(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Monday, October 31, 2011

An Uncomfortable Thought

It's a rainy morning in Bujumbura. 'Tis the season. I always say that it's my favorite time of year and I'm often challenged by expat friends who tell me that it's easy for me to say since I don't have to walk everywhere and fear that my house won't slide off the hillside. Fair enough I guess. Nonetheless I thought I'd poll a few Burundians/Rwandans to get their opinions. In my non-scientific survey I've been pleasantly surprised to find out that people are quite mixed on the topic and it seems irrespective of level in society. So I will say freely, the rainy season is my favorite time of year.

I was in Rwanda last week for my regular visit, meetings, etc. It was a good week overall and I like the team there, the new office, etc. There is a lot of work to be done but I think we're on the right track.

artful interior of the museum
One thing I remembered was that I never blogged about my visit to the genocide memorial/museum. Usually when I go to Kigali, I just lower my head and work 16-17 hours a day. I normally don't go out unless it's for work and I have never spent time just driving around and exploring. The last visit encompassed a weekend and, though I was tempted again to take advantage of the extra time and catch up on emails, I did venture out for a few hours – just a vehicle and me with no driver (except of course me).

victim photos
Most of the time was spent at the memorial. It's an intense experience, particularly if you go alone and take your time to think about what you are seeing. Even though I'm generally well aware of what happened, having seen documentaries, read books, talked to many Rwandans about it, I have to say that it's still beyond what the brain can handle.

In addition to a lot of new contextual information, it was powerful to walk around and see the events develop. There are photos, short films/testimonials, etc. that take you through the relevant history well before the genocide all the way up to today. I often felt sick to my stomach as I tried to imagine what people were going through. It's hard to get your mind around the fact that so many people gave themselves over to so much brutality.

haunting displays of victim clothing
I read an interesting book a while back about a black South African woman who was working with the notorious Apartheid killer Eugene de Kock (dubbed "Prime Evil") during the well-known peace and reconciliation efforts. The intriguing thing about her book was to watch the evolution of this woman who, over the course of many interviews, went from hating this man to the uncomfortable feeling that he was not the detestable creature that she wanted him to be. His demeanor was nothing like what she had expected and it eroded some of the feelings that would continue to justify her hatred towards him. Taking nothing away from the horrible things he was responsible for, it became more about the sick feeling she developed that quite possibly the potential for such behavior to germinate was in all of us. Though not an amazing piece of literature, a fascinating book nonetheless.

this is not Halloween
And so I thought about that book while I visited the memorial. It's clearly one of the most vivid case studies (similar to WWII) of how evil can penetrate a large population. It's beyond tragic. And when you look at where Rwanda is today given where they've come from, it's even harder to believe. While the progress is astounding and it appears that the past is well behind them, you can't help but wonder if the potential for the train to derail is still there. 

I was reminded that today is Halloween in the US. Probably a sign that things are going well in a society that can find fun in scary things. 

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