Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Questions from Africa

On the flight from Washington, DC to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia I read the journal entries I made last year when I first came to Rwanda.  There were events and observations I noted that made me grin—like my impressions of the utter glee the preschoolers at Good Samaritan School demonstrated.  And the utter glee I felt being there with them.  There were several things that I had forgotten about.  For instance, at the start of the trip, I felt like a fifth wheel, as I wasn’t a teacher and I wasn’t a student.  It took me a few days to figure out where I belonged and what my role was to be.  The students did a wonderful job helping me figure it out.  And being reminded of that warmed my heart.

It is notable to me that there was so little about genocide in my journal.  Actually, in several places I say that I was not ready to write about what I experienced.   It was also notable that there was so much about things that had absolutely nothing to do with Rwanda at all.  It was as if traveling halfway around the world and experiencing an environment, culture, and way of life complete different than mine forced me to examine myself.

There were so many questions I raised in my journal entries.  Some broad questions about the nature of humanity:  How does anyone forgive something like genocide?  How do we prevent genocide from ever happening again?  And some very pointed questions about my own nature:  What angers and injuries am I hanging onto?  How do I forgive?  What do I believe in?  How do I demonstrate that faith?
A year later, here I am back in Rwanda. I still don’t have answers to all of the questions Africa asked me.  And Rwanda has already started asking me more. 

Just this morning, I was woken by the sound of local people singing their hallelujahs in Kinyarwanda as they attended 6:30 AM mass at the Jesuit center we are staying at.  I wondered, again, how can Rwandans still have such faith after the horrors of the genocide?  And added to that was this:  Knowing that churches became places of mutilation and death instead of refuge, how can they return to worship?  What do they know that I don’t? 

For weeks now, I’ve been unsettled.  Leading up to the trip, I was anxious about all the final preparations and all of the unknowns.  My fears are unfounded.  I didn’t forget anything.  My family was ready for me to go.  Our travel to Rwanda has been uneventful.  The other two women chaperoning the trip are competent, organized, and truly great company. The young people we’re traveling with are remarkable.  I have the highest level of confidence in our tour leader, Alexis and his wife Gyslaine.  And still I’m unsettled.  I cannot quite articulate what it is, beyond that it is something within me.  The overarching question Rwanda seems to be asking me must be, “What’s the matter with you?”  I honestly don’t know.

I do know that I am supposed to be here in Rwanda. I'm hoping Rwanda will help me answer her questions.

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