Yesterday, as two of my peers and I sat down on our bus, we were greeted by a tall Rwandan man in a Canada sweat jacket. Obviously our white skin points out to all Rwandans that we are not Rwandan ourselves, so this man asked where we were from. As we responded “America,” his face lit up. He was excited to meet Americans and share his love for our country. “How I love California, and Florida, and Mount Rushmore,” he said, “and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and your history. A wonderful country.”
Earlier that day in class at SIT, we watched a documentary entitled “Ghosts of Rwanda.” It was made ten years after the Rwandan genocide and provided troubling information on the events of 1994 and opened our eyes to the disregard that America had towards the Rwandan people. “Rwanda was not a US interest,” one commenter explained, “so the US wasn’t going to risk effort saving Rwanda.” In fact, the US not only didn’t deploy troops when countless American leaders had been informed of the genocide, but the US too led the charge to ensure UN troops were not deployed. The only American that stayed in Rwanda was Carl Wilkens and he explained his view of his country at the end of the film. He says, “I was so angry, at America, America the beautiful, America the brave. I was angry with our government. I was angry with people who could do something, even the simplest things and they didn’t.”
The Rwandan man on the bus had a different view of our country. He himself pondered the greatness of America without any prompting from us. He said, “America the Brave. I truly believe that.” As the bus pulled into our destination, the man turned to us and reminded us, “You are lucky.”
I know that I am lucky to have been raised in America and am grateful for the opportunities my country has provided me. I simply wish that we had responded in a way that is consistent with the country we define ourselves as. It was not luck that left 800,000 Rwandans slaughtered. It was wanton disregard by the international community. America was not the only country that sat on their hands, but we always say we stand for something more. “Home of the brave?” Who knows?
For more information on “Ghosts of Rwanda,” a wonderful, yet emotionally challenging documentary by Frontline, go to http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/ghosts/