(First posted to my blog on April 4, 2016.)
The first week of April…
- On this day (4/4) in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, shot on the balcony of a hotel in Memphis.
- (On this day in 1959, my parents, Gally Brown-Peterside & Elizabeth James were married in a registry office in South London.)
- On April 7, 3 days from now, the Rwandan genocide began in 1994. It was the Thursday after Easter that year.
Last summer I had the privilege of visiting Rwanda. I was flying from Lagos to Entebbe and since we had to make a stopover in Kigali, I decided to pay a little extra to spend 48 hours there. My main purpose for this was to visit the National Genocide Memorial. I was intrigued by the effort of this nation to remember the terrible events over those 100 days in 1994 when up to a million Rwandans killed each other, many with ordinary garden machetes and clubs. Never before in the history of the world had so many people been murdered in such a short space of time by people who were essentially their neighbors. I wasn’t prepared to see the rows and rows of skulls and bones. I wasn’t prepared to see the walls of remembrance still incomplete and being added to as more names of the deceased become known. I wasn’t prepared for the final exhibit: huge color photos of vibrant, smiling children senselessly murdered, listing their names, ages, exactly how they died, and what they had wanted to become when they “grew up” – the horror, the wasted potential was unimaginable.
However, I think what struck me most were the mass graves, the entombed coffins, and the notations from family members who survived about the significance of having a place to come and grieve and remember. It had never occurred to me that given the brutal way in which loved oneswere murdered and the context of genocide, there were often no bodies found, few if any proper burials, and a dearth of resting places to visit on anniversaries. Hardly any sacred physical places to visit, to pause at, to be still in, and remember.
So today, I pause to remember: Dr King’s incredible life and passing and that of the slain Tutsis and Hutus of Rwanda. May their legacies live on. May we never forget.