Wow! What another awesome day here in Rwanda. Got up around 7AM. Poured my first cup of coffee since we got here....Man (in Jim Carrey's voice in "Bruce Almighty") it's ggooooood! Some of us sat outside for a bit and enjoyed the weather and peacefulness. We had breakfast consisting of delicious eggs with onions and peppers, green apples, and toast---Delicious.
Then we got ready and headed to Mashirika---the theater company we're sharing and learning with). The space we were in was small with pretty painted walls and floor with one big mirror on one side. Little sidenote: I loved being barefoot the whole time. So when we got there we all greeted each other with excitement and chatted a bit. The space was in the upstairs of a building so we looked out on the balcony because there was such a beautiful view. We sang a little bit of "A Whole New World" while looking at theat view :) We visited for a while before actually starting to play around. Then, we started with a bunch of exercises from both our own repertoire and the Rwandans. Hope (just a reminder that she is the artistic director for Mashirika) wanted to start with singing---which they do lots of! Mwaramutse (a Rwandan word meaning "good morning") was the word we sang and it started with one person singing it and everyone building off that. I actually got to start which was pretty cool. Improving with our voices was fun and it sounded so incredibly cooool! We repeated it for a couple minutes and that was enough to feel like we could all be honest and open with one another. Exercises like this one bring us together very quickly. Drew then had us get on our feet to warm up the way us "Buff State kids" are use to-;) We got to our feet, and he went through the process of our breath which equals thought in acting. We got into our bellies and out of our brains. Then we started warming the voice and body up with different games. We passed movement, where one person does a physical motion and everyone repeats it until that move comes back to that person than the next person makes a new movement and so on. To help the process of learning everyone's names we played a game where one person started, said their name while doing some sort of physical action. Everyone would say then say that person's name while doing their action. The next person would do the same, say their name and make a totally different action. Then everyone would start with the first persons name and action then say the next...etc... I now know everyone's name. It's so much fun and it really does help. The spelling may be wrong but there's Simon, Angel, Charles, Anita, Hope, Kennedy, Adida, Rosette, Chris, and Arthur. Each one of these Rwandans are so beautiful in their own special way. We played some other fun games that involved singing and moving around this small but intimate space. The next thing we did was sat in a circle and just shared a little about ourselves, like why we are here in Rwanda, how we started in Theater, why we do it, things like that. It was an exciting experience to listen to each story because I got to learn so much about each person. The struggles that some experience like their parents not supporting them in the theater, not having the opportunity to choose to do what they want, how some came to be in Rwanda---Just awesome stories. I felt when I was sharing my story that everyone was really listening and cared to listen.This took up most of our time together but it was worth it cause we all know so much more about each other which will only make our theater sharing experiences that much stronger. Before we left we breathed out together, took pictures, Drew handed out some Buffalo State College t-shirts (which looked great on them) and we hit the road.
From there we headed to a restaurant in town. It was a cute buffet place that was also very inexpensive. I spent $4 on that meal. And everything is soooo good. Most meals consist of vegetables and fruits which are naturally grown and very fresh.I had half an avacado, rice with veggies, green peas, and yummy pineapple.
From there we went to Nyamata's genocide memorial. This is where we were all punched in the face with emotions. It didn't take long for me to be totally engulfed in the world around me. The memorial is a building that was a church before the genocide, where thousands were murdered during that time. The tour guide, Valenti, started sharing the history and the specific details that happened here. And it took 2 seconds for tears to start falling down my face. From that point on I was at an emotional level that I have never been before. The first part he talked about was how the Hutu gathered all the Tutsi into this church. The government knew they felt the church to be a holy place to be safe and to find refuge. This was perfect for the Hutu because they were able to kill off so many people at one time. Altogether, there were 45,000 bodies that were in and around the church that were buried at this memorial. The first thing we saw that Valenti explained was how the men hiding inside the church tried to keep the door closed by just pushing it from the inside. The Hutu used grenades to get inside and we could see the cement that was broken and a huge hole in the metal door of the church. Very scary to actually be looking at this because it's very easy to imagine when it actually happened. Also something that we saw all on the inside as well, but on the outside bullet holes everywhere. Just after seeing all that I didn't think I'd be able to go inside I was so uncomfortable. I obviously proceeded like the rest of us inside and immediately froze when I saw piles upon piles of clothing that was worn by those killed here. The clothes were dirty, shred, bloody and piled very thick to really portray the number of people killed in there. All the pews in the church were stacked with tons and tons of clothing. Also, there were different items that were in pockets of those massacred. There were hats and different accessories everywhere too. I was so uncomfortable walking around looking at this because it was like seeing bodies that were just killed laying everywhere. There were bullet holes all over the top of the ceiling and blood smeared everywhere as well. Absolutely horrifying to see this. My whole body was in a state of shock to the point where I had difficulty walking. Then Valenti took us to a lower level which was a grave built here after the genocide was over. It was a big glass case that held tons of skulls and other bones belonging to victims. Skulls had bullet holes and some parts completely missing. While we examined this, Valenti started explaining about what was below the skulls which was one casket containing a women meant to represent all the women that were raped during the genocide. This women was raped by 29 men...29...and then killed. Words cannot convey what I was feeling hearing that. Moving back to the main level, Valenti started explaining the story about the back of the church where all the clothing was pretty much young kids and babies. The mothers and fathers hiding in the church thought that their kids could be safe if they were pushed to the back. They also had in the notion that maybe their kids wouldn't be murdered. I could understand, hey, they are just kids. But that was definitely not the case. Valenti then started telling us what did happen to the kids. There were actually mothers and women who were the ones that killed these babies and children. In the most gruesome way, they would take a the child's leg and swing them into the brick wall cracking their skulls. There was blood on the brick where this took place. Another way they were killed, women would take large tools called a mortar, put babies heads together and drop the mortar on their heads crushing them instantly. Made me wonder, how and why? These people that killed were no longer human, they became animals. How could someone have that much hatred to do this to another human being? No matter how much I learn about genocide I will still never understand how such deep hatred can go so deep as this.
