Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mourning and Learning

Yesterday was Genocide Memorial Day and the start of the official week of mourning in Rwanda. There is much to mourn here.

Sixteen years ago, a well-organized Hutu extremist group galvanized the most horrendous slaughter of an ethnic tribe since the Jewish Holocaust – seeking to eradicate the Tutsi minority from the country. More than 6 men, women and children were murdered every minute of every hour of every day for a hellacious one hundred days beginning April 7, 1994. By some figures, twenty percent of the country’s population was murdered in the Rwandan Genocide – neighbor against neighbor. The extremists numbered one militia member for every ten families in the country, and were organized nationwide with representatives in every neighborhood, armed with machetes and lists of the Tutsi neighbors they were responsible for killing.

In the bloodshed that followed, people who had shared the same streets, Sunday dinners and church pews, raped, tortured, mutilated and slaughtered their neighbors – in their homes, in the streets, and in the churches where they had fled for protection. Hutu civilians were forced to participate in the killings or be shot. Many Tutsis were tortured until they killed their own families. All told, close to one million people were slaughtered in one hundred days in a country the size of the state of Maryland. An additional nearly 500,000 Tutsi women and girls were brutally raped during that period as a weapon of genocide – more than 67% of the women raped were intentionally infected with HIV/AIDS. Two million people were forced into refugee camps. In one hundred days. In a state the size of Maryland. Sixteen years ago.

Rwanda has countless orphans and child-led families as a result of the atrocities of the genocide. Children walk around with smaller children tied to their tiny backs. 75,000 of the survivors were orphaned because of the genocide, and 40,000 are still without shelter. And because the prisons and court systems could not handle all those responsible or complicit in the atrocities, survivors continue to live next door to those who killed.

Yesterday was Genocide Memorial Day and the start of the official week of mourning in Rwanda. Everything was closed. I spent the late morning driving back to Kigali, the capitol, from the mountains. From the start of our trip, the mourning was palpable.

The usually boisterous streets were solemn – lined with thousands of silent Rwandese walking miles to their local village’s memorial gathering. There was a gathering of this type in every village we passed, and everywhere men, women, and tiny children were walking to them. The mourners – the country – met in fields and empty muddy lots, where most sat on the ground, some with umbrellas for shade from the Equator sun, and some with plastic chairs if they could carry them on the walk. And in the center of each gathering, men spoke to the crowds. Here is a photo from the street – far in the distance you see one of the gatherings we passed –and the thousands who met there to remember the unspeakable human cruelty and to resolve, against every human instinct, to live peacefully and gracefully in spite of it.

I do not know what these men where saying; it is a private affair, grieving the slaughter of your family. I do not know what these men said. I do not know what they could have possibly said to help heal the terror and quell the rage. I do not know how these people move forward from the torture of what was inflicted on them and their families, and what they were forced to do to their neighbors. I do not know how they possibly manage to radiate the generosity and peace that I have seen in them given what they have seen in this life. I do not know how or why they embrace me so warmly given the way the world abandoned them in their slaughter. It is a miracle – one made of extraordinary resolve and restraint, superhuman forgiveness and grace, and a breathtaking, stubborn will to live peacefully.

There is much to mourn here. And there is much to learn here. Much to learn in the miracle of these peoples’ joyful smiles and peaceful eyes, which have endured impossible cruelty. I do not understand it. But I know I will never be the same for having watched these brave people on this day.


  1. I never understood any of it and I attempted to understand any of it. I am embarassed at my ignorance and isolation. Thank you for sharing this horibile story.


  2. I meant to say that I "never attempted to understand any of it".


  3. Can't wait to read this when I get to work. The pictures are beautiful though.

  4. Oh and the above is is fellow Monkee, Jennifer M :-)

  5. What a beautiful country and beautiful people. Thanks for letting us watch your journey. I just know you're going to do great things there.


    ps. Glennon if you're reading this, the link on momastery is broken. You seem to have two urls in the linkylink.

  6. I can't imagine being there taking this in first hand, walking on that soil, seeing the living people who have survived such a horrendous atrocity.

    And I'm complaining about WHAT in my peaceful, safe, comfortable life here in America??????

  7. Thank you for sharing this story with us. I was young enough and self-centered enough when this happened that it was a passing blip for me, and even though I knew of the horrific nature, it seemed so far away. I am in awe of you for taking God's calling and running with it, even if that running took you half way around the world. What an inspiration. I am so looking forward to reading your stories and learning more.

    (Monkee) Carin

    p.s. If you have any charities that you get involved with there that you know are worth while, would you share them as well? I can't afford much but would like to contribute in some way.

  8. Wow. What beautiful images and heart aching words. I think it is so easy to feel safe and warm in our U.S. bubble and forget how truly blessed we are to live in the environment in which we do. Thank you for reminding us of our blessings, but more importantly reminding us of those living a much different story who need some help from those who can.

    Amanda, you are so brave and tender hearted. I've loved reading about you on "Momastery, " now I Look forward to cheering you on here. You are in our prayers.

