By Marie McKowen
City Hill Trip Participant
The warm night air greeted us as we stepped off the plane at Kigali Airport. The smell was pleasing, fresh and to me, inviting. What time is it? In the words of little Kaitlin as we landed, “Rwanda time!” A second wind of energy kicked in as we scrambled to get our luggage off the moving belts. After about 18 hours of flying, my tired body sunk into the seat of the crowded van and I stared out the window at the city lights. This is it. Africa.
Time to get up, 7am. But I just got to sleep, my mind keeps telling me. It’s only 11pm at home. Our agenda for the day, visiting a Memorial dedicated to the victims of the 1994 genocide. What will my emotions be like? Not quite sure. No expectations, just be.
We arrive and walk into a beautiful garden. It is just so beautiful. How can I be thinking about how beautiful it is? Climbing vines, hanging flowers, a light breeze, rolling hills in the distance. Mass graves cover the ground with slabs of concrete. 300,000 is the number inside the graves, about 600,000 may still be found. So many people. Just so many. How can my brain understand, how can my heart take it in? Then we go inside. I read about the history of the division. A long time ago, someone from the outside decided who was Hutu, who was Tutsi. Hatred. Suspicion. Lies. Premeditated violence. It seems like a story, it just can’t be reality. Then I see the pictures. They are too much for me to handle. I know it’s reality, but I don’t want it to be. But the pictures don’t lie. The floodgates of emotion are opened. I have to move on to the next room.
The walls are painted a happy orange. Large black & white photographs of children hang on the walls. A plaque hangs under each child. Name. Favorite food. Favorite drink. Favorite game. Way they died. I could only read 3. I just couldn’t read anymore. My tears became sobs and I couldn’t stop thinking of my own sweet children. They have a favorite game. They have a favorite food, too. I couldn’t help but think about it happening on our soil, in our neighborhoods, to my family. It doesn’t seem possible. Society would be outraged. 900,000 people killed in a mass genocide. But it did happen. And my heart aches. I ask for the Spirit of God to fill this land, to fill my heart. Then it is time to leave. Time to go to the place where the new orphanage is being built. Children from the neighborhood start to gather and I hug them, I love them. They hug me and I feel loved.