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Ghosts of Rwanda

Author: Michael J. Gerson, Roger Hertog Senior Fellow
November 28, 2007
Washington Post

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We are used to seeing aged Holocaust survivors with faded photographs, telling their stories to remind the young and forgetful. So it is shocking to meet a 31-year-old genocide survivor with memories so fresh they bleed.

I talked to Freddy Mutanguha in a field of white crosses, near a half-finished monument to perhaps 800,000 victims of the Rwandan genocide. “My mom,” he recalled, “gave money to be killed by a bullet, because she saw the machetes and knew what they would do to her. But the bullet was too expensive.”

The mass violence of Hutu against Tutsi left a nation of corpses — and a nation of stories. A young man took me on a tour of the neighborhood where he had been hunted for weeks by soldiers and informers. At one point, a friend purchased his life with the bribe of a case of beer. He hugs a woman along the dirt street, commenting as she walks away, “She lost all of her children.”

A man I met in passing, I later learned, was 14 when he performed the lonely task of burying his mother, father and siblings in a grave near their home.

And the ghosts seem to gather in sacred places. At Ntarama Church, soldiers surrounded thousands of Tutsis seeking refuge, blocked the door and threw grenades inside. The walls and rafters of the dark sanctuary are covered with the clothing in which the victims were found. Light comes through the tin roof in holes from shrapnel, like constellations frozen at the hour of death.

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