Sunday, April 11, 2010

Genocide Memorial Week

This week marks the 16th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide that took place in Rwanda. While this was a huge tragedy that marked every person living here and elsewhere), it's unfortunately the primary thing Rwanda is known for.

On April 6th, Philip Gourevitch, the author of the book, "We Wish to Inform You", came to Never Again to conduct an interview with some of the staff. I was fortunate enough to get to meet him. I told him how much I loved his book, and how I felt few Westerners really understood Rwanda the way he did.

April 7th marks the beginning of the genocide, and it is a national day of mourning. I joined a handful of my fellow staff members as well as some of the members of Never Again youth clubs in participating in the "Walk to Remember", hosted by Aegis. The march started at the parliament and ended at Amahoro Stadium. I was surprised by the lack of speeches, which seem to always accompany public events here. When we arrived at the stadium, there were many people, mostly Rwandans but also a good percentage of ex-pats. I ran into a few people I recognized, including some of the Peace Corps staff.

Most of the event included musical performances, gospel singing in particular. The singers were extremely talented, and I recognized some of the songs. Some of the songs were general, others were about the genocide in particular and the reunification of Rwanda. I opted to stay sitting on track instead of in the stadium seats- it made me feel closer to the people there. I ended up sitting right in front of Paul Kagame, who was in the stadium seats. He did not stay very long, at least from where anyone could see him.

As night fell, the stadium lights were turned off and we passed around the flame between the individual candles that had been passed out to us. This was the first time in my life I'd ever participated in a vigil, and it really touched me. Two years ago, before I knew I'd be living in Rwanda, I never could have imagined participating in this event. I remember hearing about the Rwandan genocide many years ago, but I never thought that I would one day get to know so many Rwandans, and be able to listen to their stories and take part in their traditions. Reading about some far away place in a newspaper article is so drastically different from actually participating in an event that, up until recently, seemed like it had nothing to do with my life. I don't pretend to know or understand everything about Rwanda and it's people, but while I stood there among thousands in silence, with the wax drip burning my fingers, it suddenly hit me. I may not be Rwandan, but I feel deeply connected to this country, and its forevor burned into my life and memory.


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