Beauty at the Graveyard: A Genocide Experience

The Children's Room broke me. 

I had managed to get through Exhibition 1 (The 1994 Genocide Against The Tutsi) without really needing the packet of tissues I had armed myself with (I knew it was going to be a rough couple of hours so I came 'prepared.') I walked through the dimly lit hallways displaying horrific photos and short testimonial films of survival and pain. The materials on display already painted a realistic picture of the 1994 atrocities for me, but my mind went on an imaginative overdrive. I heard the desperate cries of children, women begging for their lives, a father's last words to his son, "Even if I die, do not revenge. It is not right." I saw last goodbyes...a last kiss. I listened to suppressed sad hymns and final prayers. I saw and heard someone celebrating a successful kill. I chocked on my tears when, alone in a room with some items of clothing recovered from affected areas, a man said;

"For one to forgive, you need to know whom you are forgiving. Not all Hutus killed. Until now, no-one has asked for forgiveness."

I looked up and on the screen was the face of a man who had lost so much. His eyes were too sad for words. Maybe rheumy, red with sadness.

In another room, I found faces. Children. Women. Men. Happy. Black and white photos as well serpia ones that gave identity to the skulls that lay encased a few meters away.  

The children's room was full of life, and death. The boys and girls had names. Next to their names were their favorite foods and drinks and hobbies too. There was this nine months old baby; his favorite word? Mama. Latest memory? He watched his mother die. Then he was shot dead too. I sat on one of the benches and wept. 

Minutes later, I walked out to the gardens of reflection at the Kigali Genocide Memorial and here, as I reflected on the last couple of hours, I found beauty. The vast ground hosts six gardens;

  • Gardens of Unity, Division & Reconciliation
  • The Rose Gardens
  • The Garden of Self Protection
  • The Provinces of Rwanda Garden
  • The Flower of Life Garden
  • The Forest of Memory

The rose garden

The amphitheatre

View of the museum from the burial place

A dignified resting place
Wall of names: Name them one by one. Never to be forgotten

Today, while writing this piece, I had to go back in time to that hot Tuesday afternoon, recalling what I saw and how I felt. It was haunting. How much more for those who have to deal with this every day of their lives? To will themselves to remember their loved one's smiles and laughter, how their hugs made them feel and the sound of their voices. Can one really remember these without seeing the machete that hacked their mother or the bullet that ripped their baby's heart apart? I wonder.

1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Lest we forget: Genocide is not a single act of murder. It is a million acts of murder. 

Kigali Genocide Memorial official website:

Photos by Trezer Oguda

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