Rwanda: Eight Years Later

In these articles Liisa Hyvarinen describes her meetings with Rwandese journalists and her impressions of that country.

During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that left an estimated one million people dead and some 250,000 women raped and mutilated as part of the systematic effort to destroy Rwanda’s ethnic Tutsi minority, I was a TV news producer in transition switching from one job to the next between Tennessee and South Carolina.

What led my newscasts and dominated the American general consciousness was the O.J. Simpson case and while I remember reading about the atrocities in Rwanda on the Associated Press newswire I, like so many others, didn’t pay much attention to the horror.

My first warning of the emotional toll this trip would take came from a friend I had met online preparing for Rwanda. Dart Fellow Gina Barton, who had traveled to Rwanda in 2001, put me in touch with Steven Pasternack, a journalism professor at University of New Mexico and a Fulbright Scholar who had spent months in Rwanda.

It was Steve who first warned me about the genocide memorials everywhere in Rwanda and the impact they could have on my psyche once I got on the ground. Always the TV journalist looking for visual elements, I had asked Steve how much of the evidence of the genocide I would still be able to photograph now eight years after the massacres. In one of his most helpful e-mails directing my preparation for the trip Steve wrote: “There are several genocide sites sprinkled across the landscape. A genocide museum is in the planning stages in Kigali, but not under construction yet. Easy to get to genocide sites, but really gruesome, I'll alert you. Much worse than Dachau or Auschwitz.”

Almost delighted to know there would still be images to photograph, I ignored the larger meaning of Steve’s message.

Needless to say my attitude changed quickly once I arrived in Kigali in early June. Ethiopian Airlines lost my luggage and I was left to go shopping for everything from toothpaste to hiking boots at the local market square. The locals were very helpful and curious about my presence in Kigali and as I shopped for my items they freely shared their experiences of the genocide.

And I quickly came to the conclusion that everyone in Rwanda was a victim. Everyone had seen death. Everyone had seen bloodshed, murder and massacres. Everyone had lost a loved one. And everyone was looking for a way to reclaim their lives or whatever was left of them.