Well, much has happened this past week, and I thought I’d take a minute to write before I leave for Gisenyi tomorrow afternoon.
Umunsimwize – have a good day. Ijororyiza – have a good night. Waraye Neza – did you sleep well? Namenye ikinyarwanda – I’m learning Kinyarwanda. Ndishimye Kukubona – It was nice to meet you. And a few others that mean: Stop, I’d like to go to town, and how much does that cost (but I don’t know how to spell any of those!)
The last few days I have been playing tour guide — how bizarre that I am in any way capable of that! — to four Americans who were en route to Gisenyi to do a workcamp for AGLI. It was a boost to confidence as a visitor myself to be able to impart what little knowledge I have gained here to others.
Upon meeting the clerk of Rwanda Yearly Meeting, one of the American workcampers asked: “What did the Friends here in Kigali do to help during the genocide?” The clerk and another Rwandan gentleman we were sitting with looked at her, confused for a moment and lost for words. “Do?…” asked one of them? They looked at each other and laughed, a little uncomfortably it seemed. Ultimately there was no need for either of them to say anything, the answer was clear from their reaction. No one could “do” much more than try to survive and save those around them — by running or hiding. There are many Rwandan heroes, to be sure, but they are recognized as individuals, by in large, who helped save other individuals through sheer courage and heart. The notion of an entire organization — i.e. an entire Church — being able to have stood up to genocide is, as the nervous laughter may have suggested, a somewhat foreign idea. I think this dynamic of the conflict in Rwanda is part of what sets it far apart from other countries who experienced mass violence or genocide. There were no bystanders in the same way there were in, say, South Africa. Even those who were safe from the interahamwe (organized Hutu militia) were not safe from the advancing RPF. Thus, I have begun to notice that the sentiment of “shame” here in Rwanda concerning the past is a very different kind of shame than we talk about Germans feeling after the Holocaust, or Afrikaners feeling after apartheid. There is shame that humans are capable of such evil, and there is shame that it happened in Rwanda. But there is no concept of shame from inaction on the part of Rwandans to the extent that we see it elsewhere. It was a battle to survive and the Friends were a part of that struggle just as much as everyone else. I realize this is intuitive to some, but being here in Rwanda and being around the intricacies of such a word — shame — has been eye-opening to me.