08 April, 2010

How do you comprehend 1,000,000?

While reading my Google Reader today and realized I missed the anniversary of the start of Rwandan Genocide.

On April 6, 1994 the President's plane carrying the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down close to the airport. By the next morning the genocide had begun with Rwandan Armed Forces and Interahamwe setting up roadblocks and systematically killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus. On the 7th of April, Hutu PM Agathe Uwilingiyimana was killed with 10 Belgian U.N. soldiers assigned to protect her. The world knew from those first moments, Dallaire sent messages that went unheated. The rest of the world pulled out their people and let the massacre happen. We had the luxury of leaving, but those in Rwanda (and Burundi) had to wait, hope, and pray for the unthinkable happening around them.

I arrived in Rwanda on 4 July 2009 - Liberation Day. There was a massive celebration in the stadium. Liberation Day celebrates the day Kigame and the RPF managed to push the last of the perpetrators out of the country.

So, 16 years later - what have we learned? Not a lot. Genocide continues right next door. The world refuses to intervene unless it's made personal for them. To look at the affects of genocide, to see the lasting affects of it in Rwanda, South Africa, Cambodia, Latin America - and yet, to let it go on, is heart breaking.

Here is a more detailed timeline and one of the U.S./U.N involvement in those 100 days.


I miss Rwanda and would love to go back. I was thinking about it the other day, the chance to go and sit there - to see my friends, to be back in the country I love. I miss first thing in the morning hearing the sounds of another day starting, Lake Kivu and the stillness, African coffee, motos, the sunsets...

I want to explore Rwanda, to sit in the tea fields and smell the coffee plantations, and watch people work with their hands to create something.

I want the rainstorms in the afternoon that turn the roads to mush, the bings of raindrops off the tin roofs, the people clustered under awnings, waiting. Riding a moto in the rain was amazing.

The peace of the guesthouse eludes me here. The simplicity, the market, the raw form everything took.

Time presses on. We move on from tragedy to start a new day. The question is - how? Do we grow and grieve, learn and move forward or do we trudge along, clinging to pain, unforgiveness and anger? Or do we deny it all? I constantly compare Rwanda to Cambodia in how they dealt with genocide, and while they have not done everything right, I would suggest that maybe Rwanda does have the best idea of how to move on from the unthinkable.

100 days - remember them. 1 million people in a little over three months. It's unthinkable, unimaginable. How can I show 1 million people to you? An eighth the population of Manhattan, 10,000 $100 bills. Beaver Stadium, where the Penn State football team plays, has a capacity of 106,201 people - you would need over 9 of those stadiums to represent the number of people who died in Rwanda. (you would need over 51 to show the number of people who've died in The Congo).

How do we remember that many people? How do we comprehend? Maybe we don't comprehend 1,000,000 - maybe we comprehend one. One person who died and let that one represent the 1,000,000 others who are no longer here.

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© Amanda Lunday