I’ve just come back from a trip to Rwanda and am now processing some of what I have seen, heard and done, and the strongest memory tells me the Beatles were wrong. I know that this is sacrilege for some of you (even though they had hits before your mothers were born) but let me describe what I saw.
I was taken to Nyamata church. It’s a genocide memorial, no longer a place of worship. People came there seeking shelter from the killers in April 1994. The tactic had worked during previous killing sprees. It didn’t this time. The soldiers threw in grenades and then killed the survivors with machetes and other implements. 10,000 people died.
They’ve left the place as it was. There are shrapnel holes in the ceiling, bullet holes in walls, even a chip on the statue of Caucasian Mary’s shoulder – she was shot because her long nose implied she was a Tutsi. The clothes of the dead line the benches where they would have been sitting.
It’s not a sanitised memorial with long historical narrative, paeans to the dead and condemnations of the killers. It is simple, stark and sombre. And very, very real.
For me the final straw was the wooden praying cross placed in abandonment on the altar. I’ve got one at home, a personal family memory, which made it all the more poignant. And real. Real people, really cut down in their prime.
And having started just seeing the holes in the roof that weren’t fixed (not that it was raining much in Rwanda when I was there), my mind then wandered all over the place. And I realised that it does matter if we’re wrong or right; all people need to be able to simply belong. Edmund Burke was right when he said that all it takes for evil to triumph is for a good man to do nothing.
The stories I heard from survivors were powerful but the image that will stay with me and impact my future is the little wooden cross that will keep my mind wandering in useful directions. And I’ll never listen to Sgt Pepper’s LHCB in the same way again.