We began our day with the Rwandan students and MA students deconstructing the N-word. The day prior, the word was used in terms of a music reference and we felt it was important not to ignore it. Ahn gave a historical context to the word from an American perspective. The Rwandans shared that the word translates to “superstar,” which is why it was used loosely the day before. The Rwandans listened to Ahn’s passionate anecdote about the impact of the word, not only on Black people in the US, but to all Black people around the world.
It seemed appropo that Ahn would lead the group into the activity “I AM,” which involved going around the circle with each person loudly, boldly and proudly saying “I AM….” Each participant finished the sentence: “I am integrity”; “I am beautiful”; “I am intelligent”, “I am justice”; “I am peace”; “I am love.” It was an invigorating start to the day! Ahn continued her energy into leading a group rhythm game.
A highlight of the morning’s activities included Helen and Chris’ introduction of concrete mime, making still images using one’s bodies. As a slow introduction Helen led us in ‘Here Come the Bears!!’, which involved the group as lumberjacks in the forest and hungry bears who come to their camp. As a tactic to not be eaten, the lumberjacks must stay as still as possible so that the bears do not notice them. Meanwhile the bear goes around seeing if anyone is not able to stay still, if they are not they become a bear as well. The result? A room full of bears and laughter! Afterward, the Rwandans were invited to identify its applicability to teaching young children. Comments included the teaching of animals, self-control, concentration, team work and awareness. In wrapping up this activity a Rwandan student asked how the game might be applicable with an inclusive classroom. Chris replied by encouraging that it can be tried out with any group. “Never assume a student cannot do something. Always assume they can do anything,” he said.
The next activity involved creating still images using our bodies, also known as tableaux. In groups of 7-8 we were prompted to create a tableaux of a family eating dinner. The groups portrayed people eating, drinking, and dancing. A couple of groups portrayed objects such as chairs, tables and a chicken!
The next prompt was to create an image of poverty. We brainstormed in our small groups different causes and proceeded to create our images! We interpreted causes of poverty to include violence, lack of education, corruption, wars, natural disaster, laziness, sickness and individualism. The conversations that led to the images allowed for many voices and perspectives to be heard!
To give a brief context, in 1994 a genocide occurred in Rwanda. The 100 days of mass killings resulted in the genocide of 1 million people, Tutsi people and moderate Hutus, by extremist who believed Hutus were superior. On the first day of the genocide 8,000 people alone were massacred in their homes and on the streets.
The architecture of the memorial is representative of the description of Rwanda as being “the land of a thousand hills.” The memorial was open and expansive with layers of entrances and exits, multiple tiers of plateaus covered with greenery.
Our experience began with a 10-minute film interview of a few survivors who were children during the genocide who had lost their families, or worse watched their families murdered. The exhibit included a detailed timeline historical account of Rwanda pre-colonization, post-colonization, seeds toward genocide, the genocide itself, and post-genocide. The historical accounts included large images, at times graphic. It also gave faces to the genocide. Another part of the exhibit included 12 walls of photos of the victims before the genocide. There are images of people laughing, being with their families, and graduation pictures. There were also glass cases that protected the skulls, ulnas, radius, femurs, and tibias of the victims. Another room contained the victims’ clothes that had bullet holes and machete tears.
One of the most moving rooms included large images of the young children who did not survive. Their pictures were accompanied by profiles that identify their favorite snacks, hobbies, quotes, skills, age and how they died, by bullet or by machete.
There was another room dedicated to other genocides around the world: Armenia 1915-1918; Hereros in Namibia 1904-1905; the Nazi Holocaust 1939-1945; Cambodia 1975-1979; in the Balkans in the 1990s.
We closed out our visit by leaving a bouquet of flowers on the mass graves that contain 250,000 victims. We took a moment of silence and made our way home.
Each of us now carry a piece of the memorial and will care for it in different ways. But we have one common task, an ask from a memorial representative, “Please go back to your country and share our story so that it doesn’t happen again.”