05 April 2014

Rwanda, Inshuti

Tomorrow marks the twentieth anniversary of the genocide. In the summer of 1995, newly married, my husband and I made the long journey from Tennessee to Rwanda.

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.


Anonymous said...

whoa. you went to Rwanda in 1995?
i watched hotel Rwanda and it was horribly painful for me to watch (considering i come from a family of cambodian genocide survivors). if that was Hollywood's glossed over account, then i probably couldn't handle HBO's "Sometimes in April." I have definitely heard of it and wanted to watch it, but maybe it'll be too traumatic for me.

i agree with you, in how the stories of the Rwandans, their life before/during/after genocide, these stories belong to them. however, if the stories are silenced because the people you knew then have since passed away, then the rest of the world may not know of the atrocities that were committed there.

if , or when you do publish/share the stories of the Rwandans you met, please do share with us.

Heather said...

Hi there! My name is Heather and I have a question about your blog! If you could email me at Lifesabanquet1(at)gmail(dot)com I would greatly appreciate it!

mothermade said...

Heather, if you would like, you can private message me through our FB page, https://www.facebook.com/mothermadeblog. I can then answer any questions you have. Thanks!