Saturday, August 1, 2009

Moving right along . . . (Very Long Post!)

Well, perhaps the most important compilation of papers I have ever held is now on a Fed Ex plane headed to Washington D.C. If all goes well our dossier will arrive to The Assistant Stork courier service on Monday. On Tuesday, they will then take the documents to the U.S. Department of State to be authenticated (they've already been notarized locally and authenticated at the OK Secretary of State). Steve from the Assistant Stork will wait while the authentications are done and then hand-deliver the package to the Embassy of Rwanda. He will return to pick up the documents (which need yet another seal from the embassy) and, hopefully, our Letter of Recommendation from the Embassy. The embassy has stated that they will only need 8 working days for their part, but you never know--I've heard of it going faster and slower for different folks. He will then FedEx Overnight everything back to us and we will send it to Rwanda!

In the meantime, I am going to use this post to do what I think will be my one and only "history lesson" regarding Rwanda's history in regards to the genocide. This is not because I don't feel that we shouldn't all be learning, teaching, and remembering such events, but because I want to use this blog to focus on the amazing, exciting miracle that takes place any time a child is brought into a family. That said, Rwanda has a powerful history that most of us only vaguely recall.

Most of the first comments I hear when someone asks what country we're adopting from sound something like this: "Oh, isn't that where they had that really bad . . ." "Is that the place where all those people died . . ." "Isn't that where the, oh you know, the . . ." Yes, the word you are searching for is "genocide" and if we as a nation, as a people, as a government, hadn't been afraid to use the word in 1994, it might not have escalated the way it did.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." — Edmund Burke

Rather than state all the facts surrounding the genocide, I am going to give you my few brief thoughts and share a blog post (with permission of its author). I will also give some links and books/movies that warrant the attention of anyone who wants to inform themselves. There are also two short videos for you to play.

The most stunning facts that I have uncovered during all my reading are the following:
1) Rwanda's population was, by definition, decimated (10%+ of the population killed) in only a 3 month time period. Many current estimates put the number of dead at over 1.1 million.
2) This killing represents the most efficient killing of humans at any time in modern history other than the Hiroshima/Nagasaki atomic bombs.
3) World leaders, including those in the US, Great Britain, and China were all warned explicitly in time to prevent the genocide. World leaders that were complicit in ignoring the warnings included all members of the UN security council. However, in an effort to avoid having to legally get involved, the countries mentioned refused to use the actual term "genocide" because UN statues would have compelled intervention. Instead they used terms such as "Acts of Genocide." Also delaying US intervention in the genocide was the government's inability to agree with the UN and other nations about who should foot the bill for the vehicles, etc. Help is expensive--lives in Rwanda just weren't worth absorbing the costs. Shocking to me was the blatant lack of empathy by figures such as Madeleine Albright, known as a daughter of the Holocaust, and Kofi Annan, fellow African and head of UN Peacekeeping at the time. Both have expressed remorse over their lack of actions, but in such "official"type statements that the sincerity of their acceptance of responsibility doesn't strike me as being very convincing. William Clinton, has since repeatedly and, it seems, sincerely apologized and admitted to his administration's gross mishandling of the situation. The French were complicit in the genocide, providing arms, supplies, and money to the Hutu Power regime. As a result, there seems to be a fairly blatant hatred for the French in Rwanda and a deliberate effort to convert to an Anglophile country and away from a Francophile. For instance, public schools and signage only feature Kinyarwandan and English.
4) Much of the genocide was fueled within the country by the extreme power if propaganda via radio broadcasts which dehumanized the Tutsis by calling them "cockroaches" and calling for their "extermination."

"Words—so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them." Nathaniel Hawthorne
It bothers me on some level to think what was happening to Rwanda while I happily picked out a prom dress and looked forward to high school graduation. It bothers me more that I attended one of the more "liberal" and diverse universities in the country and heard nothing on campus about Rwanda. None of my "socially conscious" professors in classes such as history, psychology, "Contemporary Moral Problems", etc. tried to open our eyes to what was happening on the other side of the world. We gathered in droves in the months and years after the Rwandan genocide to mourn the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing (rightfully so) and to watch the O.J. verdict come down (not so rightfully so), but never learned of Rwanda. Could it be that Rwanda doesn't have oil or gold or a strategic location? Could it be that when Clinton (and America) said "If the horror of the Holocaust taught us anything, it is the high cost of remaining silent and paralyzed in the face of genocide," we really meant that it would never happen again to people who share our skin color, our political allies, or our beliefs?

Before I move on to share with you some of the information I have gathered, let me conclude by clarifying that I believe that the United States is the greatest nation on Earth. I believe that as a nation--both through the government and as individuals--we do more for humanity than anyone. I believe that as a whole we are good, caring people. I also believe that we as a people consistently elect good, caring people to lead us. But, having pride in American cannot blind us to our mistakes or we will repeat them--again and again. We can't save everyone, can't prevent every famine, can't stop every civil war; but we can intervene in every genocide, every time, regardless of the political implications, and certainly, regardless of what the UN thinks.

I have contacted Mark D. Jordahl, the author of a blog for permission to copy his words here. I think he is able to capture some of my thoughts more eloquently than I can, and he has a first hand perspective. Here are his thoughts after visiting Rwanda:
"I'm rarely at a loss for words. We've been back a week, though, and I still don't know what to write. What is there to say that hasn't already been said? It was important to visit the memorials - it made it feel so much more personal and brought the scale of it home to us. At the memorial centre in Kigali, more than 250,000 of the 1 million victims are buried, and more are added each year as their remains are found.

