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Rwanda Today

The magnitude of the forgiveness required is all too vividly represented at the first public showing of the HBO film Sometimes in April. A gigantic screen has been erected at Amahoro Stadium, a large, open-air structure, one of the few places where Tutsis were able to find refuge during the genocide. More than 25,000 people arrive for the screening, including many bused in from remote villages and the 5,000 extras and other Rwandans employed in the making of the movie. The film's sound track is being broadcast with live simultaneous translation into Kinyarwanda, the national language. Everyone wonders what will happen when the movie actually begins and survivors—many of whom have probably never attended a film before—see the trauma recreated in full color.

I sit next to Sam Martin, the gutsy HBO executive who oversaw the endeavor. On my other side is a teenager named Jean-Claude who turns out to be a Hutu orphan. From his right eye to his chin runs a line that looks like a trail of tears but must have come—I suddenly realize—from a machete wound. His story, told in broken English, is difficult to follow. His father was a customs officer in Butare who (like many of the region's Hutus) did not support the genocide. Jean-Claude managed to escape to a refugee camp in Burundi, but there one of the Interahamwe—the Hutu paramilitary group that carried out the slaughter—attacked him with a machete, until another intervened, asking, "Why are we killing a Hutu child?"

"I have no one to take care of me," Jean-Claude says.

I look at the boy huddled beside me on the bleachers in the huge African dusk, his silvery scar still visible in the last light.

"Why are you here?" I ask.

"To see what happened to my parents."

We see. The film has the excruciating pace of a nightmare. The audience cries out as the screams of the characters fill the stadium. Jean-Claude's shoulders shake, and he makes small noises like a kitten. Afterward, the crowd surges out in stunned silence. I hold Jean-Claude's hand. I feel as if the ghosts of the movie have bequeathed him to me and I must never let him go.

The next day, Cynthia and I decide to pay Jean-Claude's fees at the École Secondaire de Kicukiro, a government boarding school in Kigali, at which he has been accepted but which he does not have the money to attend (though the fee is only $180 a year, including room and board). A few days later, he writes us an e-mail from an Internet café:

I had not luck to live with my parents or see very well their innocent face. They killed without any mistake, they were innocent... a long time ago I was alone no one who look for me so I have you and I need you. NOW, I have you, you are my parents if isn't a mistake, you are my mother till you want.



The last saturday I'm in Kigali, I ask Jean-Claude how he'd like to spend the day. Would he like to visit Zawadi Arts & Crafts, the shop run by John Kayihura's wife, Chantal, which sells work by local artisans; lunch alfresco at the cosmopolitan Republika Café; see ingenious Twa people make pots and then watch them perform a tribal dance while the clay dries?What Jean-Claude wants, he tells me, is to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre.

The new memorial center is an astonishing testament. Built with minimal funds on a hill overlooking the capital, it includes a museum, a genocide research center, and a memorial garden containing 11 mass graves, where more than 250,000 victims who died in Kigali are buried. Franco Kanimba, who directs the museum, recalls how survivors suffered from flashbacks during the museum's opening, on the genocide's 10th anniversary: shrieking, running, hiding under furniture. "We had to wait until they fell asleep from exhaustion," he says. "When we woke them and told them to go home, old women would say, 'This is my home—this is where my family is buried. You want me to leave my family again?' "

The guides at the museum are all genocide orphans themselves, we are told, as if this makes them better at their jobs. Yet I wonder what it is like for our two Tutsi guides to rehearse the details of their trauma for strangers every day. Our first guide, Harriet, seems bored and disaffected as she shows us the unfinished Wall of Names, the symbolic sculptures, and the rose garden in which each rose will be dedicated to a victim. As she talks, she rips a leaf off a tree and shreds it, staining her fingertips green. Then, without explanation, she walks off, and another guide picks up our tour.

The new guide takes us inside, through exhibitions about the Belgian colonization and into rooms that illustrate the killings with videotaped testimony about torture and photos of children with their heads split open. Scant acknowledgment is made of the thousands of moderate Hutus, like Jean-Claude's parents, who were slaughtered along with the Tutsis. When I take the guide aside and tell her, with a gesture toward Jean-Claude, that I want to move quickly through the torture sections, she seems irritated. "He's not a child," she says pointedly.

Jean-Claude has become so still, silent, and expressionless that I have the illusion that he's disappearing, as in a movie scene I once saw in which a blind woman realizes her lover has died because the invisible aura of color by which she recognizes him has vanished. He sleepwalks past the lighted display boxes, one containing neat piles of femurs; another, variously sized skulls with machete cuts; and a third, empty clothing. Gingham dresses and yellow work shirts float, fragile and unreal as dolls' clothes, with small tears and brown stains that would seem innocuous in another context.


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