We found ourselves soaked on the backs of the motobikes, but still sailing through wind and mud and drops of water as we drove back from Kibeho.

The site had been strangely devoid of energy for me. I had prepared myself for it; I had tried to be acutely aware while I was there. But as I looked into the school and the church with the burnt walls, as I saw the mass graves, I was empty. During the genocide Kibeho suffered massively – the hospital, the church and the primary school all attacked and burned. I don’t know enough about it but I’m not sure I have the heart to, either. I think the thing that is hardest for me is my complete inability to understand this place or these people. 99.9% experienced violence during the genocide. What legacy does that really leave? What goes on in the hearts of these people now? What is going on in my heart?

The drive to Kibeho is really long – about 1.5 hours on the back of a moto through muddy, curvy dirt roads. There are no towns on the way, only tiny villages and scattered huts. Somehow the roads were still covered with people the whole way. The muzungus on motos were entertainment. I had so much time to think – how do messages get passed all the way out here in these rural areas? How is every inch of Rwanda covered with people? Are these people on the sides of the roads going to walk all day to get to wherever they are going? Toddlers propped up on the backs of moving bicycles with their siblings. Old women with walking sticks and tiny babies strapped to their backs. How much AIDS is infiltrating the deep recesses of this country? How can people so removed from technology be so affected by the propaganda that facilitated the genocide? I felt so ignorant.

Arriving at Kibeho was anticlimactic. There is a tiny sign that says, “Genocide 1994 Memorial” on the road leading up the church and the primary school. The memorial is a tiny building that is all walled up, windows broken. The mass graves sit in front of it, concrete slabs surrounded by flowers. The primary school is just across from the memorial, still used. But it is in really sad shape, the room caving in and the walls still showing burn marks. The insides are littered with scraps of wood, ash and garbage. Pulling out my camera just seemed so entirely wrong. I decided to take one picture of the edge of the school because there were no people around.

We stayed for 15 minutes only. That was the deal with the moto drivers. I had no ability to take it in. I was in a combination of ignorance, shell shock, confusion and apathy. We just walked it. Sat in the church. Said hello to the locals.

The clouds loomed on the ride home and all of a sudden we were in a downpour. Three minutes later I find myself sitting on a bench surrounded by about 20 Rwandese of all ages, inside a tiny one-room hut on the side of the mud road. My moto driver is next to me, so is Melissa. I keep saying, “murakoze cyane” – thank you very much! They laugh. My pants are see-through from the rain, even better. Melissa and I are both freezing. The rain stops and we are whisked back onto the motos, and sent off by all 20 of them standing outside the hut waving at us.

I can’t combine the faces, lives energy of that family with their history. The question becomes whether I should even try.


~ by kcanderson on November 6, 2005.

2 Responses to “Kibeho”

  1. I’m not sure anyone from a stable Contry like Canada can relate or understand what you went to see this week end.
    I think your detachment was entirely normal. I’m sure I would have felt no different.

  2. Kelly,

    There are times in my work with genocide survivors that I have felt numb and emotionless. It is a normal feeling. Remember what I told you in Antigonish about the polish farmer whose field was beside Aushwitz? He couldn’t imagine what the Jews were going through even as ash rained down on his field. Human imagination and feeling can only take us so far. The Polish farmer was not implying that he had no feelings towards Jews. He was admitting only that he could not imagine their pain because his moral codes made him care for himself and his own.

    Feeling and moral responsibility remain confined by allegiances to ones own self and family. There is no moral universalism.

    A pessimistic view perhaps, but one that I belive in.


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