Monday, April 20, 2009

Unfathomable & unforgetable

"If you were to take 10 seconds of what I actually saw, you would not be able to sleep. You'd be scarred for life."

Brian, a SU grad student, came to answer our questions about the genocide in Rwanda. He had escaped death barely as a mixed 13-year-old in the south of Rwanda. Most of his aunts and uncles, as well as other family members, had been murdered, exterminated because of their Tutsi status.

Brian explained that Hutus profiled Tutsis as being tall with thin noses, even though there were many Tutsis, and Hutus, that challenged the mold.

"During school, we thought that if you could fit your three fingers up one nostril, you could pass, or be, Hutu. You'd see all the kids with their fingers up their noses during breaks," he laughed.

I was awe-struck by all of his experiences.

Most of all, I was most surprised by his summary of the whole Rwanda situation.

"People ask me every time what went on in Rwanda," he said. "To be honest, I still do not know. It is that complicated. It does not make sense to me."

Brian appeared to be an intelligent man. He had lived through the civil war and massacres. He had seen the bodies, the rampages, the sights no human being should ever be forced to witness.

And in the end, he still did not know why the whole thing happened.

I think that's a testament to genocide. It doesn't make sense. To think a people can wipe out a whole group of people, as if they were animals, is not a rational thought.

I asked Brian if he had seen Hotel Rwanda, which we had just watched in class, and what he thought of it. He said he saw it when he was in Georgia with his girlfriend at time, and he could not stop laughing.

"The whole theater was crying and I was just laughing," he said.

He said that it was not that it was a funny portrayal, but that it was clearly a mixture of a bunch of different narratives, plus some exaggeration to make it "Hollywood" and profitable.

The violence was on par for what it could be, he said. The producers probably only embodied about 10 percent of the reality of the situation and massacre; understandable, since not many viewers would be able to handle it or would want to, he said.

I feel like there's so many levels of understanding in anything you come across. You can read a book and gain a little more understand on a situation, maybe gaining some internal perspective or scene setting. You can watch a movie based on that book and see what you had envisioned come to life, maybe in a more realistic way or just different--for better or worse--portrayal. You can hear someone share their story, who lived through that situation portrayed in the movie and in the book, putting a face, a person, a human connection to that story.

I feel like it is so hard to truly understand, feel, the horrors Brian encountered. I know I do not want to experience them or even be involved in some kind of re-enactment scenario, but I wonder if it takes that, or some similar or equally traumatizing situation, to feel the full weight of an issue like Brian's.

Do you think common ground has to be shared for you to fully understand something? Isn't that the whole reason why experience is so much more important than education in some instances?

Thanks Brian for coming to class today.

R.I.P. for all those whom lost their lives in the Rwandan genocide.

1 comment:

yur momma said...

I think that you do need to experience certain situations to be truly understanding and empathetic. I used to climb up on my soap box and pontificate about what I would and wouldn't do in certain situations based on information I had either read or heard. That is, until one day, when I found myself standing in a huge, ugly mess of my own doing. Of course, I did not follow my own advice, because facing it myself was a whole different reality. I have tried, since then, to stay off my box.
I think you can empathize or understand only to the degree in which you have actually touched the situation. So, when I cried during the movie, it was my ability to empathize with losing someone I loved and the overall injustice of the situation. But, that really doesn't quite get to the core of things, does it?