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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

The Smell of Genocide

by Lizz Alvarez (JD '08),

Well all, I know that it has been some time since I have written, but you wouldn't believe how hard internet has been to come by for me. It is accessible enough here, but I'm somewhat limited by my mobility. Kampala is known here in Africa as the City of Seven Hills so you can imagine how that works for me.

Moving on...

Since I've written last so much has happened. I have been to Rwanda, and there I touched the graves of over 60 thousand people. I cannot even begin to tell you the totality of emotion that overwhelmed me there. I rode the bus from Kampala to Kigali for 11 hours, and let me tell you I was most definately ready to get off that bus when the time came.

We went to the Kigali to see the Rwandan Genocide Memorial there and I was speechless to say the least. I always used to ask myself, if genocide had a smell, what would it be? I think it would smell like indifference smells - like red dirt after a long rain. They say here in africa that the dirt is red because so much blood is shed here. As I looked out at the mass graves of the innocent I smelt the red dirt around me and knew that must have at least an ounce of truth to it.

What touched me more than the museum though I think has to be the woman i will call The Mourner. She works at one of the memorial churches in Rwanda, about a 30 minute drive out from Kigali. You drive out to see it because it's preserved just the way it was during tte genocide. It's everything a Church should never be - blood everywhere, shrapnal, and bones underneath foot. The Mourner didn't speak English, only her tribal language, and our guide spoke the tribal language, but only French and not English. So, our tour went something like this: She would talk to us in her lanugague, our guide would repeat it in French, and I would choke back tears as I had to explain in English that this wall we were looking at wasn't really brown - it was white. This wall we were looking at is what one sees after hundreds of babies have been tossed against it and their skulls have shattered.

She would speak, he would speak, and then I would speak

I would try to speak

of the Genociders tossing grenades through the doors of a church

of women being raped on the communion table

of husbands being forced to watch their wives defiled then killed

of children mutilated and tortured

of holy water spilt on the ground and trampled on

of the icon of the Virgin Mary shot because she too was a Tutsi, so say the Genociders.

She would cry, he would be sick, and I would turn and face my companions and say

These are the skulls of the babies - those holes and dents are from batallions

these are the coffins of the 40 thousand dead men women and children

this is the blood stained pew of a place of God and a place of worship

this is a scene that God loving and fearing people world-wide turned their backs on

Surely Jesus would care more about this happening in his house of worship than when he turned the tables of the money changers?

My heart is forever marked with the dirt on those graves, and my shirt stained with the tears of The Mourner - she knew me naught, nor could she understand me when I spoke, but when I cried, she came and cried with me.

Christians, Jews, Muslims, people of faith: where are we while these Church Massacres are happening world-wide?

What does it smell like - do you smell the dirt?