Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Amazing Lorax

by Darby Janss

What’s one word to describe today?  Exhausting.  Emotionally, and physically.

This morning we visited the genocide memorial in Kigali.  This is a free memorial so that everyone can use it to remember the events in 1994.  Inside the museum, you basically walk through Rwanda’s history from pre-colonization to recovery after the genocide.  It does a horrifyingly amazing job at describing the genocide through pictures, words, videos, and artifacts.

I thought after already having been through the museum once in 2011, it would be an easier experience.  I mean, I knew what to expect and how intense it would be.  Boy, was I wrong.  Emotions were running through me faster than I could comprehend.  I just wanted to get out of there as fast as I could.  To do this, I would just read what was on the wall, look at the pictures, and move on.  I didn’t want to stop and think about what I just saw, because I knew processing my feelings would cause me to lose it.

At the middle of the memorial is a circle of statues, surrounded by three smaller rooms.  The statues had Kinyarwandan words underneath them.  I only recognized two: Jenoside (Genocide) and Ubuzima (Life).  The rooms are dedicated to certain artifacts.  The first was full of pictures of people who were killed in the genocide.  These photos were given by surviving family members.  The second contained clothes of the victims.  I noticed one article wasn’t a shirt or pants, but instead was a twin size bed sheet with “The Amazing Spiderman” on it.  In that moment, the adults and children started to become real, with personalities and favorite cartoons.  Because of this, I walked straight through the third room without stopping.  Inside were cases full of bones and skulls.

After going through the rooms, I did some reflection by the statues.  A few parts of the memorial kept jumping back in my head.  The first was a photo in the museum of young boys looking at a wall covered in photos.  Here they were looking for their family members' photos to see if they were alive or dead.  Many people during the genocide didn’t know where their family members were, or if they had survived.  I started to think of my family.  I, for the most part, always know where they are and can easily reach them with a phone call.  The idea of not having that terrified me.  

Another part that stuck out involved the church. During the genocide, a lot of people thought to seek refuge in their church.  Makes sense, right?  Well actually, the most people were killed in churches.  One church was even attacked by their own pastor.  My stomach aches at this thought.  How could God let something like this happen, even in His own house?  The last thing I thought about near the statues was the hanging pictures in the smaller room.  There were a lot of pictures; the room held somewhere between 200-500 pictures.  I was overwhelmed with how many faces there were, but that is just a sliver of the 1,000,000 that were killed.  It is impossible for me to wrap my head around the fact that so many people were killed in just 100 days.

We all left the memorial with questions of why and how, so Jen Kamari brought us to J. Lynn’s to debrief and eat some lunch.

After lunch, we got right down to work.  Jen K. has this vision of building a playground next door to J. Lynn’s for the community.  Since there are no free playgrounds in Kigali, this playground will be a blessing to many mothers with children nearby.  The problem, however, is there is no space to put a playground.  There is an area full of banana trees next door.  We were asked to cut down all of the trees and clear out the brush so they will have open land to work with.  I was thrilled to hear about this “ministry project”, but the environmentalist in my cringed.  There were about twenty trees that we were going to cut down.  Nonetheless, we got to work.  Robbie, Jen and Serge’s intern, told us we were going to be working with machetes.  I took a step back.  Earlier this morning, we were learning about the genocide and how machetes were a commonly used weapon.  This afternoon, we were using them the way they were intended—as a tool.

Teo gave us instructions on how to safety handle this tool, and then set us free to work.  Since I was very timid about using the machete, I asked Teo to keep coaching me as I worked.  He would laugh as I would make very little progress.  After a few helpful hints and encouragement from him, I became more confident and started getting the hang of it.  I even was able to cut down a few thin trees in one go!

After the trees were cut, we started moving the brush.  We even made a few friends, too!  Who needs a safari when you have three geckos, a frog, and a caterpillar?

We are all very tired, and we still have two more weeks.  Hearing your comments on the blog is very comforting and we can’t wait to share more with you!


  1. Wow Darby, that sounds like an intense day. Going from a super emotional and sad memorial to cutting down trees to make a playground sounds really difficult, but you guys definitely have/had the strength to do it which is soo impressive. I'm so impressed with the amount of strength you all have. Keep it up during these next two weeks!! I can't wait to hear about tomorrow:) much love to everyone!!

  2. God bless the refresh button. I've hit it several times today, figuring your post would come mid-afternoon for us here in the Central U.S. time zone. Right around 3:30 PM, jackpot!

    Thank you, Darby, for sharing these observations with us. What a roller coaster of a day.

    I guess I want to skim past thinking about the genocide memorial, too, because my questions move to your afternoon work effort. How long did it take the group to clear 20 trees? How did they compare in size to the trees in our own back yards? It looks like the weather is beautiful. Is there a breeze?

  3. Oh, my wee one, what a day for you. Such normal words can conjure up such emotion: photos, bedsheets, church, machete, trees, playground. You've gone from despair to hope all in an afternoon. This roller coaster ride of emotions will be a big part of the next two weeks for everyone on the team. I'm so glad you are there for another. Love you (and that means ALL of you)!

  4. Darbs you're an angel. I can't imagine going though the memorial again, then use a machete. Im so proud of all of you for doing so much heavy labor right at the begining of your trip, you are all rockstars!

  5. Darby I am so proud of what you are doing in Rwanda and can only imagine how physically and emotionally exhausting it is everyday. What you are doing there and what you are learning will help so many people. Keep on persevering these next couple weeks and have a great time. I love you!

  6. I truly appreciate the sincerity and honesty all of you, kids and adults, have expressed in your posts. It takes guts to post to the world what you are feeling, and to not sugar coat it. Keep on feeling, and please share if you are up to it. Thanks to all for the lovely writings and pictures!
    And a question, why are there no free playgrounds?

  7. Darby, I spent the morning with a group of refugee children from Burma and then the afternoon serving lunch to some kids at the library who were also refugees and new immigrants. Reading what you wrote brought tears to my eyes, thinking of all the children who don't make it to safety. What a difference you all are making in Rwanda. Today, you helped prepare a place for children to play. Is there anything more hope filled than watching children at play? Blessings to you all in the days ahead. And thank you.

  8. Darby what a beautiful post on something that's hard to put into words. So so proud of you.

  9. Thanks for this moving reflection, Darby!