Moving on to the outside of the church in the back there were two massive graves made. We headed into the first one, walking down the stairs---I could barely see the steps because the tears blocked all vision. So you walk down the stairs into this very little enclosed grave site. With just a tiny little underground walkway I was surrounded by caskets that contained from 10-30 people in each box. I definitely have never felt the way I did being so close to that many dead bodies. Again, it was hard for me to take one step because I was afraid my legs would just give out. My heart just ached throughout the entire tour. The other grave site was different in that instead of just caskets piled on top of one another, there were thousands of skulls and bones laid out on both sides of the little walkway. I was just inches away from more skulls than I had ever seen in my entire life. I couldn't stay down there for long, it was just too much. I carefully walked up each stair, got back outside, and just kept sobbing uncontrollably. I didn't know what else to do, it was just overwhelming to be there.
Just walking around on the grounds in and around this building was mind boggling. I imagined every part from every story that we were told, I pictured people hiding for their lives and then instantly be gone. I was standing where so many people had been tortured and killed and where so many people killed without a thought.
Another heart wrenching story our guide shared with us was that most murders were done with awful forms of torture first. Either being drowned, buried to death, sliced with a machete starting at your ankle all the way to the top of your skull, all ways people were intended to suffer tremendously before they died. We were also told that Tutsi would actually have to pay Hutu to just shoot them instead of having to be tortured.
We were then shown two grave sites, one man who died of a natural death before the genocide began but was the pastor of this church. The other was a sister who was killed in 1992 because she was warning people about the genocide about to occur. The government found her as a threat and killed her at her home.
The last thing we were shown was the place where 45 people were buried alive. There was a stone that contained all their names. And it's sad to think that out of the thousands murdered only a few could be named or personalized.
I was feeling so many different things seeing and hearing about this event. Being there seeing it first hand was something that no camera will do justice for. As I was walking through the church I kept saying to myself, "this was a place of God, this was a holy place", and then to see the clothes, bloodshed, bullet holes was just the scariest thing.
After seeing all this I really didn't know what to do with myself, and that's when we all met Vinnie. A Rwandan woman who has been to this memorial plenty of times and has family that were murdered and are kept there. She celebrates what has happened to Rwanda since then. She was so positive about how this country has improved and made changes in such a short period of time. Since the genocide the country is working hard together to restore everything and it definitely shows. This beautiful place, I would never expect what had happened here to have happened. Vinnie shared with us how she related personally and how she doesn't mourn about it anymore. She said "we mourned during the 100 days it was happening, and now we celebrate the growth and hope and peace Rwanda [has now]." She was a breath of fresh air.
This memorial has already changed me and has made me think about the way I want to treat people and live my life. I am so extremely thankful for everything I have. I still can't believe I'm here in Africa being totally transformed!!!
We visited a beautiful river before returning home and went to a bridge where we were surrounded by tons of Rwandans that didn't speak a word of English. Some of the guys were chewing on bamboo while smiling and waving at us. Carl had us do an exercise where we just said one word responses about what came to our heads as we walked through the memorial. Separated by each "type of person", either a killer, victim, or ourselves. After that, we headed back to the guest house where dinner was ready for us. Once again, delicious.
After dinner was where all of us became even more of a family. We all poured coffee, got a little loud and giggly, and decided to have a deep discussion about what we experience today. The film students, Paige and Stacey filmed our discussion. We sat there for 2 hours sharing our personal experiences. We cried, laughed, and were just so open and honest with each other. It was so much fun and I know them all on such a deeper level now. We are all filled with so much love and hope and are so excited that we are all here together. I was moved by each and everyone of their personal stories. We are already thinking of ways we can take what we experienced and incorporate it into the theater piece.
Now here we are all sitting here at 12AM writing our blogs together. What a day! What a life!
Thanks for reading!!
So much more to come. God bless,