  9. Friends! Thank you for reading. And Carin, thank you for asking about ways to help here. There is a Mother Teresa orphanage and a few organizations that help child-led families here that I am eager to get involved with, and I will pass along their needs to Monkees and Friends. A little bit goes a very long way here. Thank you for your compassion.
    Love to you!

  10. Hi Amanda,
    I think you are a remarkable person. I will be following you throughout your journey, praying for you and all that you have planned for these people and their country. I know you will do GREAT things.

  11. Good Morning Sister! I am so thrilled to be able to follow your journey. I have travelled to Zimbabwe and S. Africa and I have a special place in my heart for all of Africa. And now my heart just grew a little more for Rwanda. I have told G Sister that my church is kicking of a HUGE fundraiser the end of this month to raise money to build an orphanage in Rwanda. I am so excited and hope to be part of the team to travel there for the building or opening or whatever our church needs from me. These African children are so precious to me.

    Thank you so much for allowing us into your journey. I know it will be painful and yet I also know you will be blessed beyond measure.

    I love you already Sister!


  12. friend! so glad that you've arrived safely! what a beautiful country, and i'm so happy that you ended up there. phillip and i have had many conversations about your journey, and please let him know if you want to hook up with his friends in kigali. we are thinking of you! miss you so much already! tat

  13. Mandy - I always knew you were destined for great things! I am excited to read about your adventures in Rwanda. Thank you for being brave enough to accept this challenge.

    Take care and know that we are sending lots of thoughts and prayers your way.

    Kristin Braggins Johnson

  14. I only hope this is a lesson to people everywhere, and a reminder that all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to remain silent. To think that this happened in my own lifetime makes me heartsick. These people are amazing in their grace... I think about things like this all time, though I have never had the opportunity to witness any of it firsthand. Today these miraculous people will be first and foremost in my mind and in my heart.

  15. Sister Doyle, I am so so pleased to be able to read about your adventure on this blog. The first two entries have already been so moving and incredible, not to mention educational. I can picture you over there ready to burst at any second with all that you are learning and experiencing emotionally. I am looking forward to reading every day. Miss you and love you so much!
    Sister Burke

  16. Thanks for opening up your blog to us Monkees, Amanda :) It will be great to get a glimpse of your journey over there.

    I think the Rwanda story is a really sad one. I remember hearing about the genocide going on when I was in high school, at about the same time of learning about the holocaust and all the events leading up to World War II. I remember just feeling sick that it seemed it was happening again, and still we couldn't/didn't stop it. Reading about it in your blog makes me sick and angry all over again. But reading about what you're doing over there fills me up with hope - hope for forgiveness, refreshing, and a new start. I know it might sound cheesy, but I really mean this: God Bless you!!!!!

  17. You are teaching me much. Thank you, Amanda.

  18. Sweet friend,

    Thank you for letting us see some of what you're seeing and feel a bit of what you're feeling. This fills me with quiet awe: "the thousands who met there to remember the unspeakable human cruelty and to resolve, against every human instinct, to live peacefully and gracefully in spite of it." Compared to climbing these formidable hills, I think my life has been more akin to being pushed in a wheelchair around Disney World. (I have, in fact, been pushed in a wheelchair around Disney World.) And, yes, you're six years old and you have the croup and no one's getting any sleep because you have to either sit in the steam shower or drive around all night with the windows down, but C'MON! You're in Disney World! And you just finished riding Space Mountain for the 18th time in a row. And you and your sweet ole' Dad are taking turns: one rests, one pushes. I think that's essentially been the extent of my life troubles: not feeling my best at a theme park. Reading this, at least, renders any others invisible for the moment.

    Rwanda: we honor you and we mourn with you.



  19. Sweet Sister,
    What a precious gift you are. Thank you for your commitment to life, and sharing it with others. A few years back my girls and I made string bracelets with little cross charms that we wore all the time to remind us to pray for an orphanage in Uganda that was caught up in legal difficulties...we've decided to make new bracelets, that we will wear all the time to remind us to pray for Sweet Sister Mandy and all of the amazing souls she will encounter in Rwanda.
    God Bless you Sister.


  20. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.
    I love the willingness to learn that you are bringing to this experience-- and your willingness to help others to better understand. I was teaching non-Western history in the mid-1990's and taught about Rwanda, and I look forward to learning more about what is happening right now. The picture of people gathering to mourn is so moving-- and I don't think there is any other way to move forward than with honesty and humility. And still there are smiles and kindness, even after all that pain.
    For me, that is Easter.
    God Bless this journey you are taking.

    PS The word verification I just got for this comment is "potes," which just happens to be Latin for "you can." As in you can do hard things.

  21. Sister,

    We'll never have a single excuse for unforgiveness as long as we both shall live, will we?

    I love you, and I already know you know what I'm thinking and feeling when I look at those pictures of those babies. Who are the most beautiful babies on Earth maybe. So I won't bother telling you.

