I have so many memories that it is difficult to type them out. (I have journals but am afraid to read them and face the naiveté of my youth.)
As a photographer, my ambitions were to capture life in Rwanda, post-genocide, but in reality, I could not. The stories and faces of Rwanda are forever imprinted in my mind, where they should be. Their stories should be theirs.
The people of Rwanda had lost so much … something I could never fully grasp and capture. So, instead, I spent my time connecting with people and listening to their stories. The Rwandans gave me joy and grounded me in a way I would never learn in the US.
With my Rwandan acquaintances, we created our own way of recording their truths … their lives, their losses and their triumphs.
In those days, I was able to have disposable cameras mailed to me. I handed them out to my Rwandan acquaintances and friends, and they recorded their lives. These images became precious to them, and some had never used a camera.
I am only in contact with three Rwandans from that time. Two have email, and one I am only able to contact him through an expat. Of the Rwandans I originally knew, two were murdered before we left the country and one died of AIDS in 2000. The other stories are silent except for the messages they wanted me to pass on to the world.
I failed them. Returning in 1997, I contacted Granta, Doubletake, the Guggenheim Trust, the Smithsonian … none took their causes. Today, I am reminded that the internet has afforded me a forum. Perhaps it is time to publish their words and struggles, but first, I will try to connect and ask permission again. Twenty years is a long time to wait.
As you reflect on Rwanda tomorrow, please don’t watch Hotel Rwanda, Hollywood’s glossed over account. If you want to know the truths, see HBO’s Sometimes in April.
For reading, try Fergal Keane’s Season of Blood. In it, you can understand the complex history behind the genocide. While race was a factor, there were other things at work … politics, power and class, enacted by the early Belgian colonists and based on the pseudoscience of phrenology.