Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Letter From Emily, In Rwanda.

After returning to teach with us again this summer upstate, my good friend an co-worker, Emily, has gone to Africa. This travel is part of a study project her graduate school, CalArts, has out together. The students involved are meeting with survivors of genoicide and hearing their stories. Here is a letter I got from Em, describing what her trip-and her experiences with this horrifying tragedy- have been like so far.

Hello all,
I am in Rwanda. My hotel sits on a hill with a dirt road almost too narrow for the bus we use to treck around the city and outskirts. I wake up every morning to the sounds of contruction. A center for ceremonies with thatched rooves. Houses made of cement bricks and with these thin patterned windows above the glass windows. These will eventually have screens but now they look like purposeless and beautiful holes in the wall. One house is for a business man. One house is for a policeman. One is for a military officer. There has been a lot of new construction since the genocide. Nice gaited communities that you could rent for 2,000 to 4000 US dollars a month- maybe 200 to 500 times the cost of rent for the shacks that most of Rwandan families occupy. The refugees returning post-genocide that had the money to get started in the inport/export business have done very well, but for the most part the country is still struggling to get back on its feet.
And what a struggle. I cannot imagine. Went to a genocide memorial site today. Entered a chuch once piled high to the ceiling with bodies. A mass grave covered with red bricks and dead flowers wrapped in plastic with maybe 6,000 bodies. Listened to the accounts of the events at the space from two of the five survivors. 5 out of 6000. The militia would come in, kill people, take a lunch break, kill people. Go home to go sleep. Come back the next morning. Kill more people. For three days. During the genocide, killing people was called going to work. Is it so easy to place a sense of obligation ahead of one's own connection to one's humanity? Do I get to choose what work I do in my brief time on this planet?
The two survivors were men well dressed with tired, tired eyes. One woman asked them what they do after telling their stories. The man replied that they often cannot get out of their bed for weeks. It costs something to speak. And yet they do. And yet many people do. I don't understand where the will comes from. People are fighting with their very selves here for things that would be dismissed as idealism in America- consciousness of the dangers of divisive politics, a unified nation engaged in dialogue about its future. It doesn't seem impossible in people's hearts here. And it comes at unimaginable costs when you realize a unified Rwanda is made up of victims and their killers. A million killers and almost a million victims. And yet, some people somehow have the faith to imagine a different way of being together. Where does that faith come from?
These days break over me like waves and depart leaving a slowly diminishing dull roar and a pull towards something greater than myself. Meanwhile, new friends. Small and sweet bananas. Venus and an almost new moon dangling over city lights on the hills. Seven hills. Cold showers. Occassional sounds of roosters. Dancing. Fanta. An orange sunset and an orange sunrise. A new day.
I love you all and hope you are well. Take care.

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