Over the last three days I’ve met countless survivors. I think the thing that strikes me most about all these encounters is how everyone, regardless of what side they were on, can openly talk about this atrocity. And not only can they talk about it, they have made a conscious decision to move on with life without holding a grudge.
Several years ago I dated an Israeli Jew. One day we were in a restaurant, and he walked away for a few minutes. When he returned I was talking to a German couple at the next table. My boyfriend was completely offended by this, offering the explanation, “I hate Germans.” When I asked him why he said, “the Holocaust” as if it was the most logical reason ever and I was stupid for not realizing that. I thought it was a rash judgment; after all, it had been 65 years. Not to mention, it wasn’t those exact Germans who had killed the Jews. Point being, he held a grudge.
Today I met a young man named Frederick who was six during the genocide. He had both his arms cut off with a machete. He was such a happy person, really full of life. You would have never guessed he was missing two limbs. Yesterday I was introduced to Angelique who lost her parents and all four of her siblings. She was adopted by an aunt after the genocide and ended up writing a book about her experience. But I think the most remarkable encounter I have had here was a married couple, Jean-Pierre and Patrice. The two were neighbors growing up. Patrice was 11 and Jean-Pierre was 15 at the time of the genocide. Jean-Pierre KILLED Patrice’s family during the genocide. Years later, after Jean-Pierre served his prison sentence, they met again. Jean-Pierre asked for forgiveness. Eventually Patrice forgave him. They later married. I never thought forgiveness could be attained at such a level. I think if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed this was possible.
There is a lot of hatred in the world. And I think that’s truly unfortunate. I believe my visit to Rwanda has been the most impactful experience I have ever had. People always ask me of all the countries I’ve visited which is my favorite. I have never been able to give an answer to that question. But I honestly think my mind is made up: Rwanda is my favorite country. I have never witnessed such a dedication to humanity and peace demonstrated so honestly.
I wish more people would visit Rwanda. And I wish more countries that are suffering from conflicts would examine Rwanda as a case study of what you can accomplish when you all agree to get along. If Rwanda can recover and prosper after such horror it really makes me wonder, “Why can’t we ALL just get along?”