I'm writing this on Thursday, from the porch of my room in Huye, formerly Butare. It's been a busy few days, let me try to recall...
When I met up with Tony and Jean Paul in the stadium, we found our way to seats on one end, just to the side of the Jumbotron. It was a beautiful morning, but soon the sun was frying us in our seats. We had started chatting with a young man who had arrived with a large group who found seats in front of us. His name was Regis. He had very good English and soon offered to sit with us and interpret some of what was happening. So, Regis joined us. He was wearing a long-sleeved grey dress shirt made of some sort of synthetic fabric and soon he, too, was broiling. After checking with one of the many uniformed personnel stationed throughout the stadium, Regis suggested we move to the seats that were to the right of the section reserved for dignitaries as there was a chance we could find shade. When we moved Tony wanted to sit a bit further down for better photo ops and we did though I think it's fair to say that he later regretted giving up the shade!
I can't begin to adequately describe the speeches, the "sketch," the singing. In short, it was likely something the likes of which I will never again experience. The Secretary General of the UN, Ban ki-Moon spoke, offering expressions of apology for the UN's failure to act. The president of Uganda - I refuse to dignify him by using a name - spoke, and went on for far too long. It was hard to hear anything he had to say about reconciliation knowing he would just as soon see my Ugandan GLBT brothers and sisters, and their allies, killed or locked away. Yes, it was very strange to be in a stadium in Rwanda hearing such a hateful man speak of reconciliation. The Chair of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, spoke. Being from South Africa, a nation that has granted same-sex marriage, I found her words much more believable. There were others, including the testimony of a survivor, translated by Regis. Again I'm left thinking, "How do people go on?"
I think the part of the entire seven hours that was the most striking, sad, horrifying... were the people who were carried out of the stadium prostrate, screaming, flailing, crying out, overcome by grief. I'm told the the number of those requiring such assistance has been far fewer this year. One person told me that a number of years ago, half of all those in attendance would ultimately leave in tears or be carried out.
The last speaker was President Paul Kagame. I found his remarks a mix of inspirational and chastising. That he spoke one expression in French signified, to me, that he was speaking to the French, without saying so directly. The French refuse to acknowledge complicity in providing weapons to the Interahamwe, etc. and training those who, in 1994, acted against the Tutsi.
The event ended around two, with a short musical performance, including a song titled "Never Again." A young man and woman, perhaps around age 12, had key roles, indicating not just that 50% of the Rwandan population is under the age of 20, but that the future is quite literally in the hands of the nation's youth.
Tony, Jean Paul, and I offered our deep gratitude to Regis and left the stadium, hoping to find something to eat. As the day was an official day of mourning with everyone expected to participate, in some fashion, in remembrance, most places were closed. We did manage to find a Lebanese restaurant and were able to grab a bite. From there we went to the Walk to Remember, though we missed the first wave of marchers, led by the President. We walked from Parliament, which still shows damage from rounds fired in 1994, back to the stadium. Along the way we met up with Warren, a Canadian scholar that I also met via facebook, and the three of us walked the last half of the distance together. Tony and I had planned to attend the vigil that was going to take place in the stadium that evening, but we were toast, figuratively and literally, and decided to find Jean Paul and head back to our respective hotels.
Although I would liked to have seen the candlelight fill the stadium and the lighting of the large flame of remembrance, aside from being exhausted, a part of me felt that the evening should be a space for the Rwandans alone. The earlier event was intended for everyone, particularly dignitaries from around the globe - with which I am not to be confused - though I did have some misgivings about taking the seat that might have been filled by a Rwandan who had been turned away. In retrospect, having heard that the lines for searching/entry were even longer than those in the morning had been, I was glad we had packed it in.