Rwanda: Beauty and Loss

In these remarkable messages, sent to the Dart Center from Rwanda, Deirdre Stoelzle-Graves shares impressions of that country.

I want to tell you how hard it has become to be here. It is at once heaven and bitter, bitter hell, and yet all I can do is smile and cry and smile and cry. Today we went to Nyamata, a memorial and interment for 20,000 Rwandans killed in April 1994, the former site of a Catholic Church.

Thousands of skulls and piles and piles and piles of other bones are placed in these catacombs behind the church, and more and more are being found and placed with the rest. Many skulls show obvious injuries sustained with pangos, or machetes, the weapons of mass destruction in this Third World paradise.

As I headed into the courtyard, I broke down a bit. Two boys approached and hugged me, and I straightened right up. I feel like my tears are so indulgent, and when I speak to other Rwandese journalists and aid workers, they are sympathetic, but they have already cried. They've heard the stories of rape, infanticide, awful death. It's now time to rebuild.

Which brings us to the courts of gacaca, which in Kinyarwanda means "Grass," and that's where these sessions take place, in a clearing in a village, under a plastic canopy, with all villagers in attendance. It is a solemn, very serious affair, with 18 judges — known as "people of high integrity" — who in November or possibly before will begin holding trials against those prisoners who were accused and have admitted to crimes committed during the genocide eight years ago.

It is agonizing and daunting: imagine a victim of rape who has never discussed her victimization and who has, possibly, moved away from the village, having to now testify against her perpetrator(s)? Hopefully the work that Ervin and Laurie and George Weiss are doing regarding radio programs that can assist Rwandans during gacaca will be as useful as we suspect.