Saturday, September 5, 2009

Rusumo Falls and Wednesday

(Pictured here: Rusumo Falls)
Rusumo Falls was very cool. A few PCVs (Brandon, Tom, Malea, and Anna) and I decided to take a day trip to the Rwanda/Tanzania border (Rusumo) to check it out a few weeks ago. We couldn't cross into Tanzania because Peace Corps has very strict regulations regarding crossing borders; we needed clearance weeks in advance in order to step into Tanzania. Anyway, I posted a few pics on facebook...check 'em out.

In other news, the Director of Peace Corps Rwanda has asked each of us to write a story for the Peace Corps publication 'A Life Inspired,' a collection of short stories written by volunteers in the field. I have been trying to get something to him these past couple of weeks, but I am not happy with my drafts. I write something out, I edit it, and I am just not happy with what I produce. It would really be cool to have a story in this widely disseminated text, but I don't like anything I write. Maybe I will submit an old blog post...I dunno...I'll keep you posted. (I have been doing a lot of writing these past few months and, let me tell ya, I have a much deeper appreciation for writers and their craft!)

The classes are going well, though attendance is shrinking. I think my newness in the community is wearing off...*sigh*. On the plus side, I am getting along with my community members well and I am having to explain my presence less and less, which is okay with me. I have been giving my welcoming speech since April; I have had that thing memorized since Kinyarwanda!

*Maybe I should post two blog entries, but its easier for me to publish them as one.*

I heard about gacaca in training. Gacaca is the community-based court that was used in pre-colonial days and has recently been reinstated to process cases and trials concerning the genocide of 1994; the courts also hear the cases of people that are accused of minor offenses. There were so many offenders during those 100 days in 1994 that it would take a few high courts a lifetime to convict everyone that was involved. In response to this problem, the government revived the traditional community courts throughout the sectors to convict and assign punishment to perpetrators, thus speeding up the judicial process.

The gacaca court for my sector is generally held at the sector headquarters every Wednesday. These past few weeks, however, the court location has changed to the health center's front lawn. That means every Wednesday I get to see five (5) to eight (8) different court cases. When I say see, I really mean see...ONLY. I NEVER approach the open-air court proceedings any closer than I have to and I do NOT ask about what is going on during the trials; I keep my distance as much as possible.

Generally these proceedings begin in the afternoon and finish in the early evening; they are attended by the judges (4 or 5), the accused (5-8), the witnesses (varying in number), and community members (also varying in number). The stores remain closed Wednesday mornings to recognize the importance of the trials to be held that afternoon, but the crowd of community onlookers is never very big. The court cannot give out extremely harsh punishments, like death, but they do give out long prison terms and such.

(This style of judgment, gacaca, has its defenders and criticizers. I will not get into the philosophical discussion, but one of the defenders' arguments for this style of court and punishment distribution is that most everyone accused of taking part in 1994 will have had their case heard and, if guilty, will have served some sort of punishment for their crime. The officials in my sector say they will be finished with all local gacaca cases regarding the crimes of 1994 very soon.)

This last Wednesday was different than other Wednesdays, however. The crowd was rather large and instead of five (5) to eight (8) cases being heard, there was only one (1). When the trial started in the afternoon, I could tell it was important because a hush had fallen over the staff of the health center, which is usually loud and active regardless of what is going on. Nurses quietly treated patients, then went back to their office windows to watch the proceedings.

Curiosity slowly sunk in its fangs...I had to know what was going on, though I had a pretty strong hunch. I walked up to five nurses watching the case unfold from the window of the insurance office, the best office in the health center to hear and see the event. In a very hushed voice I asked the group what was going on. In broken English they revealed the story of the man whose case was being heard. Apparently he was one of the worst perpetrators in my sector during the 100 days of suffering in 1994. He confessed to his crimes and had been in custody at a local jail awaiting his trial. I will spare you the details of the trial...for many reasons. I will admit that I almost cried while the nurses were translating the testimony of the witnesses and the confessions of the criminal.

The trial went much later than normal. The nurses told me it was because of the amount of offenses committed...over 100...the accused said he lost count at 100. *slowly shaking my head* The judges needed more time to process the testimonies and confessions and agree upon the punishment. The judges were considering the strictest punishment a gacaca court was authorized to imprisonment.

I didn't stay for the ruling. I didn't ask about it the next day. I didn't pry to find out more about the court system and its history. That is not to say I was not curious, but it wasn't the time nor the place to ask. What I do know is that I didn't recognize him; I never recognize the people that are on trial and nobody ever talks about them specifically, like they know them.

I know how this must read; not very uplifting. I had to mention this, though. It was an important day for my community; I had to write something about it.

1 comment:

  1. Emmett - thanks for posting.
    - Jo-Elle