Sunday, October 17, 2010

Reality Strikes

Before coming to Rwanda, I was warned by a “veteran” to not ask anybody about their families “because you cannot assume that they have a family – after the genocide.” I’ve taken this advice to heart and, in general, assume that everybody I meet lost family in the genocide.

Forgetting that during the genocide, the perpetrators constituted 85% of the country.

First reality strike: it’s true that most people lost family because the genocide. However, the reason for this, more often is that their families are in prison for being genocidaires, than that their families were killed in the genocide. I had to use my hand to keep my jaw shut when I learned about this over dinner one night. Given the simple math, this is something I should have assumed…yet it’s just easier to think of everybody as being a victim in recovery, rather than a perpetrator in regret.

Second reality strike came when I actually saw these prisoners. Almost every blog or personal reflection I’ve read about Rwanda talks about seeing the prisoners in their bright pink jumpsuits and how they are a constant reminder of the genocide. Given that I live in and hardly ever leave my isolated-not-exposed-to-Rwandan culture compound, I had not come across these groups of prisoners that I’d heard so much about until this week. I was driving into town with a few co-workers to buy bus tickets, and our car was right behind a truck full of prisoners. A huge truck. Absolutely packed with prisoners in their signature pink jumpsuits.

I had similarly been warned that prisoners in Rwanda are remarkably un-secure. That guards hardly feel the need to lock doors, because life on the inside of the prison is much kinder than the hate and guilt on the outside. Even so, it was shocking to me to see this truck full of prisoners, remarkably unguarded. Not even a gate or a lock keeping them in. And despite the fact that they’ve all admitted to killing/slaughtering others, nobody on the streets seemed fazed by their presence.

For me, however, these two incidents – within 24 hours of each other – served as a harsh reminder of Rwanda’s brutal history.

For me, Rwanda does not personify “genocide.” It is true that when I first learned that Wyman Worldwide worked in Rwanda, I immediately thought of Hotel Rwanda. After that…I couldn’t think of much else. But since I’ve been here, I’ve encountered so few concrete evidences of it, that it’s easy to forget; and, consequently forget that Rwanda is not only a developing country, it’s a country in recovery. Realizing that “your father killed a man, or two, or three…or more,” makes it all a little more real, and makes life tumble into perspective.

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