3/14/06 - (Writing time) A nice hot shower takes away your irritation, but not the pain. At least it washes away the dust – left from walking through bones and remains of the genocide. Our day began yesterday – 3/13 - with a tour of Solace Ministries – a small NGO that was going some big things in Rwanda. We met John and Ben from the ministries, both Rwandans, both survivors of theGenocide. During an early morning discussion, John explained what the perpetrators of the genocide expressed about the baby murder. Why did they kill babies? The rationale was given – that these babies would grow up to be the killers, so they need to be exterminated early.
They took us to Solace Ministries Center where women who had been raped and left widowed after the Genocide were finding solace. John gave us a background to the Genocide and his personal struggles growing up in Rwanda. We heard the stories of Hutu and Tutsi, but it was all mixed with the sadness that bottomed out on neighbor hurting neighbor. “Twelve years ago everyone abandoned us,” John told our group. “Some thought that even God had abandoned us. But today we know he hasn’t because you are here. You have spent your money and time to come and visit us.” I'll write more on Solace Ministries in a bit.
We loaded up in the Toyota van and headed off to the village of Bugesera. There we would see Solace in action. The road to Bugesera was one of the worst, they told us. It was a dirt road with holes and breaks. Very bumpy to say the least. At the village we found a group of women. They were widows of the genocide. They ranged in age, but I’d say most were in their 30’s or 40’s, though the toll of life betrayed them with and older appearance. You have to think 12 years ago they were all young brides. A few got up and gave testimony. One beautiful lady with a huge scar on her cheek also showed us her back. The scars were the gashes of the machete blade.
It’s difficult to kill someone with a machete. You need power, they told us. You need to repeatedly hit and beat. This woman watched as her children were beaten and killed. She saw her whole household – parents, brothers, sisters die. And her story was not unusual. It was the story of most of these women. A large number of these women also were HIV/AIDS infected. They were raped during the genocide, infected and left to die. The perpetrators of the genocide, they told us, would not kill women that they raped, because once infected, they could then spread the killer disease to others.
A young 19 year old girl got up to speak. She began by telling us she was 7 years old when the Genocide took place. She tried to go on, but her story wouldn’t come out. She was overtaken by tears and emotion. One of our group members, Renatta works with trauma patients all the time. She went up and gave her a hug. Rev. Murray did the same, insisting that the girl didn’t need to continue. They introduced us to the group. Don and Lorna have been to Rwanda 8 times. What a comfort to these women to know that people from outside cared so much for them! Don turned to me and asked that I say a few words. He introduced me as a grandchild of Armenian Genocide survivors. The ladies listened attentively. I tried to speak but got choked up. Was this not the scene of our parents? It was like looking through time in the aftermath of our Genocide, where women, children came together… where good intentioned souls got together to help. Did our mothers have the same support that these women have? How could they go on with their lives?
I was in front of the group briefly. I told them that we were kindred spirits – that in standing in front of them, I was seeing my parents, my grandparents. Tears started flowing from them and from me. We spoke of the resurrection… that beyond every crucifixion there is a resurrection. The women nodded in agreement. I explained that as Armenians we had known persecution since the early centuries but knew very well that God never abandons us. It was an exhilarating and moving few minutes.
Outside the kids huddled and laughed. Life was continuing. The meeting of the widows broke up with Rev. Murray’s prayer and blessing. One woman got up, with a smile that didn’t masquerade her pain, but certainly revealed her joy. She insisted that she would not leave until she got a hug! The next few minutes were what we could describe as a hug-for-all. A lot of energy was passing through that gathering. The kids came up to our car with big smiles. They all spotted my BIC contrasting against my shirt. And my sunglasses – well let's just say the pen was more important for me, so the glasses went. We had lunch at a small house – where one of the Solace leaders lived. I had a some crosses fromEtchmiadzin. I asked that they be distributed to all the women in the shelter. In a small way, a blessing from one Genocide to another was passed through the symbol of suffering and the symbol of victory.
We drove on through to the site of a large-scale massacre – a church. It was were 5,000 Rwandans had been hiding, betrayed by the priest and then killed. The bones were still there. It was truly silencing.What could you say against an atrocity the size of this? We walked through the church. The bones still on the floor. A few hundred skulls had been rounded up and placed on a display. Other bones were bagged. Ben said that when he first came here – when Solace just started, the flesh of the dead were still on thebones. It's been 12 years now. It was a terrible, terrible site. We made our way back to the car and back to the hotel.
Here’s some discussion: Why? How could people be so filled with hatred that they would not merely KILL but they would sadistically destroy? How could they kill babies? How could they shove machetes in a woman’s body and then twist it? How could they? How could they…? How could they…And the bigger questions are coming…I haven’t been able to find Internet connectivity yet. There is MUCH more to write, but trying to find the place (and now the time to write) is becoming difficult. Off to another day now. Will write later.
© Fr. Vazken Movsesian 2006