Processing the Past of a Place: Jessica

Submitted February 28, 2020

Processing the Past of a Place

For the start of my third week in Rwanda, we left the city of Kigali for the first time. As I was in awestruck at the beauty of the county side, this short excursion marks a turning point in my perspective of the genocide that I had been studying.

We visited two genocide memorials, Nyamata and Ntarama. Both were former Catholic churches where Tutsis fled for safety but were subsequently massacred. Walking through the remains from these tragedies, torn bibles and broken rosaries. In Nyamata, the tabernacle- the sacred space for the consecrated body and blood of Christ in Catholic tradition- had been busted open and looted. A statue of the Virgin Mary overlooked piles of possessions and bones. The humid, warm air stood silent with piles of dusty clothes laying on the pews reminding me that each piece was once clean and picked out of the wardrobe by someone not knowing it would be their last time getting dressed. There was something about being at the site that grounds and connects one to those that lay there. I didn’t know whether to be sad, guilty, or overwhelmed with anger.

As I reflect upon my day, standing with no personal space in a cramped public bus- passing through the clean streets of Kagali that glow yellow and green from the newly built conference center- one can hardly imagine the horrors that existed here only 26 years ago. My stomach growling as my homestay family awaits me with some type of starch dinner, probably rice, beans, and cooked bananas. There is constant noise through the city from children laughing and construction sites at work, a sign of the country growing and focusing on its future.

In places like Nyamata and Ntarama, the processes of restoration and reconstruction are still on going. Being here, I am learning firsthand that Rwanda has made spectacular progress, but the wounds of genocide take generations to heal. The courage from those willing to share their stories and welcome myself and other outsiders to understand their history are hopeful. Rwandans will continue to be resilience- committed to reconciliation, development, and providing victims with dignity and survivors with consolation.

I think about my friends studying abroad in their respective places, swimming on the coast of Costa Rica, trekking parts of El Camino Santiago in Spain, and exploring the nightlife of Amsterdam. All while I am here, learning to love the cold bucket showers, constant stares for being muzungu, and sleeping with a mosquito net. I have chosen an intense program with a very emotionally taxing subject matter especially considering everything else around me being new. Yet, I would change nothing. This, not so typical studying abroad experience, is challenging my understanding of the world, politics, and humanity overall. We are in a beautiful, welcoming place, studying something so important.