During the IWMF trip to Rwanda, I came to really appreciate the degree to which IWMF had made sure to equip us with the best fixers in town. Had it not been for the IWMF fixers, I would have walked away from Rwanda missing so much of what was around me, but just beneath the surface. Here are some thoughts from one day on the road with IWMF’s fixer in Rwanda.
Driving through the landscape of Western Rwanda, we see how dependent the country is on farming. We pass tidy rows of crops – corn, alfalfa, tomatoes – dotted with women wrapped in colorful fabrics, swinging their hoes high in the air and coming down hard on the soil. Men wearing faded T-shirts with American slogans – “Dr. Pepper”, “We’re All Champions,” “Adidas” – walk along the sides of the road, hauling load of wood on their shoulders, or massive sacks of something on their heads. It’s early morning, but Rwandans are already working hard.
As we drive we also see homes and schools and churches, many of them rather new constructions. From the outside Rwanda looks like things are clipping right along. Like maybe if you can block out for a moment what happened here, you’ll see someplace that could be anywhere, just schools and homes and churches, nothing different from anywhere else, really.
“You see that church there, up on the hill?,” our fixer asks. “It’s a new construction.” “Nice,” I say, thinking he wants me to compliment the uncrumbling walls and clean paint job of the beige building. But he’s telling me something else. “There was a priest at this church. And he rented a Caterpillar. And he took the Caterpillar and he bulldozed the church. He pushed it down that cliff. Because inside the church many Tutsis were hiding. Everyone died.” In 15 seconds I go from looking at a clean paint job to looking at a nightmare, a site of horrors so massive that my mind can’t quite get at them, or won’t.
He isn’t done.
“You see that school? The one with the blue doors on top of the hill? In 1998, four years after the genocide, children were in school here. Some military guys who had fled to Congo during the genocide came back. And they asked the kids if they were Hutu or Tutsi. The children said, ‘No, we are all Rwandans.’ And they were killed. 17 kids were shot.” And suddenly, the white building with the little blue doors is a hell, a place emanating the acrid fumes of hate.
Even if you could block out the terrible personal tragedies, the landscape here serves as a constant reminder of horrors uncountable. The land is dotted with memories for Rwandans, as if they are always aware of the blood that has soaked into the soil. To the outside – to someone without such a high-quality fixer – it’s banana trees and motorbikes, rows of corn and roadside bars. But to Rwandans, this land tells a story, a terrible one, again, and again, and again. And thanks to the support offered to IWMF fellows, we were given the chance to hear it told.