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What it means to be a child of war.

Tuesday 28th September 2010

Andi Schubert,  Sri Lanka.

On Tuesday, the 7th of September, we visited the Genocide Museum in Kigali. We were given the opportunity to walk through the gardens, view the exhibits and reflect on the Rwandan experience of Genocide. After the visit to the Genocide museum in Kigali, Nkabomers came together to share their thoughts on what they felt at the museum. Many said that they felt anger – sad, heavy anger. Some wondered why – how – the international community had stood by and done nothing at all while all this happened. Others talked about how they were unable to put their feelings into words… the sadness…

Personally, I felt nothing.

This doesn’t mean that I believe the genocide didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean that I don’t regard the genocide as a cataclysmic event in Rwandan history. But – emotions-wise:

I felt nothing.

Did some of the exhibits touch me? Yes. Some of them are images that will stay with me in my memory forever. But I still felt nothing.

Today, we visited the memorial in the Nyamata Church where close to 10,000 people had been killed by the Interahamwe. We walked through the church and saw the clothes of the people who had been killed there. We saw splatters of blood still on the altar and on the roof; bullet holes in the walls, rosaries gathering dust.

Still I felt nothing!

That was until we went down the stairs into the mass grave. And it wasn’t the rows and rows of skulls and the way that they had been brutalized that struck me; it wasn’t the ID cards or the rosaries; no, it was not even the innumerable bones reminding those who visit of the horrors that this church had witnessed.

It was the story of a girl – and of her coffin. Her name: Annonciata Mukandoli. She was one of the prettiest girls in the area, with many suitors at her feet and after her hand. But she kept rejecting all of them. When the killings commenced, her suitors started looking for her, desperate to find out where exactly she was hiding.

They found her. They raped her. There were 50 men and they raped a single woman. They raped her and then they killed her. They killed her by driving a stick into her vagina.

Does that sound crude and brutal? Well, it was. But it was her story that really touched me in a way that none of the other exhibits – the skulls, the bones, the machetes, the rosaries, the coffins – had touched me. It was the one time I felt something.

This made me wonder: why was it that I didn’t feel anything at the other exhibits or at the museum? Why had it taken the story of a woman being raped by 50 men to make me feel all the emotions that my fellow Nkabomers had been feeling since the beginning of the programme? How could I feel nothing until I was accosted by violence of such unimaginable proportions?

It was then that it dawned on me: the fact that I was a child of war.

I have grown up with violence – violence on the news, among my friends, all around me. I remember as a seven year old seeing the dismembered hand of a suicide bomber: the flesh on the shoulder lying in shreds on the ground as though someone had dropped a log on to the road. I can recall the many times I have seen news telecasts of bodies being rushed to hospitals in the aftermath of a bomb blast. I have a friend who needs to carry with him at all times a letter from a hospital testifying to the fact that he still has shrapnel embedded in his chest. Otherwise he is stopped at every one of the country’s numerous security checks.

These are the sights of a young person who has grown up in the war generation – a generation that has not known what it meant for their country to be at peace…

I suddenly realized that in my own way I had developed a defence mechanism: after all, this desensitization of one’s self towards violence – what is it if not a defence mechanism? Growing up in a war generation, it’s the only mechanism that really works. It is an insidious and subtle process that allows violence to become normal, a part of day-to-day life, a news item, a piece of paper passed around over cups of tea and laughed over at check points. And it takes the rape of a girl by 50 men and her killing to make you feel anything about violence in a country so far away from your own.

I no longer know whether I wish to feel something, anything or not…

One Comment leave one →
  1. Waruni permalink
    Friday 1st October 2010 1:49 pm

    For the first time I put myself in the frame of ‘a child of war’. I always thought it was not fair by me to say that I was affected by war, as I may be one of the least affected in my country. It does not mean I was not aware. Bombs, particles of human flesh, fragmented bodies, security checks (often not by a person of my gender), news of dead people were all expected anytime anywhere and were all accepted under the circumstances.

    There were times I was lucky enough or may be unlucky to escape two major blasts. The bombs did not stop me from using public transportation. Besides, I did not have a choice. Death was so generalized. Destruction was measured in numbers of those who died. Injuries were not counted.

    When the friend who you mentioned was in the hospital, we visited him almost everyday. At first, there was a risk whether he would live but we made jokes standing at his bed even though he kept saying ‘don’t make me laugh my lungs hurt.’ Jokes were all about how he was caught in the bomb, how he reacted, how he was brought to the hospital and about the benefits that he would receive as a victim of war. We knew his lungs were damaged. But we could not help cracking those jokes, because he would have never heard them if he died.

    Now, until you reminded me of him, I hardly remembered that he was ever in the hospital. Because there were hundreds of others who recovered and hundreds of others who died.

    And we neither stopped going on trips and throwing parties.

    When you first mentioned that you visited the Genocide Museum in Kigali, the word genocide did not make any effect. I was only horrified by the story of the girl who was raped by 50 men and was killed by driving a stick into her vagina. You are right, Andi. This is what it takes to make us feel violence.

    When I read this article, I realized that I was only ‘desensitized’ and dehumanized. So, that was the cost I paid being ‘a child of war’.


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