I must say, I grew up with the picture of Rwanda being synonymous with the 1994 genocide, death and refugees.And in most occasions, when I met a Rwandan, my first question would be: Were you there during the genocide? How old were you then? Is it any better now?
It was not any different when my editor sent me on assignment to the Rwanda High Commission to cover the Genocide Commemoration. A second time attending such an event. The first was in 2011.
I got to the event and I was in the midst of people whose relatives were killed during the genocide. Then naturally, I asked: Were you there during the genocide? How old were you then? Is it any better now?
But the responses were sad stares, watery eyes and tight lips.
At that moment it hit me that while I assumed my questions were innocent and laden in curiosity I simply stirred emotions that prompted tears, sad memories and pain.
Twenty years later, tears and emotions were fresh as names of relatives and friends killed during the genocide were mentioned. Just slightly about 100 names were called out...Pierre…Marie…Esperanza…Solange… and almost all eyes in the the crowd were glazed. People blew their noses, handkerchiefs tightly held around mouths and some people, in fact a lady next to me, was shaking and sobbing. A young man across to where I was, was as if in hiding, dried the sides of his eyes.
Two decades on and the pain still stung. Their pain was alive and evident. You could feel it in the air, it touched you, went down your spine and jabbed on your eyes. It catalyzed something in you. It made you weak. It made you weep.
One million lives. Chopped away by a machete. A million lives brought down by bullets.
Lives that left behind broken families, destitute children and the dead among the living.
Twenty year old scars.
While there I met Theresa. Who was probably in her late forties, but as we spoke, the two decades events were breathing and pulsating in her mind.
Actually, they were stamped there, painfully so.
“Twenty years ago, I was about to finish my high school-form six actually. I know it is not my doing that I am here today, that I have met you here. As your mother and a christian, I have tried to forgive those who attacked my family and killed my brother and his entire family. But to date, I have never forgotten the sight of blood flowing on the roads. Neither have I forgotten the smell of death,” She said.
Smell of death.
The closest I have been to her description of the genocide was in bounded pages.
I felt with my questions, I was not sympathizing with them. No. I was hurting them with my
arrogance er little understanding of what the genocide did to them.
The theme for this year’s commemoration was “Kwibuka 20: remember-unite-renew.” And, as I joined them to mark the 20th anniversary, as I helped lay the wreath to remember the lives lost, something sparked in me. That while people still equate Rwanda to the genocide, her people are soldering on.
They were renewing their hope, they were moving away from their past and into a new future. However,as Theresa put it, “But to date, I have never forgotten the sight of blood flowing on the roads. Neither have I forgotten the smell of death.” Their pain still exists. Their wounds may be covered in a scab but each day, each April for a hundred days, the blood of their relatives still flows.