14 images Created 4 Apr 2015
Rwanda: 14 years after the Genocide
These images were taken in the village of Nyamata, where the church serves as a memorial of the Genocide. Everyone here has a story, and many seem to conflict slightly, told by those who as children experienced and survived the chaos and trauma of the genocide. With no other witnesses, in many cases, the stories cannot be verified, but given the commonality among them, they are likely somebody's experience, if not those of the individual recounting their story. On my visit, I was shown around the church by a man in his twenties, who was 9 when the genocide happened. He was in the church, where between 2,500-10,000 people died -- judging by the size of the building, it is most likely that 2500 died in the church itself, with many others killed in the village surrounding it. People had taken refuge in the church, crammed inside, with the door locked. The Hutu extremists arrived with guns and grenades -- shooting through the door until it opened, and throwing in grenades that left holes in the ceiling, which you can still see today. They then entered, slaughtered everyone in a small room near the entrance, carrying out body parts to demonstrate what was about to happen to the remaining people. My guide's mother was in that room. He lay on the ground near the alter, next to his sister, as the attackers came through, killing with guns and machetes, each person in the church, including my guide's sister who was raped and murdered beside him. He was stabbed in the leg -- he lifted his trouser leg to show me the scar. He lay still, and eventually, the attackers left, leaving the church in a pool -- literally -- of blood. He remained there for 9 days, he says, and wasn't discovered (despite the attackers returning several times with dogs) until he was rescued, only a few days before the RPF captured the area and drove the Hutu extremists out. During my tour, he showed me the blood stains on the walls, the grenade holes, the skulls (including one of his cousin, that he has labelled), and the clothes from the corpses, that are now piled high on each pew, as a reminder of the dead. We also went to the crypts, where row upon row of skulls and bones are laid out, along with coffins, each containing up to 30 people's remains. I visited this village on a Sunday, and nearby, the school has been made into a makeshift church, next to the foundations of a new church, the construction of which has stalled due to lack of funding. The villagers filled the makeshift church and were singing and praying, as I walked around the silent remains of the old church. After I left the memorial, I walked toward the new church and met some children outside -- they were all too young to have witnessed the genocide, but no doubt, they still grow up with the shadow of it cast over their lives. But they smiled and played, with a hope in their eyes that is hard to believe, given what I had just seen in the church -- a testament, of sorts, to the human spirit.