Notes from Rwanda

An older post after a long day in the field - 2007

So I’m in Rwanda.  Filming here has gone slowly due to several production hiccups.  We’re making the best of it and had the fortune today to meet a 17 year old boy at a street – side carpentry/welding trade school.  No parents (he states, in a matter of fact whisper, that he lost mom in the genocide and dad to HIV/AIDS shortly thereafter).  Four younger siblings to care for.   A couple great shots, slick camera moves, a nice intervieww/ villagers circling and children trying to steal the only calories on my person – chocolate.  This taking place in a country perched on high hills and nestled in valleys, everything caste in a red hue – red earth, red sunset, and the warmth of the people – red like the Utah desert sand for those of you who know it, only much more lush.

On the surface, fair enough right?  Another spot on the planet where people try to make ends meet, do their chores, run their errands and take care of their own.  Familiar to us all on many levels.  Dig a few layers deeper (13 years to be exact) and enter an event of absolutely unimaginable communal, national, (international), personal and moral consequence – the genocide.  It’s strange, neither I nor the locals here outwardly acknowledged that we probably were standing on earth where quite literally thousands had died.  Just down the road is the Hotel Milles Collines, also known as “Hotel Rwanda.”  In some ways you’d never know what happened here.  It’s ridonkulously clean and orderly here, with kind people, services, traffic, and all the other trappings of civilized life. The country, thru Kagame’s leadership, has obviously made a conscious choice to move ahead in harmony, and it shows.

Are you sitting now??  Advanced apologies for the intensity of the following but it’s important, you know?  I was thrust into the 13 year old event when today after shooting the sequence with the carpenters, some of our hosts urged us to go visit “the church” as a gesture of fellowship and goodwill.  We obliged, drove down the road and were ushered into a dilapidated building, which despite the bright sun, wears dark scars like some limbless soldier of an old war.  Upon closer inspection I could see pock marks on the walls that look like bullet scars you see in films, scars of forced entry and grenades, apparently.  “Grenades?” I thought.  “Where am I ?”  I don’t know how many of you have been to Rwanda or know much about the month-long genocide where close to a million people were killed by farm tools while the international community scratched their heads, but this is one of the many areas that saw the whole hand of this atrocity.  This small (the size of a small house in a US suburb) rustic place of worship was the spot where thousands locked themselves in to seek refuge from the massacre, as they were assured safety in the churches.  When the Hutu’s arrived and blasted the doors open, they indiscriminately killed all who were inside, men, women, children and dignity.  Some, believing that the sacredness of the altar might save them, heaved themselves on it.  The stains on the altar bely this belief.  Sparing you other details, the marks of that event are all over and under the building – physically, energetically, palpably.  The space has been largely untouched since that day.  I didn’t need to/couldn’t see any more evidence of this but feeling protected by my guide, Jerome, who where’s kindness and goodness in his eyes like it’s his job, I went down into the underground catacombs and graves anyway – I figured the international community’s lapse was that it couldn’t bare to acknowledge the horror, and if I’m to be part of any broader solution this day or another, I had better not spare myself the pain of being down in the depths.  What I saw, I really have an impossible time describing, except to say that apparent in the fragmented bones and energy of that place is a clear message that no one person, no one community, no one population, no one period deserves to pass on like this and no one is meant to exact this kind of pain on another human being.

There has been so much said about the geo politics, the colonial past, and semantic inanity that propelled this atrocity and while these are significant for context and understanding, what is indisputable about this event is that it was simply the travesty of human falsehood.  What do I mean by this?  Well one of the key questions that rings loudly out of the church is an existential one for me.  “Why did this happen” and “what are we doing here?”  I think it happened because the inherent sanctity of BEING and being human was lied about, in this case, by colonial manipulation.  Tribes pitted against tribes, lies abounding about each other’s relative inferiority and superiority.  Neither fully able to realize their true “selves” as people or communities or freely able to offer their uniqueness and richness to the world.  We’ve seen it before and now.  Lies, fear, hate, everybody loses.

So I asked myself, “why am I standing?  Here?  Amid the most gruesome display of human error I’ve ever seen?”  The hair-raising feelings, voices, echoes, what have you followed.  I believe we are here to acknowledge and respect our true selves, our true voices, and the humility to realize when and how we can bring that to the world without fear or regret.  Are you an artist, a doctor, a corporate exec, a politician, teacher, mother, or just confused?  Are you asking yourself the questions that create authenticity in your life?  In very real terms, we help prevent pain, conflict, and injury at every level to the extent that we succeed in the endeavor of recognizing our truth, the only endeavor worth pursuing.  Listening to and trusting our innate good, generative nature – stripped of title, material, or self centeredness and left to stand in a light we all share – complete and enough.   That’s all those hundreds of thousands of victims and marauders needed to or wanted to do, really, but the lie that there is actually something (false) to fear exacted great pain and still does.

Through my brief travels throughout the world I’ve seen the pain, ecstasy, and largeness of living (and experienced it too), but still I and many more are fallible, might miss the mark, miss the moment, or miss the humanity.  I might miss it all, listening solely to my self-conscious voice.  I could be standing at the edge of a desert or in a place of worship turned-graveyard in a majestic place like Rwanda, but so long as I do not understand my truth, my real connection to it all, and what I have to offer, they may as well be places on a postcard, liable to tear.

The mass graves abound throughout the world, but they are a simple call and reminder to us all, that to live daily in the things we love and to share that in the commons of humanity is the simplest and most noble of endeavors.  So we’ve all heard this call at some point in our lives – respect yourself enough to tell yourself the truth – do what it is you absolutely love – share it with anyone that breaths –  And don’t wait. The payoffs for us as individuals are not only the riches, contentment, or comforts that our bodies seek but the meaning, connection, and grace that our spirits have longed to know – The very things that could have prevented what I saw today…

My best to you all and our collective best to the world,
paul