Nyamata, Rwanda: Today
Although the Rwandan genocide occurred fifteen years ago, I see its impacts everyday in the hospital. The region I live in was an area of great violence. There is a memorial site here in Nyamata were 10,000 people crammed into a small church seeking refuge, only to be killed. It is hard to believe that the reserved, kind spirited people I know went through such a horrible event.
I never ask about peoples' experiences, but the genocide is brought up many times a day. Medical histories are incomplete for many young adults because they are orphans. Patients come in with disfiguring scars, old bullet wounds, and HIV as a result of the violence they experienced during that time. Sometimes they say it happened during the genocide, mostly they say it happened "15 years ago". I have been told the mental health floor gets very busy with post traumatic stress disorder during the same months that the genocide occurred. Other stress related illnesses, such as stomach ulcers are common complaints of our patients.
One consequence of the genocide that has made a big impression on me is how the Rwandan people react to death. I noticed when patients die the family members never show outward emotion. There is no crying, no awkward silence or loud outbreaks, and no consoling of one another. They seem to concentrate on packing up the belongings and taking care of business. When I asked one of the nurses about it, she said that is the way Rwandans are. I thought she meant it was cultural, so I said "So it is normal?" She replied "No, it's not normal. It's because we saw too many things in the genocide."
The hospital staff deals with genocide related problems the way they would for anything else; no sorrow is shown or empathy given and no further questions are asked. They take note of the history in a professional manner and together we all simply move on to find the best treatment.
Inside the Nyamata Church Genocide Memorial. Each bundle of clothes belongs to a victim.
Milles Collines, the real Hotel Rwanda.