Chapter 6: Scars that Must not Heal

Preparing One’s Heart

Translation by Ms. Haruka Osada (Simon Fraser University)

sketch Dr. MinamiThe morning of April 7th was bright and clear in Kigali. It was the morning of the 18th anniversary of 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

Every year, people in Rwanda start preparing for this day even a week before. We can see the Genocide memorial posters in purple, the symbol colour, everywhere in the country, and the signboards with the symbol flowers are set up around Kigali. Every site of Genocide around the country is decorated in purple for this day.

On national TV channel, the message “18 Kwibuka Jenocide Yakorewe Abatutsi” – we pray for the 18th anniversary of Tutsi – constantly appears on the screen since a week before the day, and many special programs related to the incident, such as documentaries, movies, debate/talk shows, history shows and the survivors’ testimonials are broadcasted. Gospel and theme songs inspired by the Genocide are played on radio as well. In fact, it is banned to broadcast anything other than programs or music related to the Genocide for the week. If other songs are played in a restaurant, a bar or any public space, a warning is given by the police. On the memorial day, all governmental agencies as well as public and private business stop their functions, and “everything” is put toward the ceremony, the moment for reflection.

In the morning of the memorial day, a great silence reigned over the city. Usually we can see bike taxi and cars that fling up the African red soil, but none of them were seen that day. “Everything” takes its moment and pray for the victims.

Rwandan people use “Amahoro, Amahoro” (peace, peace) as a greeting to each other and start preparing their “hearts” a week before April 7th.

It is said that during the Genocide in 1994, “every” child had some traumatic experience, such as witnessing one’s parents killed or being abandoned in a mound of dead bodies. In other words, almost all Rwandan citizens age above 18-20 live their everyday lives with horrific memories of the incident.

Their “feelings” and “emotions” toward the memorial day are beyond our imagination. I had a simple question; what do they think and feel in the everyday life? How do they spend their days with the terrible memories? I wanted to hear stories from more people. Much less, why do they live in a “reconciliation village” with killers that murdered their families? How can they live with them? What makes them do so? Is there any reason behind it? By living together, what do they think and feel everyday? I wanted to collect more data, more quickly.

The people in Kigali seemed very different during the week of the Genocide memorial day. As people call them “Land of Thousand Smiles”, I had never seen Rwandan people stop smiling. But that week, the cheerful smile was gone from everyone’s faces. I love seeing their smiles, so I felt very sad. Usually, Kigali is filled with the sound of Reggae and Hip Hop music, but the city was dominated by silence. Toward the memorial day, the city and the people must had been “preparing their hearts”. It was probably natural that day. Emmanuel, who is usually very gentle and quiet, said to me “Masa, please forgive me if I appear strange this week. The Genocide week is the time that everyone’s heart aches”. I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “let’s think of your mom together”. Emmanuel’s eyes filled with tears, and my heart hurt for him.

Guma, who works as my translator, and I visited the Genocide memorial sites. He is usually very calm, but suddenly he said emotionally: “how could they do this? With machetes (large knives, hatchets)! How could they kill all these powerless people? Where was the God? Why didn’t he save us? I feel miserable for the victims”.
He told me that he was once an orphan. I saw him look down and wipe off his tears with a white handkerchief covered with red soil. My chest felt tight, and my heart burned with anger. I felt strongly that it is important to share this sadness and anger, remember the victims, think about wars and pray for peace with everyone in this world.

I was born in a peaceful country, Japan, and educated in another peaceful country, Canada. That is why I need to share their sadness and loneliness, regret the conflicts and pray for peace with them. I said to Guma, “people in Canada and Japan understand your pain, and are wishing for the peace to last forever for you”. Guma only said “thank you, Masa”.

The Scar that I Could Hear

The Genocide memorial ceremony was held nationwide at the memorial sites. In Kigali, it was held at Amahoro (peace) stadium between 10 am and 12 pm. At 10 am, the President Paul Kagame offered a bouquet to the public cemetery in Kigali Memorial Centre, and the scene was live-broadcasted. When he was about to get into a car after the offering, I saw him rebuking his SP; “why are you getting on before our guests? Let them get on first!”. He was an ex-military, and he organized the Rwandan Patriotic Front from the neighboring country, Uganda to pacify the Genocide when everyone else turned back on Rwanda. It was a moment I could see his kindness and thoughtfulness toward his people.
The ceremony started with a chorus for the Genocide memorial and appearance of the President at Amahoro Stadium. A memorial concert, gospel, testimonials of the survivors and the victims, a speech of the Minister of Culture and Sports, and a speech of the President at last. At 12 o’clock, the President instructed everyone to stand up for a moment of silent prayer.
The stadium was surrounded by the countless number of ambulances and staff, as well as trained counsellors; there was at least 50 vehicles, and it was impossible to know the number of staff there. The military was also surrounding the stadium to inspect persons and check their belongings. This was to prevent the anticipated grenade terrorism; it was within the assumption that the terrorists from neighbouring countries intrude the event.

To be honest, I wondered whether they need this many staff for one event before the ceremony started. As it turned out, about 70-80 people experienced flashback caused by trauma within the two hours. This means that one person developed the symptom every one minute or two. Many of them screamed and cried grievously, and required about 4-5 staff to carry them out of the stadium.

When I asked Emmanuel, “what are they screaming?”, he answered, “most of them are saying, I’m going to get killed!”. I could also hear the voice crying for “mommy” and “daddy”. I did not need a translation for that.

These people with obvious symptoms of PTSD drew my attention, but if I look around, I could see the people looking far away with despondency, and hear the people’s mourning. Everyone was wiping their tears, and some of them were breaking down crying. During the ceremony, screaming and sobbing never stopped.

When I exited the stadium, the grass field was filled with the counselors and people burst into tears.

The memory of the Genocide from 18 years ago is still vivid to the kind and peaceful Rwandan people. Their wounds are yet to be healed. For them, the Genocide is still occurring “right now”, “right here”. However, through witnessing their attitude toward the ceremony, I felt their strong will for not forgetting the incident – their determination for living with the unhealed wounds.