I know I’ll never be able to truly articulate what it is to be here. So many photographs I can only capture in my minds eye. They are gone in an instant. The women walking on the side of the road, wrapped in bright fabric, baskets of bananas or mangoes on their heads. A bright pink sun setting in the hills.
We arrive “home” to the CommonWealth View (at this point, it feels like home. It has been for more than a week. And I don’t really know where home is anymore.). Judith, receptionist extraordinaire – who every morning gives my ensemble the once over and then gives me a thumbs up – has set up a BBQ and a movie on the lawn for us.
We are back late. Africa time. She wants to start the movie quickly. But first, Sue, my roommate, and I head out to the lawn for an impromptu dance party with some of the other women and the teens. Sue and I are grinding. I laugh. I forget how much I like to dance. There is goat and chicken and sausage to eat. And potatoes. Always potatoes.
The movie begins before we are ready. But this isn’t my show. My M.O. here is to show up and experience. We settle into Gorillas in the Mist. It is fun to watch the movie with Trudy who saw the gorillas just a few days prior.
In the morning we visited two genocide memorials – Ntarama and Nyamata. Tutsi people sought refuge here in 1994, as they had in 1992. But this time, the church leadership gave them up – betrayed them. They are sites of mass violence and killing.
Purple and white ribbons and banners are draped at both memorials – purple for mourning, white for hope. Clothes hardened by blood remain on the pews. Cooking pots and pieces of mattresses are stacked in a corner. There are holes in the ceilings and walls, shot from the outside in. Gaping spaces where grenades were tossed in, blowing up entire portions of walls, entire people. Blood stains on the walls – all that remains of the infants thrown against them. Remnants of stained glass in partially shattered windows.
At Ntarama there is a sign that translates to: If you knew me, and you knew yourself, you would not kill me.
Sue and I stand together. I ask her if we can say Kaddish together. I hold her hand and it is the first time I cry here. There is something about touching another in these moments that allows the feelings to spill over. That reminds me I am not alone, that I will not float away. That brings me back to my body. We stumble over Kaddish, missing an entire section. But the intention is there.
Outside with our group of 16, we gather in the meditation space and say Kaddish again, this time led by Rabbi Brant. It is complete. I close my eyes and when I open them no one else is here. My hand is on my heart, as it has been the entire time I have been here.
Next door, someone is tending to the crops of corn.
At Nyamata, there is more bloodied clothing. The remains of personal affects. Jewelry. An identification card. A green hairbrush with a mirror on one side. The girls in Kigali all seem to carry them.
We climb down stairs, subterranean, and we see rows and rows of skulls. Some have bullet holes through them. Others are shattered into pieces. Bones are lined up. I want to touch them. To feel their perfection. Their smoothness. I do not. I am having trouble breathing.
There are rows of coffins, with the remains of 50 people in each. A single coffin is under glass. It is a woman raped 20 times and then impaled with a sharpened stick inserted into her vagina. It is so unfathomable, it doesn’t fully register.
Our guide was 12 during the genocide and he remained in Rwanda throughout it – always on the run. One of the women in our group asks him how it is that the priests gave up the people. “I don’t know,” he says. “It is hard to understand.”
I sit on the cool tiles above the mass graves for a long time. I need to feel this place. I sign the guest registry on the way out with my Rwanda name – Liora. Under comments I write, “Here to bear witness.”