Tuesday, July 27, 2010

views on the genocide


I remember having a conversation with Sr. Rose today about the genocide. I have always been under the impression that Rwanda has made incredible progress in these 16 years. There are televised memorial services, there is a week-long national memorial period, each district has its own cemetery/memorial grounds, people wear purple livestrong bracelets advocating “Never Again,” the slogan posted all around on purple banners, and I’ve found that people talk about it without my bringing it up. I’ve been pleasantly surprised, thankfully. I have never witnessed any forms of ethnic hatred or even any kind of division…everybody just looks Rwandan to me.

Well, Sr. Rose reminded me that I am an outsider. Of course everything looks a-ok because everybody is really nice to me. Hutu and Tutsi alike want to talk to the Muzungus and show them Rwandan hospitality. But in the neighborhoods, behind-the-scenes, it’s a different story. She said that the government has tried erasing ethnic lines. They’re trying to erase history such that there is no Hutu or Tutsi. “We are all one family. We are all Rwandan,” said President Paul Kagame. This is certainly a good mindset, but the problem is that people still know each other. Families know whether their next door neighbors are Hutu or Tutsi. Kids know which ethnic group their classmates belong to, even though the ethnic role call was banned long ago. People still hold grudges deep within because they know that so-and-so is a Hutu, and therefore they killed so-and-so of my family, even though they may not have been directly responsible.

Sr. Rose said that the tension is building beneath this surface appearance that I perceive. She also said that it is perfectly acceptable for a Tutsi to cry aloud and wail in public at memorial services. This is normal because Tutsis were the ones who were slaughtered. But, Hutus also lost many people in the cross-violence, plus, many moderate Hutus who were not blatant Tutsi-haters were killed for being apathetic. But, if a Hutu were to cry aloud, the people, knowing that this person is a Hutu simply by association and family ties, would completely shun them. It would be completely unacceptable for a Hutu to show their grief. So, they are holding it all inside because they have no outlet. Again, the tension builds.

I sure hope that the surface ok-ness that I saw will perfuse deeper and deeper into the ethnic structure of Rwanda. If anything, it seems that acknowledging the presence of the two ethnic groups living and working in harmony as “one family,” as Rwandans, would be a good thing. Let’s all hope and pray that the elections coming up in August 2010 will be peaceful, and that the next president will work towards true healing of the nation.