Day 8: Wednesday, May 29th: Visit to Murambi

Wednesday May 29th—Visit to Murambi
Today we visited the Murambi Genocide Memorial, which is 3 hours away from ASYV (past Butare, the second largest city in Rwanda). While the bus ride was long, we were lucky to see the beautiful views of the never ending hills that make up Rwanda’s landscape. It was illuminating to see how heavily modern Rwandans rely on agriculture, as it has been deeply entrenched in their past as well. The patterns of corn fields, cow pastures, and rice paddies, while painting the mountains in a lovely way, also made evident the future of Rwanda lies deeply within the continued development of its agriculture. We stopped for lunch at a buffet restaurant in Butare, and then finally arrived at the memorial for our tour.
Murambi is an old technical secondary school that was never completely built, as it was in the process during the genocide. It sits on the top of a hill that is surrounded by many other hills. This creates a beautiful view, but it was also the downfall of those who sought refuge there as this leaves no escape routes from the hill. Victims were told by civil authorities to gather there for safety and protection, but after days of waiting the 50,000 people were being surrounded and eventually massacred in a single day. The school, still half-built and mixed with both the breathtaking view and the morbid history, creates an eerie atmosphere.
We were joined by Wilton, who shared with us his personal experience as a genocide survivor. He was the past president of ASYV and is currently the superintendent of all Seventh Day Adventist schools in Rwanda. Gaspard was our tour guide, who led us out of the main building to the first group of mass graves, where he informed us that 18,000 victims were buried there. Next we walked to the school rooms which contained the preserved bodies of those who were killed. It was extremely difficult to witness these individuals’ deaths, and a lot of us found it to be a stark contrast to the lovely natural setting. We found ourselves questioning forgiveness, God, humanity, among many other things. Gaspard also took us to where the French soldiers had stayed at Murambi and to a room that held the belongings of those who were put into mass graves. A long and complicated history helped place the context of the atrocities that occurred there, but it still felt very real to witness the bodies and the remnants of their possessions.
Lastly, we went back inside the main building and did a brief walk-through of the museum, which shows pictures and historical blurbs about the sequence of events. Before getting back on the bus, we held a service on the lawn where we said prayers of remembrance from different faiths and reflected upon our experience. Our ride home was long, but we got to stop for snacks and finally returned to our house here at ASYV where we ate and had an intense discussion about memory, forgiveness, and moving forward, both in the context of Rwanda and of our individual lives. This has been the most emotionally exhausting day for the majority of us, but it plays an important part in the impact of our time here and in our paying respect to the genocide victims.
We treasure this experience, despite how hard it was, and look forward to using it to further both our own genocide education and the education of others.
Love from Rwanda,
Paige and Naika

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