Home safe, home exhausted, thankful to be home, but so glad that i went. all in all, it was an amazing trip. the conference - an HIV implementers' conference - was so interesting. 1500 people from over 30 countries, 100's of different partner agencies, and different jobs, all working on HIV work from a practical, mostly hands on perspective. it was inspiring, and i learned alot - new ideas and approaches to try out here. at the same time, it was also an opportunity to identify real gaps in our efforts... the most staggering fact - for every one person put on treatment, six new people are infected. yikes. so much to do, so much to do!
and my presentation, on evaluation tools to assess the feasibility of an electronic system, was very well received. i have never had the experience of so many people approaching me after a presentation, asking for more info, a copy of the slides, help for their projects. and this went on for days after the presentation. it was really nice, reassuring!
and the conference was fantastic for catching up with old friends, and making new! the best was reuniting with three other asph fellows and hearing about their experiences. if it is possible to have four completely different experiences, then that is us. the worst, was having our last time with our full strategic information team all together. mindy's last day was last week and john's is in two weeks from now. already the office seems quiet (well the fact that they are leaving and two others are on a month home leave... we are only an office 12!).
and at the end of the conference, i took three days to explore. two of those were day trips with mindy, karen, and karen's son, chet. we went first to a small town on the lake, and then to butare (near berundi). nothing terribly exciting, but completely amazing because it was so new and different. rwanda is beautiful - rolling hills, very green, super clean. we went to several national museums, the lake, a local market (where sweet baby chet was excitedly passed from woman to woman).
but all of the amazingness was punctuated with pangs of sadness brought on by plethora of memorials to the genocides of 1994. probably every thirty minutes we would pass another. and not just memorials, but mass graves of 10 - 100 THOUSAND people. it is completely unbelievable to me. i cannot believe that people can be so mean, cruel, evil. i cannot believe that things like this can happen while the world sits complacent. and i cannot believe that all of this is in the past. it must be too painful to forget. yet people move on, at least they try.
i spent the last day on my own at the genocide memorial. it is something that i will never forget, and hope that my recounting the experience will help you share in the experience. first of all, the memorial is at a mass grave, filled with bodies of people killed in the capital city alone. over 258,000 people are buried there now. and there are still bodies coming in - a family of 12 were burried the day before i went to the museum. the grounds have a series of large graves, covered with cement. each grave has about 200 coffins, each coffin has the remains of about 50 people. it is nothing short of shocking. but then around the graves are beautiful gardens, with chairs for meditating, reflecting.
the actual memorial is a circular building with only two floors. the bottom floor is focused on Rwanda - the history up to the genocide, the brutal events of the killings, the aftermath and attempts to heal. it is important to note that this was punctuated with stories of survival and sacrifice, that help preserve hope in the ickiness. the top floor is two exhibits - the first recounts about 10 genocides that have happened in the last century. it is overwhelming to think that rwanda is not the first, nor is it the last (darfur!), and that this somehow continues to happen. the second exhibit was very simple. each room had about 4 enlarged photos of a child. under each photo is a plaque listing the child's name, age, their favorite food, their best friend's name, and how they were killed in the genocide.
i don't write this to shock anyone, i write so that i don't forget and that you don't forget. while it certainly affects me in a saddening way, i hope that this experience will lead me to be more proactive. i don't like to think that people can be so awful, but it is this denial that often allows acts like this to happen before we can react.
so, visit rwanda. it is amazing, both for good and for bad. i hope to go back....