An occasional journal of pictures and words.
A day barely recorded or remembered

On the yellowing AP Leafax transmission envelope from May 9, 1995, next to Subject I had simply written “Gatonde reburial. Outs.”
That meant that these were my outtakes, or images I would not transmit.
The envelope was thick, a least a three rolls of processed colour negative film strips were within.
As I pulled them out, a flood of memory came back to me. Following a group of men carrying hoes into the mountains. A pair of dogs snarled at them and tried to bite them; the group  laughed. It was like men heading off to clear a field in the steep hills of Rwanda. Yet it was not, they were trying to find where their relatives and friends had been dumped in shallow graves during the previous year’s genocide.
I was the only outsider among them. I don’t recall how I found out about the exhumations, but for the people of Gatonde it was an important day. A survivor pointed out a seemingly innocuous spot and the men began to dig. Soon they were carefully pulling out bits of skeleton, clumps of hair, clothing. It was quite horrific, and as I followed them to where the burial of the victims would take place, it became clear that there were dozens of groups like mine labouring across the verdant hills.
The burial sites were incredibly common. Even along the dirt road I had driven in on, the gulleys alongside proved to hold more horrors.
The scale of the killings by neighbour against neighbour became clear.
I remember being told by a Tutsi from the capital Kigali who had, against the odds, survived. One of his best friends was a Hutu, they lived in neighbouring houses, and they played soccer for the same amateur team. Yet it was this man who walked the death squads to his home, and even took part in the killings. The fact that his teammate had initiated the killing of his entire family was what he kept returning to as he told me his story.
The man was, in the aftermath, known as a ‘plafond’. Someone who had survived by hiding in the ceiling.
Back in Gatonde, a deep and long mass grave had been dug, and groups of people emerged silently from the trees and fields, bearing grass mats or woven baskets with their dead. Some had only banana leaves to carry their loved ones. I recall it being very silent. No-one was crying. The people of Rwanda were beyond tears.
Some of my images from the set here look strange. I somehow overdeveloped the negatives and then proceeded to damage them further trying to dry them fast enough to transmit for deadlines. The negatives of – of course – my best images are heavy, stained gnarled and curled. So excuse the weirdness of the scans, but they are important images. Full set

  • Jennifer

    Thank you for the education. Many times words alone are not enough. Thank you for telling this story.

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