I woke up this morning at 5:30 to go running with a group of students. I wish I had brought my video camera! About 100 students ran down the street towards the sunrise, singing and chanting different songs as they ran. And run we did! My legs are sore.
When we returned from our jog, I went to the mess hall where the students shared some porridge with me. Porridge is more of a beverage than a meal. As I sipped it from a mug I imagined that I was drinking a liquid corn tortilla.
After breakfast was Umuganda, the required community service that takes place the last Saturday of every month in Rwanda. But on the way to Umuganda, I noticed a group of students going into a compound. I entered to see what they were doing.
As I stepped through the gate, I saw a field leading up to a large ramshackle house with a fireplace on its exterior. Two small cows grazed the property, which was bounded by a brick wall at its perimeter. In one corner stood a water tank; in another, stables for cows. I joined my students in exploring the area.
It was apparent that the house had been first-rate at one time. Someone important had once lived here. As we wandered through the stables, the courtyard, and the house, one of my students explained to me that the property was once owned by the man who founded our school. But now he is in prison in a neighboring country for crimes which he committed during the genocide.
Exploring the compound brought back memories of the disc golf course in Washington that I visited with my dad and brother-in-law just before coming to Rwanda. The course was built on the grounds of an abandoned insane asylum. The old buildings there had become legendary and a place for teenagers to explore and to scare each other in. This compound in Rwanda has its own legend. According to my students, the former owner buried a large sum of money somewhere on the premises before he was taken away to face trial, but it has never been found.
My community is littered with abandoned buildings like this. In my mind, it is a physical manifestation of a society trying to rebuild itself. I get a sense that, much like these buildings, many people here feel torn down. We are here to help them build themselves back up.
Some people call the subject of the genocide “the ghost in the room.” You might go about your entire day without noticing it. And most days you won’t. People do not talk about it often, but it is on everyone’s mind. Yet, I am so impressed with the ability of the Rwandan people to move on and take such strides forward in development after such a terrible event.
Walking through that old, run-down house reminded me of something my headmaster told me one night over dinner: “People were killed in this school during the genocide.” Great dinner conversation! And now I know not only that people were killed here, but also that they were killed by the very man who ran the school. What an abominable man! I noticed that the closets in that man’s house were the same style as the one in my room. It brings these questions floating back up into my head: Was anyone killed in this room I sleep in? Did anyone try hiding in that closet? But the fact that I still have to wonder is an indication of Rwanda’s ability to pull together the pieces that remain and rebuild them into something that only vaguely resembles the split society it once was. Turi kumwe. We are together.