On Friday June 20, my host parents and I waited on the side of the road.

Mentor, Marian tells a moving story from Gisenye, Rwanda:

On Friday June 20, my host parents and I waited on the side of the road. We saw thousands of people walking up the hill escorted by police. As the three of us stepped in and joined the crowd, I felt the air tense around me, I was struck by a silence, a moment of reflection. We had entered the “Walk to Remember.” We stopped; this was where there was a roadblock. Roadblocks during the 1994 genocide were where any passerby had to show their identity card, if it was labeled, “tutsi” you were killed on the spot. I had past this spot many times since being here, my heart sank. When I pulled my head up and looked around, I saw hundreds of Rwandese adults. I couldn’t help but think that each of them have a story of genocide, and with that each one of them have a story of moving forward – walking together together through healing and forgiveness.

We stopped again, this time to allow the coffins to enter the stadium where we would gather. There were approximately five thousand bodies thrown into a mass burial twenty years ago. It has taken this long to find the bodies; there was an investigation where prisoners were asked where bodies were buried. In this town, there is an estimation of twenty thousand people killed, only this burial was found. Fifteen thousand bodies are still missing. This was the day to give a proper burial to these individuals. Ten thousand people entered the stadium, it was a vigil service. Families stayed the whole night beside the coffins. People came from all over the country, to pay their respects, thinking that potentially their relatives were being laid to rest today.

I sat between my host parents through the ceremony. There were testimonies, prayers from each of the churches, speeches etc. Counselors, the Red Cross medical team, and people with Kleenex were all standing by. Occasionally, there would be someone carried out wailing from anguish. I continually experience strength in people here, to see these moments fragility reminded me of our vulnerability. My host mother turned to me and softly told me that it was from trauma.

On Saturday, we returned to the stadium for a ceremony, and the burial. This lasted all day, standing in the blazing sun. The loud speakers weren’t really good, so we couldn’t really hear what was going on. As people passed us, my host father met old friends, who came from the city to bury their family.

We walked, all ten thousand people, to bury their families. They are buried at the Memorial Site here in Gisenyi. After the burial, we were invited to a reception, “to wash our hands.” It was a family who lost their parents, brother and sister. It was a dinner at a hotel with testimonies and gratitude given to people who helped them during the genocide.

I am struck by awe as I reflect on these moments. Witnessing a country that has moved away from hatred and evil to a place of forgiveness displays what the human spirit is capable of.

Peace from the hills of Rwanda,

Marian

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