Saturday, May 9, 2009

I Saw What I Saw

This time 15 years ago Rwanda was a living Hell. It was three months of evil while 1,117,000 Tutsi people were massacred by extremist Hutu – the Interahamwe. That much violence and death in so small a country as Rwanda in that short of time is almost impossible to understand.

I was incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to visit Rwanda two years ago, just 13 years after the genocide ended. And it was genocide. Our government was busy trying not to do anything about it. We knew it was happening. We watched as neighbor killed neighbor and tried to close our eyes. President Clinton and his administration were splitting hairs about whether or not it was “genocide” or merely “genocidal acts”. Our country and the UN were in a unique position to stop further killing but we sat by making up reasons why we couldn’t.

In the years since the genocide, Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright have apologized for our inaction. Still, over a million people were killed. Over ten thousand a day for a month. Interestingly, July 4th is also their liberation day. I was there in 2007 to celebrate their liberation. It was a day I’ll never forget. If you’re interested in reading about that trip go to

While looking for links for that blog, I came across this beautiful Sara Groves song. She also went to Rwanda and wrote about her trip. The video is so moving to me because I had been there. I saw what she saw, visited some of the same places. The images in her video, along with lyrics make this hard for me to watch and yet something I must watch.

I don’t obsess over Rwanda. I guess I did when I first returned. But a day doesn’t go by when I don’t think of it. The strong beautiful people, the untiring spirit, the forgiveness and repentance. Rwanda has so many lessons for us. They have achieved a peace that has lasted.

Below is a small piece of my Rwanda blog. I visited Mother Teresa’s orphanage and saw a little slice of life for some men who worked there cutting wood.

Wednesday 7/3/07 8:00 PM

I didn’t get to finish my thoughts on Mother Teresa’s orphanage. Just one more before I forget. There were about half a dozen guys
chopping firewood for cooking in a big open area inside the compound at the orphanage. Somehow they managed to haul in some huge logs. They looked like cedar but smelled different. Three feet across. Really hard wood. It was a hot and sticky day. The men were working with machetes and really dull looking hand axes. The axes had pipes for handles. Hot. Hard work. The kind of work that would have taken about an hour in the US with chainsaws and splitting equipment. Six guys. Chipping away at tree trunks with machetes. That’s like a metaphor for how things are done in Rwanda. This scene stays with me. They had their shirts off. Their dark bodies were glistening with sweat. They were relentless. We were there for about an hour and when we came out they were still chipping away with machetes and these tiny axes, hatchets really.

Then a puff of cool breeze came. Almost as one the men stopped their labor, closed their eyes and sort of leaned into the breeze. Little smiles came to their faces. Just that little pause. That tiny sip of refreshment. Then, just as quickly as it arose, the breeze left and the men went back to work. Sleek. No body fat. Thin and muscular. Determined. Uncomplaining. Facing a limitless task – That is Rwanda.

I watched Sara Groves video again this morning and Rwanda came rushing back to me.

I saw what I saw and I can't forget it
I heard what I heard and I can't go back
I know what I know and I can't deny it

Something on the road, cut me to the soul

Your pain has changed me
your dream inspires
your face a memory
your hope a fire
your courage asks me what I'm afraid of
(what I am made of)
and what I know of love

we've done what we've done and we can't erase it
we are what we are and it's more than enough
we have what we have but it's no substitution

Something on the road, touched my very soul

I say what I say with no hesitation
I have what I have and I'm giving it up
I do what I do with deep conviction

Something on the road, changed my world

I will never forget.

1 comment:

RuthintheQ said...

We are both so lucky to have had an African experience. Life changing experiences. Africa must always change lives, it is just so powerful. And the gentlest of people seem to wield the most powerful impact. Quite a place. I have the pleasure of preparing a new batch of young medical students for their Kenya experience in March. They will do a scientific follow-up study to see what effects, if any, the new dam has made. I am hopeful to hear the results.