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Murambi

On my last full day in Rwanda, I hired a driver and went on a pilgrimage to Murambi, possibly the most horrifying memorial in history.

Murambi was a technical school in the south of Rwanda, where thousands of people sheltered during the genocide, and something like 50,000 were ultimately murdered. It sits starkly on a hill, gaping holes still in the walls of the buildings where grenades landed, a tattered flag in the middle of a dozen deeply verdant hills.

The memorial is simple. A few months after the genocide ended, the mass graves were exhumed to give the corpses a decent burial. They decided to preserve about 1800 of them in lime, and laid them in the classrooms. That's the memorial. More than two dozen classrooms, with bodies laid on simple wooden frames in each.

No one should see this. Everyone should see this.

What follows is upsetting.

Most of the corpses are, by now, faded negatives of themselves, bone coloured and close to bone, shriveled. But here and there, gut wrenching signifiers of individuality remain. Tufts of hair. Clothing made of fabrics that didn't compost -- sagging and set on the flattened frames. A tiny figure in the arms of a larger one.

I'm trying to describe the indescribable. Door after door of this. The guide, alone and weary, in a suit and pumps completely out of context, has dark circles under her eyes. "And here are more bodies." She's very persistent on the topic of the volleyball court the French troops supposedly constructed over the mass graves after the massacre, when they were posted here to "protect the community" and supposedly protected the Interahamwe. I've heard about the volleyball courts before. It's one of the only "exhibits" here, actually -- signs showing where the french soldiers played volley.

Where the Kigali memorial is lush and thoughtful, the careully tended headstone, this is the worms and maggots under the overturned rock. Just... corpses, and a weary guide. The small exhibit is closed, with no explanation. There's a visitors' book to sign, and toilets that have no running water in the sinks. At first, my driver and I are the only ones here, then a pair of uncomfortable swedes show up. They can barely bring themselves to glance into the rooms, and the male of the pair asks me "do you want to see more rooms?" when the guide takes us up the hill. His wife chastizes him in Swedish, and he's silent.

There is no fence around this horrifying space, the classrooms typical of rwandan architecture, a long outdoor row, open to the air. There is a tiny farm about 20 metres from the end, where a child stands calling mzungu! mzungu! to me. I hold out my hand and she comes forward to take it, and the guide yells at her to get away. As she admonishes the two boys making an incursion to do something vaguely gardening like on the other side of the building.

Her job: pointing out corpses, telling the volleyball story, chasing away children. Sitting alone in this enormous building on top of the hill, with 1800 corpses.

As we drive down the winding road away from murambi, I pull out two nut bars from my bag. I offer one to Regis, my driver, who has been here before, but stayed with me through the whole thing, muttering. "les bebes." We speak in french, his fluid, mine primitive. "Apres avoir voir qu'el que chose comme ca, on doit manger et reclaimer notre humanite." He agrees, and we eat in silence.

Posted by CateinTO 11:54

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