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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Two days in one - Butare and Murambi

Today kind of felt like two days. As many of you may remember from seeing our itinerary, we were scheduled to see the Genocide Memorial in Murambi today. Therefore, the day was mainly separated into pre-memorial and post-memorial experiences. Honestly, it feels like days ago before we went to the memorial, but we’ll attempt to speak of it as if it was a mere 12 hours ago.
First, we had to get up at the unfortunate hour of six to get breakfast and be at the gate by seven for the bus. Groggy and disoriented, the whole group crowded on the bus and headed first to Kigali to pick up several members of the staff who were to accompany us first to the national museum in Butare, then to the memorial in Murambi. The national museum was fascinating! It contained explanations of things as simple as the hunter-gatherer culture of the ancient Rwandan tribes to things as complex as their language, social structure, and the making of banana beer. As we are all still very much on “Rwandan time” as Rachel likes to call it, we came roughly 45 minutes late to lunch, as we all wanted the purchase items at the national museums bookstore.
Lunch was, in a word, glorious. We dined at a hotel’s restaurant in downtown Bustare, and were treated to such rare delicacies as pasta, pizza and French fries! French fries!!!! Needless to say, while we are all enjoying the fine cuisine Rwanda has to offer, we are looking forward to a hamburger and fries upon a safe return to America (although not so soon!). Lunch, then another round of shopping at a local co-op were a lot of fun, though we were by this point roughly two hours behind schedule. Shrugging our shoulders, we packed back into the bus and headed to Murambi. It was at this point of our journey that we were confronted with possibly the most breathtakingly beautiful sights yet. The famous Rwandan “terraced hills” surrounded our bus as we traveled along packed roads towards Murambi. People crowded the sides of the highway on bikes and on foot, carrying heavy loads of bananas, hay, or sugarcane. We arrived at Murambi while the sun was still high, yet past its zenith. You know, four o-clock or so.
The Murambi memorial was a school where Tutsi people were told to go, because they would be safe. Over 55,000 people gathered in the school buildings. It was April 21, 1994 when the soldiers came. Of the 55,000, only six are known to survive. Today, this site is maintained as a genocide memorial center, and is the only of its kind in the world. When the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) came to the school site, they begane to exhume the bodies for a more humane burial. They came across bodies that were not entirely decomposed. Instead of interring them in the traditional way, the RPF decided to preserve their bodies with lye (made by phosphoric acid and lard – a variation on traditional soapmaking or saponification). These bodies are presented in twenty four classrooms. There are 821 bodies in total. It was a highly visceral experience for the whole group. We had a beautiful memorial service outside of the memorial, and with grief in our hearts, we headed back to Kigali, taking the lives of Murambi with us.
Throughout this entire day’s journey, we were lucky enough to have the accompaniment of Wilton, the principle of the LiquidNet Family High School at the village. As one of the long term volunteers, Ido, so eloquently stated, Wilton is a man who does not care about Hutu or Tutsi, simply goodness. He spoke with us about reconstructing Rwanda and what it means to live side by side with your neighbor as fellow human beings. When I asked if he is able to forgive the people who killed 13 members of his family, he said that he could not, but that he wanted to live with them and form a more peaceful society. Wilton made an analogy between the students of Agahozo Shalom and the 12 Apostles. These children would carry with them the message of love and goodness and would create a brighter Rwanda. Both the memorial and Wilton’s speech touched all of in different ways. Both Matt and I felt hope at the idea – that this amazing group of 250 students could really change the country. The fire in Wilton’s eyes as he spoke this was truly inspiring. Like Will said in his speech at the memorial service- we witnessed an extreme amount and sadness today. But because of our work at the village, this reality of destruction became a message of hope. As Tufts students, we vow to tell the stories of the dead, the stories of these students, and the stories of this country. We will bring their memory and legacy into the future and just like the apostles and the students of ASYV, we will carry their message of hope with us around the world.
Murambi prompted some important questions about the nature of humanity. On the ride back, a volunteer (Barry) told a story: Last week, many students in the village ran in a marathon commemorating the genocide, Barry ran along with them, and after the race, a student who ran a half-marathon offered her his biscuit. Barry asked him why, saying she already had a biscuit. He explained to her that “I share everything I have. We all have to share everything we have. To be human is to share everything we have.” He then proceeded to share his biscuits with anyone around.
It is with this inspiring story, we bid you a good night. It is exceedingly late out here in Africa, and we have to get up early (again!) tomorrow to work on the stadium seating for the soccer (football) field. Ijoro Rwiza! (Good night!)
-Matt and Hillary


  1. It sounds like this is a life altering trip. I am so glad you are recording your impressions in this blog.

    Aunt Randi

  2. the extreme difference between the dramatic hilside and the school memorial is quite a juxtaposition of visiul experiences!