“Do you want to view the open graves?,” my friend, Ange, asked. I shook my head vigorously. “I’d rather not see it. Ever. Are you crazy?” That was a lie. What was in there? How bad was it? I did a quick risk-reward analysis. Risk: exposure to graphic imagery and possible trauma. Reward: more context, and therefore better understanding. I was on a curiosity voyage. More details weren’t unwelcome. ALSO READ: 29 years later, Rwanda remembers I waited for her to lead the way to the gardens while I stumbled down the stairs after her. Another visitor took a spot beside me, silently brimming with anxiety. “My God!” I nodded, as that about summed up my thoughts on the scene in front of us. We waded left to the “Wall of Names” and burial grounds, which provided a much-needed breath of fresh air. They were lovely and serene. To honour the victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the Kigali Genocide Memorial, run by the Aegis Trust, welcomes about 100,000 visitors each year. More than 250,000 victims of the genocide are buried at the memorial which was inaugurated in 2004. Before Ange and I embarked on our trip, she had given me a great deal of information and I assumed I knew what to anticipate in general. I was eager to visit the memorial site in person to see how it would operate. How could this unconceivable past possibly be translated into reality? What would it feel like to lose myself inside there? My first impression was not terror or shock or surrender or dread. It was confusion. ALSO READ: Kwibuka: Rwanda to consolidate Genocide memorials When we first got there, I found myself entering what appeared to be a sizable municipal park through a pretty unremarkable-looking walkway. A sea of pavement. A vast expanse of greenery. Multiple cars. It looked like the kind of place you might go, on a lazy weekend, for a leisurely stroll. Then we walked into an orientation room to watch a 9-minute film. That was when the full depth of what I had signed up for hit me. Like many non-Rwandan visitors, I first encountered a visual representation of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi through Hollywood dramatisations of what happened. I tracked the stories, ingested the media coverage, and scrutinised the theories. Ironic, in retrospect, some of them were not as accurate as I thought. In Exhibition 1, I found the section titled “Before the Genocide” to be extremely fascinating. My main concerns were to understand why and how it happened, and this section fully addressed those concerns. As a Cameroonian, I am well aware that racial discrimination in African nations, including Cameroon, might be linked to conflicts in colonialism. It all made sense after reading about the Belgian colonial rule. The addition of ethnic identity cards, which furthered racial division, the preference given to the Tutsi over the Hutu for administrative positions, and later their hypocritical support of the Hutu in the belief that ethnic majority was political majority all gave me the impression that the Belgians were deliberately sowing division in a manipulative and wicked manner. Everything was orchestrated to cause conflict. Pieces click into place in my mind one after the other, like pin tumblers in a lock when the proper key is inserted. ALSO READ: Kigali Genocide Memorial launches exhibition about Genocide history You think you’ve seen it all but then you peel off another ring of the onion. Currently, there is turmoil in Cameroon as a result of prejudices towards the Anglophone minority that date back to the colonial reign of France and the UK. France has a reputation in central Africa for promoting governmental systems that have been detrimental to the masses. I was astonished to learn that France’s engagement was active, contrary to my preconceived notions that they had played a passive role. With the aid of financing from the French government, former Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana was able to purchase weapons from a French company. The French government also trained Interahamwe militia and the Rwandan Armed Forces and established ‘Operation Turquoise’, which served as a refuge for the militia as the RPF forces advanced. France went well beyond simply turning a blind eye, in contrast to the rest of the international community. I now want to know what France’s underlying motives were. My increased scrutiny is not reserved for colonial roles. People did this to other people, I reminded myself. Seemingly normal neighbours, spouses, and friends that put gaping holes and cuts on their counterparts. People were obviously insane. Simply put, the idea that colonialism was being used to obscure blame for people who inflicted scars on others who were powerless to protect themselves from these monsters angered me. Around Exhibition 2, “Wasted Lives”, it began to feel like too much information to take in at once. It felt like a drawn-out yet interesting history class. The second exhibit is titled “Wasted Lives” because some of the mass killings that were chronicled there have not been deemed to constitute genocide under International Law. The atrocities examined include Namibia, Cambodia and the Balkans as well as the Holocaust. I was a distraught wreck by the time Exhibition 3 “The Children’s Room” rolled around. Guilt overwhelmed me, as did a strong want to cry. The walls were lined with life-sized photos of children, some as young as a few months old, accompanied by intimate details about their favourite toys, their last words, and the manner in which they were killed, demonstrating once again how thoughtful and attentive the curators of this gallery were, which only emphasised the genocidaire’s cruelty. Fourteen children. I counted every one of them, and now that there’s nowhere else to go, I'm just standing there, staring at one of the kids’ photos. Fillette Uwase Age: 2 Favourite toy: Doll Favourite meal: Rice and fries Best friend: Her dad Behaviour: Very intelligent Cause of death: Thrown against the wall These are children, not stats. The benign version of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi reinforced to us by movies and books did not capture the full scope of the barbarism. The image of survivors, beaten and bloodied up, made my blood boil. Scratches marred their back and arms, machete marks adorned the tops of their heads. They had come face to face with demons and they were marked by the encounter. In more ways than one. I was also curious as to how the country was able to heal and reconcile, and it turned out that it was due to how engaged and intentional they were in their own reconciliation. Because the Genocide taught them that they could only rely on themselves, they took it upon themselves to make that future a reality... Bringing the perpetrators to justice while preaching a message of unity and reconciliation. I felt inspired. I have always excelled in history class. However, unlike in a history lesson, I could not be accused of being an expert on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. At best, I am a highly uneasy observer. Furthermore, I am both embarrassed and grateful to know that when it all becomes too much to bear, I can just turn off my phone or close my laptop or just walk away. Those who have been directly touched by the Genocide have no such luxury.