A Visit to Rwanda

by Belinda Munoz on February 7, 2012

Note: This is not a rainbow and cotton candy post.

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1994.
I sat in church listening to Fr. JG, a charismatic African-American priest, preach about the genocide in Rwanda. His influence as a spiritual leader attracted visitors from surrounding counties eager to soak in his wisdom and holiness. His booming voice and magnetic preaching style packed the building, week after week, with devotees starved for enlightenment and inspiration. In the tradition of other fearless liberation theologians, his passion for meaningful involvement obliterated the line between church and state. Strong words were hurled at the U.S. Government’s inaction. Lives are more important than political correctness.

In his most impassioned speech, Fr. JG appealed to his congregation to open their hearts to our African sisters and brothers. He implored everyone to support an event designed to raise awareness of the horrors in Rwanda. Alas, not even this gifted preacher’s passionate words could bridge the physical and experiential distance separating Rwanda from our proverbial couch. Apathy kept the masses glued to our mundane reality of privilege-laden daily life. The large venue was far from half full. Compassion without action is nothing more than wasted emotion.

1999.
I walked the grounds of a holocaust museum in Israel, jarred by the horrors of historic proportions humans wield at our hands. Shaken by the lack of human bond their generation and the international community displayed that allowed such blatant atrocities to happen, I consoled myself with the thought that, at least, I was not complicit. It was decades before my time. Guilt could not touch me then.

2012.
I stood before mass graves at the Kigali Memorial Centre, feeling the eerie silence of 250,000 skeletons. I read the biographies of the little children whose lives ended much too soon. One boy, five years old, the same age as my son, loved riding a bicycle. His favorite food included chips, meat and eggs. His best friend was his sister. He was described as a quiet, well-behaved boy. He would have been 23 this year.

I entered the doors of Ntarama Catholic church outside of Kigali. Its red brick walls inside were lined with clothing of fading colors belonging to about 5000 people who sought refuge here. I stared at skulls and an assortment of tibia, femur and humerus bones with mounting discomfort, knowing I was very much embroiled in the saga of my own life as these people were losing theirs.
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Does this seem too much to share? If so, it is a minor inconvenience to endure, knowing we have been blessed with geographic luck. By sharing this experience, I hope to remember the lives that were lost in our common not-too-distant past and to honor the survivors spared by genocide as well as those still being affected by its residual effects today.

Some truths are concealed, dressed up, toned down, blown out of proportion or sworn to secrecy. Other truths hack like a machete.

If the cutting pain that naked truth brings has the power to reinstill our human bond back to our present condition as a human race, then I will take the latter. Because, ultimately, I believe we’d all rather feel than not. We’d rather care than not. We’d rather hurt then hope for healing than pretend there’s no pain in living. When we embrace our nature as feeling, caring, hurting, hoping-for-healing human beings, perhaps we will see just how much of the earth, the moon, the stars, the sky we share with one another. And maybe then, we will have gained a stronger human bond that won’t ever again allow us to fail a whole nation, a whole race.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ayala February 7, 2012 at 10:05 am

Hard truth…I have written about before and it is on my mind often. Ultimately like you, I believe that we all would rather feel than not. It frustrates me that in this age and time atrocities happen and the world allows it to happen. Great post, Belinda. Thank you for bringing awareness to this important issue.

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2 Belinda February 7, 2012 at 10:33 am

Ayala, I know you have remarkable stories and have a very involved way of coming to grips with this, having been affected by it directly. I think of you, and others like you, who continue to have faith in humanity despite how humanity has failed you in the past.

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3 Anisi from Santa Fe February 7, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Rainbows and cotton candy are great : ) but sometimes we need the brutal truth, which i s what you wrote for us in this one. Thank you again Belinda for a powerful, haunting, thought-provoking post.

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4 Talon February 7, 2012 at 8:35 pm

“blessed with geographic luck” – wiser and truer words never spoken. The truth is hard, but it’s also necessary. Thank you for sharing it, Belinda.

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5 Sara February 8, 2012 at 8:48 am

Belinda,

I must say I think this is the most powerful post you’ve written. It’s so compelling. The idea of looking at bones of people who died simply of, as you said “geographic luck” or bad luck, depending on the country.

This was a line that will stay in my heart for quite some time, “Some truths are concealed, dressed up, toned down, blown out of proportion or sworn to secrecy. Other truths hack like a machete.” I agree the ones that cut, remind us to feel the pain. Seeing bodies/bones, reading the stories of little ones who died too soon…all cut into our protective shields.

Powerful words for what I imagine was a very powerful and even challenging trip. I’m glad your back.

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6 Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri February 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm

I truly believe that geography determines destiny.
Your line about “other truths hack like a machete,” is especially gripping because it is an unfortunate reality.

Thanks for providing this account. It is painful, but necessary.

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