Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Smiles, Laughs and Tears

After breakfast (thanks Teresa for the delicious granola!) and a sturdy cup of Rwandan coffee, we began our day by heading to the High Court Building where we met with Carl's friend Judge Pio Mugabo.  This building is where many of the genocide crimes trials occur, and like every place I've been in Kigali thus far, there is no stress, no rush, no anger...just smiles, greetings and open doors.  We had a lovely conversation with Pio where he discussed his personal genocide story, his family, and places we could go and people we could speak to in Rwanda who might be interested in AFP and BSC Theater.  Like every survivor I have spoken with, his story was heart wrenching and shockingly heroic--it is amazing what the human spirit can do in the most extreme circumstances--it is becoming more and more clear to me that it is even more amazing what the human Rwandan spirit is capable of.  After the genocide Pio was appointed the Minister of Social Affairs, and now is a Judge akin to our court of appeals.  We will be having dinner with Pio and his wife tomorrow--he was happy to take a picture with me...
We then went to the office of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission--this is a state funded office whose mission is to teach unity, peace and positive reconciliation strategies to Rwanda's children and young adults.  So much pain and suffering continues to follow this densely populated country besieged by genocide--credit must be given to the government to realize its responsibility to teach the healing process to its future generations.  They go into the schools, coordinate conferences and "peace camps" utilizing a multitude of methods including...Theater!  We spent the rest of the day with one of the office's directors, Richard who was the inspiration for 13 six grade girls in Seattle to create "Richard's Rwanda" ( where these selfless young girls help to provide education for young women survivors in Rwanda.  The whole story, and its a great one, can be found on the site.  This is a crucial point to make--every survivor, from every genocide has an AMAZING story to share--wether its Anne Frank, Iammculee', Pio, Richard, etc...each personal narrative of survival is jaw dropping--I am so honored to be in their presence---a true gift of perspective.  Back to Richard:  Since he is a good friend of Carl's (of course) he agreed to accompany us to Nyamata where he was choosing a group of girls for an upcoming project at Nyamata Catholic School.  Richard also contacted a co-worker, Emmanuel, another survivor, who is an intern with the unity group--he is 24 years old-to come with us.  He was very helpful bridging the language and cultural divides and a great example of a Rwandan college student ready to change the world.  The native language of Rwanda is Kinyarwanda.  They also speak French and some English.  Richard and Emmanuel speak all three and Carl speaks French along with his English--it is clear the Kinyarwanda is Rwanda's language in more ways than one.  The 40 minute drive took us through lush terrain, small villages, a local market and lots of people walking and riding bikes with their loads of things. 

Nyamata is also home to an incredible and horrifying genocide memorial site. Churches have always been a place of safety, trust and refuge in Rwanda--until the 1994 genocide.  Thousands of Tutsi were murdered inside this church by the Interahamwe (young Hutu killing squads).  This is no American memorial.  The church has been left in its raw, "as it happened" form:  broken bars on the door, grenade and bullet holes throughout the walls, roof and floor and the clothing of the Tutsi who were murdered there on the church benches and floor....completely devastating.  It reminded me of the piles of glasses and shoes from the Holocaust, except those were pictures. Being in the presence of all of these would-be lives and stories, the deep, deep loss and "reality" was staggering.  Our guide, Leon, took us through, tenderly, to the undergound chambers, below the church were hundreds of skulls and bones of those massacared were organized on shelves in plain view---no glass cases, no fancy exhibits---just the remains of people...people with stories, families and friends...a cold, stark, chilling, inescapable example of the awful event...simply awful.  We were all stopped--in complete silence....what is there to say?  I was, am and will always be changed by this...

The church is on the grounds of the school, so in complete emotional juxtaposition, after some time to digest the church, we spent time with the lovely, joyous, talkative children at the school.  we also had the opportunity to visit with some of their teachers--some of them teaching Rwandan children for over 45 years!  It was an awesome opportunity to exchange teacher ideas, hear their needs, explain The Anne Frank Project and absorb their relationships with the children.  Ah, the children:)  They follow you with great interest and wonder--slapping high-fives, teasing, chasing and sharing their few English phrases with great pride.  The universal language of children was present at every moment, but these bright souls tugged especially hard on my heart strings....doing so much with so little.  Our choice for Maria to stay in Buffalo this trip was confirmed...she would still be there wondering how many we can take home, I'm sure:)  As you will see in the pictures below, that would not be an easy decision.

As we drove home I was extremely busy processing the day:  so much pure joy, sadness, invigoration, clarity, despair...overwhelmed....awestruck...

Below are a few pictures of our day in Nyamata.  There are no pictures from inside the church--photography is not allowed there.  

A sign at the school in Nyamata

School Gounds

Me with (from left) a teacher, the head mistress and Emmanuel

The Church/Memorial site--the underground chambers in foreground

Carl in deep discussion with Leon, the church guide.

Me having "class" with the teachers--all Royalty!

The beautiful children from the school

My special friends--the girl on the left followed me everywhere:)

Can you find Drew and Carl?

My new friends Emmanuel and Richard
I feel incredibly fortunate to be here.


  1. What a gift you have for bringing us there! Wish I really was there! Thanks again for sharing!

  2. Drew, I am Carl and Teresa's neice and your writing is bringing me in. Oh these pictures. Its beautiful to make new friends like you're doing! Emiy