A Person’s A Person

One of the most moving experiences I’ve had abroad was my chance to visit Bisesero Memorial in Bisesero, Rwanda. Also known as “The Hill of Resistance,” this location is one of the places where victims of the genocide banded together and stood their ground.

There is no way I could do this story justice, or even write a comprehensible summary of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsis, but instead I’d like to share with you some reflections I had while walking through this memorial.

I was only three years old when the genocide happened. Tucked away in northeastern American suburbia, I was blissfully unaware of the suffering that was happening in the world. Obviously, my ignorance was entirely excusable, but the mere fact that I was alive when these atrocities bothers me on some level. This isn’t some barbaric tale of ruthless warriors thousands of years ago; it was a choreographed murder of approximately 1 million people. And it happened during my lifetime. Most of these people would still be alive today, had their lives not been cut so suddenly and tragically short. Now, twenty years later, Rwandans continue to add bodies to the mass graves, as they occasionally wash up after heavy rains.

The memorial at Bisesero is much more understated than the main memorial in the capital city of Kigali, which serves as a genocide museum and educational center. Perched on a hill, as most things in Rwanda are, the Bisesero memorial consists of nine buildings and a mass grave, connected by a meandering walkway (and a lot of staircases). The buildings represent the former subdivisions of the former province of Kibuye, where Bisesero was located (Rwanda has since renamed its provinces and many towns in an effort to start anew after the genocide).

Within each building are the skeletal remains of hundreds of people.

Having double-majored in anthropology and biology during my undergraduate years, and being in veterinary school now, I am pretty comfortable looking at skeletons and cadavers. Blood and bones don’t gross me out, and I would consider myself more comfortable with the reality of death than the average citizen.

But still, I found myself fighting back tears as I walked through each building. What really struck me about this display was one thought: they all look the same. Yes, there was some size difference between the skulls of children and adults. Yes, that skull had a bullet hole, while another looked like it had been cleaved with a panga (pangas are machete-like gardening tools that have become somewhat infamous for their role in the genocide). Yes, if a scientist were to get out her calipers, she could probably determine that these skulls belonged to people of African, as opposed to European or Asian descent. That is, in fact, part of the job of anthropologists- to categorize and separate humans based on morphology and evolutionary patterns.

But they were all skulls. They were all human skulls that had once held hopes and dreams and sorrows. And so a simple line from a Dr. Seuss book popped into my head: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Of course, size isn’t the only thing that makes people different- we are an incredibly diverse species in just about every way possible. And it’s great to celebrate and explore those differences, but it is crucial that we do not forget this one simple rule: a person’s a person, no matter how small.

For a brief summary of the Rwandan genocide, visit http://www.unitedhumanrights.org/genocide/genocide_in_rwanda.htm

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