the wall; and with every other video or picture, my heart dropped to the bottom of my rib cage.
The mood at the Genocide Memorial Center is damp, the history is dark as night. The grisly images of the bludgeoned human forms are horrifying and the beautiful pictures of some of the children ‘disappeared’ in the genocide will reach for your soul. In that moment, the fact that you have read and heard about the 1994 Genocide before does not help much to quell your shock; because now, there are no modifications and book characters. The people speaking from the screens are real, you hear the sadness in their voices with every word, you see their pain camped in the creases of their faces and their scars are a permanent reminder of the horror. It is disheartening to say the least.
This history presents lessons that have clearly moved Rwanda from a dark bottomless pit of machete severed heads to a lightening bolt development rate 23 years later. It is this same history from which guilt by the entire world arises especially from the statement; “The world withdrew and watched as a million people were slaughtered,” but most importantly it presents a challenge on us all. A challenge to be better human beings. It is easy to throw blame and distance ourselves. Many say; “they” killed each other,” “I can’t believe they did that to themselves” but in our hearts of hearts albeit not to that extent (yet) and hopefully never, are we any better?
In our seemingly small actions that have brought unimaginable physical, psychological and emotional pain on fellow human beings; for whatever reasons we have given ourselves in justification, have we stopped to assess the damage that we have caused, continue to cause- and sought to change that? To our relatives and friends and business partners, to the people with whom we share food; are we compassionate, loyal and truthful or are we the ones that will be referred to as in the first paragraph quotes?