Kigali, Rwanda

We arrived in Kigali last night. I am really emotional everytime I really think about what happened, and I find myself looking for that same displaced feeling I finally found days after I went to Oswiecim Concentration Camp in Poland. I’m publishing something Brian wrote because he grasps the feelings brilliantly.

Brian O’Neill

June 18th, 8:30 pm

Sitting on the balcony of the hotel. It is not late, but it is dark and I’m tired and the heart of Kigali shines subdued below. Yes, so: we’re here. Rwanda. It seems strange to finally be here; to see it. I’ve pictured it so many times, in so many ways – a tiny spot on a map, a detalied map, it’s hills, Kigali. I’ve imagined what it looks like, imagined myself here, imagined the genocide. And now I’m looking at it, finally.

The sun set as our minibus flew around the hills leading from the border. Dark came hard and fast. The headlights would shine momentarily on an object efore speeding on- endless lush greenery, punctuated for an instant by a face, freeze-frame body caught walking or staring or talking. It would catch houses, ne alone, or several in a row, some stretching out to tiny villages. And you nder, you can’t help it, it isn’t even intellectual, just a question shooting from our gut, so instant and basic it isn’t even worded: what happened here? What happened to this person? Did they see horror? Did they inflict it? House it? You catch yourself thinking this and you chastize yourself- don’t over dramatize. But you can’t. You can not over dramatize. It did happen, and it happened everywhere in this lush country.

I stop writing, light another cigarette, look at the intersection. This isn’t the heart of the city, but this is a fairly big intersection, but size hardly is relevant. At almost every intersection drunken militiamen set up roadblocks, stopping every car. If there were any Tutsis, they butchered them on the spot. Right here, for sure. There is no question about it.

Dominika said she felt uneasy being here – not unsafe, but uneasy. I agree. Evil happened here. I have never been to the death camps, never experienced anything like this, and it makes me physically ill for a few reasons. Every time I’ve made eye-contact with someone since arriving I shudder nternally. Because they know. They know why I’m here: I’m here because of the genocide. I’m here because of what happened to them, because it horrifies e, and, even more, it fascinates me. I’m a gawker. I have a purpose, but I’m still a gawker. I wouldn’t be here were it not for the pull the genocide has on me. It’s horrible, and I hate myself for it it, but I can’t help it. Somewhere I wanted this, this palpable unease, this sense of evil, this surety of ghosts. A car drives through and I can see it stopping, I can see someone dragged out screaming, hacked to death, terrible things.

Stop: Pause: another cigarette. I wanted this, yes- I am dramatic and delight in the idea of my own sensitivity. But. No, not this. I had no idea it would be so strong, so real, so sincere.

I realize something. This stupid goddam narcissim means something, is giving omething. Because I’m here and because everyone knows why I’m here, and ecause imagination comes from a more brutal reality here, the genocide is still appening. There is still someone whimpering under my bed, dying in the street, illing unstopped. Do you see- life has paved over the horrors, routine over terror, but it is still here. To deny that, to pretend it didn’t happen, to ignore the undamental basis of reality in Rwanda, to scold myself for indulgence is to betray truth, to kill history, to shape the present to how it makes me comfortable.

This realization doesn’t cure my unease, but it lets it rest easily. I finish my last cigarette, and before I go in to sleep, I watch a woman cross the street and disappear down the hill, alive.