After a morning spent in the classroom the Missouri/Nebraska team boarded the bus to Nyamamta to visit an organization called Faith, Victory, and Reconciliation. The red dirt road to the village had remnants of the rainy season with deep ruts cuts by the running water. As our journey continued it seemed as if we were in a parade, children of all ages would come running as we passed yelling with excitement.
As their hands waved vigorously you can hear them yelling “mazunga.” This term is reserved for “white people” or “rich people” but also includes other foreigners who look different from the local characteristics. This trend continued as we pulled up to our destination, a mud brick house with a small frontcourt yard. With wide smiles, laughter, and handshakes the members of the Faith, Victory, and Reconciliation organization greeted us like family. I felt as if we were in a wedding reception line waiting to meet the bride and groom.
However, my feelings of happiness and joyfulness were conflicted as I left this hut. The shift occurred after I listened to the testimony of the man who was sitting next me. He was a middle-aged man wearing a green striped button down shirt, dark pants, and green sandals that had been stitched with white yarn where they had ripped. As he spoke to our group he took off his trucker hat, as a sign of respect I suppose, and began to explain his story. During the Tutsi Genocide this man standing in front of us was one of the killers who took part in the extermination of his Tutsi neighbors.
After the RPF liberated Rwanda this man was tried for his crimes in the Gacaca court, served his time, and returned to the village where he killed his aquaintances. He was faced with the reality of living side by side with his victims and wanted to start a dialogue with them so they could live in peace. This is how Faith, Victory, and Reconciliation was born, out of tragedy, grief, and anger villagers gathered for counseling sessions where they were able to learn to trust each other again. What was unexpected though was that once the counseling sessions were complete they still wanted to sustain the bonds that had formed.
Faith, Victory, and Reconciliation members work together to help each other through friendship, support, and farming operations such as tomatoes and peanuts. As we were leaving the members kindly presented each of us with some fresh peanuts from their crop, they were delicious! Yet as I ate and shared these peanuts with the children the image that stuck in my mind was the hands of the man sitting next to me. Those were the hands that held the machete, swung the machete, and devastated the lives of many. But those were also the hands that survivors held as they prayed together, the hands that worked the fields, and the hands that received forgiveness. I am astounded at the attitudes of the Rwandan communities in their ability to offer forgiveness and make amends with those who committed such unspeakable events.
My name is Meg and I am currently a Geriatrics and Palliative Care Fellow at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. I started this blog several years ago as a way to remember and talk about what I experienced while studying abroad in Rwanda during the summer of 2009.