This weekend we stayed around the house and ventured into Kigali to explore the city. On Friday night, Caitlin took us out for a delicious Rwandan dinner at an amazing restaurant called Republika. We tried fish, chicken, veggies, friend plantains and delicious spinach -- amazing. On Saturday morning Kat, Anna and I hopped on motos in search of the African Bagel Company. Armed with a text containing directions and bagel fever, we managed to navigate our way through the city to find the famed ABC. From the outside it looks very nondescript, but just through the metal door we found a garden filled with muzungus - white people - munching on bagels and donuts and sipping coffee. Definitely a little bit of a funny ex-pat vibe, but the food was delicious, so we were thrilled. On Saturday afternoon Anna and I visited the Genocide Memorial. One of the first things that probably comes to mind at the mention of Rwanda is the horrific genocide that took place here in 1994. Before arriving, we'd done a lot of research on the topic, and I think both Anna and myself felt that we knew a fair amount about the events and the history leading up to them. For a good summary of the genocide, watch this amazing video that our GlobeMed chapter made this spring. Even so, I was really nervous to go to the memorial because I knew it would be a very difficult experience, no matter how prepared we were.
The Kigali Memorial Center is located just outside the city center, on a site where more than 250,000 people are buried. It opened in April 2004, on the 10th anniversary of the Genocide and is "a permanent memorial to those who fell victim to the genocide and serves as a place for people to grieve those they lost." It's an incredibly powerful and affective place that manages to convey an enormous amount of information and history, as well as pay tribute to the victims. There was an educational exhibit about the history of the genocide and the brutal events of 1994, accompanied by lots of photos and video. A section on the failure of the UN and the international community to respond showed how many warnings the world ignored. There were also rooms that had photographs of the victims, placed there by their families, and others with bones, clothing, and different belongings. I read that the memorials include bones and bodies in order to ensure that no one can ever claim that the Rwandan genocide didn't happen. Upstairs, there was another exhibit that chronicled other genocides, including the Holocaust, Cambodia, the Balkans, and the Armenian genocide. Finally, there was a series of rooms dedicated to children, with different photographs and little facts about them - what their favorite food was, who their best friend was, what they wanted to be, and also how and where they died. This was by far the most emotional section of the memorial. We went into it at the same time as about 20 older Rwandan women, who were all soon bracing themselves against the walls and crying uncontrollably. Standing in those rooms reading about the innocent young lives that were lost, surrounded by other people completely overcome with grief was definitely one of the most powerful and emotional moments I’ve ever experienced. It was awful. The horrible injustice and incredible violence of the genocide is overwhelming.
However, even after spending two hours in the memorial learning about the unimaginable potential for human cruelty, it still managed to inspire my faith in humanity. So many people have visited that memorial to learn and pay tribute, and also to grieve together. Of course, coming out of it I felt sad and exhausted, but also more connected to this place and the people around me. Rwanda definitely remembers and mourns - as evidenced by the 18th anniversary billboards and banners still speckled across the city - but the country is certainly looking ahead to a brighter and more compassionate future.