Remembering Rwanda: The Other 4th of July

The hangover rate in our country is likely high today.

We’re also collectively broke now after spending an estimated $1B on beer, $6.7B on hotdogs and picnic food, and let’s not forget about the $1B on fireworks that your neighbors will likely still be shooting off on Sunday night.

Americans love a reason to party, after all, and the 4th of July is a big one.

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Source: Pixabay (Free-Photos/9105 images)

Of course, it didn’t start out as a party. For most of us, history has removed from immediate memory the bloody American Revolutionary War that preceded our independence. We don’t seem to spend much time during this holiday grieving and remembering.

And no judgment there. The 18th century was a long time ago; I can’t even remember last year.

But history is not so far past elsewhere.

In Rwanda, July 4 marks the country’s Liberation Day, commemorating the day that the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi ended. Liberation Day is only a 25-year-old national holiday, and the memories of what happened are fresh in the country, and beyond.

It’s almost an impossible thing to not remember.

“It’s unbelievable: 800,000 killed in ninety days. Six times the rate of the German genocide. Still, you lose sight of the fact that they’re individual people being killed. That’s 800,000 individuals. And each one is a story.” — David Akerson

I have my own story about the Rwandan genocide.

Thanks to someone believing in me during law school, I had the opportunity to work for the United Nations tribunal that was prosecuting the Rwandan génocidaires and war criminals. As part of that work which spanned several years, I found myself one fall sitting in Arusha, Tanzania, at the heart of the tribunal.

I lived in the back of a Chinese restaurant, the Flame Tree.

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Source: Flame Tree, Arusha Tanzania

When I wasn’t at the UN headquarters, I was working at the bar of the Flame Tree, where Garlic Bok Choy and Safari beer met and fell in love. And let’s be honest, I needed the alcohol.

My job was to analyze the sealed, closed transcripts from the trials. The transcripts I was given were particularly sensitive in their content, if you could imagine that any content wasn’t sensitive in a genocide trial. But these stories were particularly awful. And the nightmares were awful, too.

Remembering this awfulness and terror is part of the 4th of July in Rwanda. It’s also part of celebrating the path forward.

Written by

Frequently lost. Occasionally found. Attorney. Professionally crazed cat fan.

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