By Sarah McKendricks.
I arrived home a week ago and felt oddly out of place. The drive from the airport felt like it took forever, which makes sense considering the size of Kigali and how easy it is to travel around the city. LA, with its lovely traffic, is a different story. I didn’t expect to come home and find that two months in Rwanda would change how I viewed LA, but it did change, and LA seemed hot and dirty in comparison. Rwanda isn’t called the “Land of a Thousand Hills” for no reason. I’ll miss those rolling hills, the cobblestone paths and flowers blooming on trees. I’ll miss Mama Eve’s crepes, the birds waking me up at 5 am every morning (okay, maybe not the birds), and the kids playing futbol in the street as I walk home from work. I’ll miss taking daily walks on red dirt roads, bargaining with moto-taxi drivers and enjoying the motorcycle rides.
Rwanda is a special place. The people are gracious, willing to help and eager to converse. The second day of my internship at the Supreme Court, a gentleman noticed my wedding band, and the first question he asked me was if I had children. When I said no, his next question was when I planned on having them. While I’m not accustomed to having this particular conversation with random, unfamiliar men, I’m glad to say we agreeably concluded that waiting to have children until I finished law school was a wise decision.
I’m slow to process things, and it took time for the gravity of what occurred in Rwanda to hit me. Rwanda is so beautiful, and the people are so friendly that it’s hard to imagine that these very roads were littered with dead bodies less than twenty years ago. I drove and walked along those roads, and yet, until I went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, that thought never crossed my mind. The pictures and images that were displayed seemed to come from a distant place. Yet, I saw the slabs of concrete that marked the resting place of more than 250,000. I stood in a room not much larger than an average living room, surrounded by at least 100 human skulls. People slaughtered and were slaughtered.
One room in particular stands out in my memory because it was devoted to tracing the genocides that occurred throughout history. Some, such as the Armenian genocide, were familiar to me. Others were not. The purpose of this room was to inform us about the atrocities that occurred in the past in the hope that we could prevent them from occurring in the future. I filed this room away in my memory because I knew it struck a chord within me.
Today, I’m still processing. I think about how Rwanda has come so far in rebuilding itself. I think about how much more lies ahead. I think of current conflicts, such as Syria, and I wonder how well we are doing in living up to Rwanda’s hope. I wonder what more we could have done back then. I question if there is more we can do now.