    Tomorrow's post will be this link again, since I screwed it up this morning.

    Please find us a project, Sister. A family, an orphanage, you'll know when you see it. The Monkees are ready to swing into action. So to speak.

    I love you so much that I need to invent a new way to say it.

    Love, G

  22. Godspeed, Mandy.


    (PS - I'm using Katie's Google account because I don't have one. She'd approve, I'm sure.) :)

  23. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us, Amanda. May God keep you and strengthen you as you work to give a voice to those who have been silenced for so long. Be safe.

  24. "What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs."
    — Elie Wiesel

    Mandy, thank you for making the world a little smaller for me today. Thank you for teaching us about these beautiful people in this beautiful land and the horrific crimes against them. Thank you for having the courage to show them they're not forgotten or alone. Thank you for believing that your freedom only has worth if it is used to secure their freedom. I didn't even know "child-led families" existed before today. Please tell us how we can help you, and lend these children our voices.

  25. What a horrific story, I had no idea. Thanks for taking time from your busy life to help those beautiful people and to share your journey with us. Much love to you in Rwanda.

  26. Sister, I have been praying for you everyday..a big part of me wishes I could go and experience this amazing journey with you..but I know me.. and you would probably have to spend alot of energy and time bailing me out of jail there for trying to abduct homeless children to bring home with me. i am a bleeding heart for those in distress and I could not after meeting them just leave them alone... i am just not that strong.. i am in awe of you and your strength for going there to make a difference..maybe one day I will make an attempt to do the same..but in the interum, please let me know how we can help.. is there an organization there that needs clothes, shoes..(omg.. do i have a ton of kids shoes..)blankets? kids stuff in general? I am ready willing and able to ship stuff..whenever..Be safe.. and I will be checking this blog just as obsessively as i do Momastery:) JB

  27. Doyle,
    You don't know how wonderful it was to "hear" your voice through your posts. Although I am selfishly missing Maya's kooky Aunt D, I am so, so grateful that you will get the opportunity to grow and learn and help such an amazing place. As our country seems to grow more and more divided over money, race, who should be allowed to marry who, etc., what a lesson to see people who have gone through hell at each others' hands be able to come together. I look forward to reading more.... and hurry up and find a charity for G to donate to - otherwise she is going to try and adopt 400 Rwandan orphans. And is anyone surprised that Bonzo actually has been in a wheelchair at Disney World?
    xoxo, kling

  28. I'm so happy to see Bonzo's words. You've been missed.

  29. I am so glad to have this connection to the here and now in Rwanda. And to know that there are people willing to give voice to those who are voiceless. I am looking forward to following Sister's story.

    The movie, Hotel Rwanda, came out several years ago and tells the story of a hotel manager who worked to save his fellow men and women during the genocide. It is harrowing, but not too graphic in its telling of the story. If I were still teaching non-Western history to 9th graders, we'd be watching it in class.

  30. I am so glad that I'll learn so much more about Rwanda by following your blog. Thank you for your riveting, hard, beautiful words and pictures.

    My first Compassion sponsor child is from Rwanda and is all grown up now. She survived the genocide. I know it's a LOOOONG shot, but if you run across her in Christian circles, her name is Mukanoheri Subuga. She is about 27 yrs old.

    Bless you in all you do!

  31. Amanda,
    Thank you for taking us with you on your journey. I'll send you light and love everyday.

  32. Thank you for giving a voice to the voiceless. Your courage and strength are to be admired. I just know you are going to do amazing things in this next year. Especially now that you have a stove.

  33. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. My heart breaks for the people there. Many prayers!

  34. Goodness, such tech troubles for me trying to post a comment. Argh. Anyway, nothing spectacular to share, just a word of thanks for sharing your experiences with us. I look forward to learning more about this country through you. Finally, please know that I think what you are doing is truly amazing!

  35. Hi Sister,

    Sorry for the delayed comment. I was packing my bags and getting a few vaccinations. Thanks so much for taking us along on your journey to this beautiful land. Let me know when you're ready for visitors.

    Much love,

  36. Mandy: This is the first time I've read your blog and I'm so incredibly moved. Sitting here thinking, praying and crying - you are experiencing something I can't really imagine - in a faraway land that it so foreign to me. I pray for all the children, the people and the country that you are blessing with your spirit, love and kindness. Please keep writing because it is a gift for all of us to hear about Rwanda through your eyes and heart. Stay safe and God Bless. Love you! Mimi

  37. D is for Doyle,

    What a tremendous day, week that you had. Thank you for sharing this experience with us all and mostly for educating me on what happened to these people - what strength these women, men and children have - and what strength you have to see it, experience it and write so beautifully about it.

    We think life is way. What a lesson in resilience and pure compassion - and sister, I need that in my life!

    Thank you for writing and let us see this through your words, pictures and amazing journey. I'm blessed for knowing you and calling you my friend and sister.

    Love you, miss your face. Lots.


  38. It sounds like such a great idea to send all the old kids shoes to people in need! I will have to go look through my closet.