Well, the start of the genocide, anyway. It lasted 100 days and took roughly 800,000 lives. What most of us in the west do not realize is that this was a particular instance of extreme violence that flairs up from time to time in a much larger scale war that is still playing out today.
This war goes by many names, and sometimes the names people use point to wars that supposedly ended some time ago. But make no mistake -- this war is still going full throttle, and it's currently most widely recognized as playing out inside the borders of Democratic Republic of the Congo.
But that isn't what I am writing about today. War is one story that comes from that part of the world, no doubt. But it isn't the only story. There is love and hope and community. There is a collective conscious that wants a different future, and there are brilliant people who know how to make it work.
But not with a gun.
And when I think of all the western people who lament that we didn't do something different to help the people in Rwanda twenty years so, I wonder if they want to know that it still isn't too late. We can still act in this world to make a difference in that conflict.
I spent my day with a group of women from Democratic Republic of the Congo -- not because of the genocide, but because they are teaching me to cook. I want to learn to make Congolese food, and find out about their food traditions. They generously treated me to a beautiful day of singing and laughing and eating. Oh eating! Eating delicious, wonderful food. They even sent some home for my family.
These are people who have joy in their hearts and light in their eyes. Then I learned of some of their stories -- unspeakable things that I would think nobody could survive. Well, if the body survived it would only be an empty shell. These were stories of families torn apart by the conflicts, quite literally. If your spouse was ethnically connected to the people being attacked, there was nothing you could do to save them -- even if you belonged to a tribe that was accepted. Families were scattered in pieces to different countries, never to see each other again. Or violence would erupt and people would get lost. Children would get lost, and their parents would never see them again.
But yet, these women were singing songs about how lucky they were to have this day, and how blessed they were to have each other. Happy songs and belly laughing, all day long.
There were sad times, too. One of the women teaching me to cook had to flee with her sister during the Second Congo War and they got separated. The sister wound up in another refugee camp and she hasn't seen her since. She couldn't talk about it much.
But there is life in spite of the war. People fall in love, and have grandchildren, and sing together. Children get mad at their siblings and daughters in law at their mothers in law. And girls wind up having a crush on the same cute boy who lives down the way. Life happens. And the people who are keeping life going are the ones who will win this war from the backlines. Not with weapons, but by building community. By rebuilding their country, bottom up, brick by brick.
Stated oversimply -- the violence you read about in Congo is, pretty often, directly connected to the genocide that took place 20 years ago in Rwanda. The Hutu that fled Rwanda went into refugee camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The people who perpetrated the massacre fled into Congo, as well.
When you take a moment to reflect about the massacre, try to imagine what you can do to change that conflict today. And it doesn't have to involve digging into your pockets -- or jumping onto a plane and going there.
For more about what's happening with grassroots in Democratic Republic of Congo, you can start by looking here:
For things to do -- I will be writing about that during the upcoming months.