This genocide was different from the others in this century. And there have been far too many in the last 100 years. The memorial in Kigali ( has a section dedicated to the genocides in Germany (6 million), Turkey/Armenia (1.5 million), Bosnia (200,000), Cambodia (2 million) and Namibia (65,000). And those are just the ones that were selected for the memorial.

The difference is that those others were perpetrated by governments using their militaries or other tools of the state to do the killing. In Rwanda, the masterminds of the genocide got their fellow Hutu citizens to rise up against their neighbors in an incredibly brutal way. How do you do that? I believe that in any society there is a small percentage of people who are waiting for any opportunity to kill. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a small percentage who will NEVER kill, no matter what. Then the vast majority lie in the middle. What does it take to get those millions of people in the middle to become mass murderers? And this isn't killing at a distance - this is chopping people up with a machete and throwing babies at walls.

The leaders wanted it to be this way. They wanted everyone to be complicit so that nobody could point fingers. They were after group guilt. And it was hard work. 10,000 people per day were killed for 100 days. There were times when the genocidaires would lock a bunch of people in a church and when they got tired from killing, they would cut their victims' achilles tendons so they couldn't run away. This allowed the killers to get a good nights sleep and know that their victims would still be there in the morning so they could continue.

I won't even go into detail on the extent to which the international community holds some of the responsibility here. The French were arming the genocidaires. The Belgians set up the Hutu/Tutsi divide in the first place (contrary to media reports, this was not a “tribal war” that had been going on for hundreds of years. Hutu and Tutsi were more like class distinctions, and people could move between groups as their fortunes waxed and waned. There was plenty of intermarriage, and before the Belgians came up with a system of identity cards, many people didn't even know who was a Hutu and who was a Tutsi). Some say that the number of foreign and UN troops that arrived to evacuate ex-pats would have been enough to put a stop to the genocide. Even the regular UN troops that were stationed there were instructed not to intervene. Then the UNHCR and Red Cross refugee camps that were set up in Congo to house the fleeing genocidaires and surviving Tutsis became bases for continued raids on Tutsi communities and also indirectly funded the continued assaults. The Hutu leaders in the camps would take the food that was provided, sell it, and buy more arms. Even when it was safe in Rwanda for Tutsis to return, the Hutu leaders wouldn't allow them to leave the camps because they were such important bases for them. If you want to learn more, a very fascinating book is We Wish to Inform you that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.

What amazes me most, though, is that this is a country focused on reconciliation, not vengeance. We sat down with a married couple in a village. She was a Tutsi who had lost most of her family in the genocide. He was one of the killers and had spent 9 years in prison where he met a priest who was creating “Unity Villages”. Did I mention that this man had killed six members of that priest's family.

Rwanda is not trying to pretend this didn't happen. There are memorials everywhere, village-level courts to try perpetrators, articles in the newspaper on a daily basis. It is a living conversation. It is group therapy on a national level. Imagine the impact if it was kept quiet and people weren't allowed or encouraged to talk about it. I was in the back area, behind the memorial in Kigali, and heard screaming. There was an incredibly distraught school girl who had just come out from an educational session. I can only imagine the memories she was reliving. The thing that was most poignant to me about the situation is that there were mattresses out back where she was flailing around. Not only is it accepted that people have powerful emotions to process around this, but mattresses are provided to give you a place to do it. That mattress might be the most lasting image for me of the entire trip. It reminds me that this is real, that it happened to real people, and that real people are still living the trauma of it.

I don't think we can keep genocides from starting, but I would like to think that the international community could stop providing arms to the perpetrators, we could step in even when the victims aren't white, and we could set some very low bar for intervention. Maybe we could say “anytime more than 10,000 innocent civilians are killed in a place, troops will be sent in just to calm things down until we can figure out what is going on.”

One thing is for sure - when the world said “Never Again” after the Holocaust, we didn't really mean it. It has happened again, it is happening again in Darfur and Nigeria and probably other places I am not aware of, and it will happen again in the future, particularly as resources get more scarce and the population continues to grow."

Another good travel blog post can be found at:

This travel blog site as some great posts and wonderful photos of Rwanda:

Finally, if you haven't already seen Hotel Rwanda, I do recommend it. The best book, by a long mile, that I have read about the Rwandan genocide is We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families. Also incredibly touching and almost unfathomable are the stories of forgiveness in As We Forgive. I plan to read Shake Hands with the Devil, written by the man who inspired Nick Nolte's character in Hotel Rwanda. Both As We Forgive & Shake Hands with the Devil have also inspired films, but I have not seen them yet. Finally, I also enjoyed The Bishop of Rwanda which has a forward by Rick Warren.

I leave you with two of the many videos which can be found on YouTube to give you a brief glimpse into the horror of the genocide. Please pause the blog music before continuing (just look on the left side of the blog and hit the pause button). Some of the images in these videos are disturbing and graphic. The longer one (the second) contains many quotes and facts; I would click the pause buttonwhen a quote appears if you want to read each one because they move quickly. The shorter video (the first one) is more about the images and a powerful song fom Wyclef Jean.


Liz in the Mist said...

I found your blog through Rwanda blogs, as I am getting ready to be a short term missionary in Rwanda....thank you so much for this post.

I want to reccomend the movie Beyond the Gates as well.

Blessings on your adoption journey!! There are 2 children adopted from Rwanda that I know if in my current town, and they are a joy to be around!

Anonymous said...

You did a good job. I would definitley recommend Shake Hands with the Devil, Shooting Dogs as to be among the most accurate of films on the genocide. Hotel Rwanda has had much controversy... and rightly so. The 'hero' in the story is no hero in this country... the country in which I live and am married to a Rwandan.
Sure do look forward to meeting you when you're here!! Jennifer