The Rwanda Genocide, twenty years later: 100 Days of photographs + poems by Wangechi Mutu and Juliane Okot Bitek

Juliane Okot Bitek
100 Days: a poetic response to Wangechi Mutu’s #Kwibuka20#100 Days

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Wangechi Mutu_Day 51_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Wangechi Mutu_Day 51_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Day 51
I waited for my heart to harden after the kids were gone
I waited for the years of love to dissolve as if they never happened
I waited for the day when the remembrances of silly family laughter
would disappear with the setting sun
& I would wake up innocent,
as if I had never known anything good

It was starting to happen in small ways
I couldn’t recall the last good day

And then all the flowers poured in
In wreaths and ribbons and bouquets
Thousands and thousands and thousands of flowers
Each dead at the stalk
All dead from the moment they were cut
Every single one dead in their glorious & beautiful selves

Just like the people we lost
In those one hundred days.
Day 52
So what if we were all Christian,
Would the media brand it
Christian on Christian violence?
How do the dead declare the part of their identity they were killed for?
Day 53
There were echoes if one listened for them
This wasn’t the first time

There were echoes in Acholi
There were echoes in Armenia
There were echoes in the Americas
In Bangladesh
In Bosnia
The Congo
There were echoes in Darfur
There were echoes in England
There were echoes in Finland
In Georgia
In Germany
In Hawai’i
In Herero
In India
In Ireland
There were echoes in Orange County
There were echoes in Ovambo
In Poland
In Palestine
In Queensland
In Russia
South Africa
Southern Sudan
There were echoes in Xenophobic attacks everywhere
Yugoslavia, Zimbabwe.

Where on this planet has not been touched?
The earth palpitates with violence
as if it needs violence
as if violence is a heartbeat – if not here now it’s over there
if it’s not over there now, it’s on its way here

Ours wasn’t the first or the only one;
It was our most painful.
Day 54
It is absurd to think that a little girl will forget
how her mother’s hands felt when she used to plait her hair
some tugging, some lining the scalp with an oiled wooden comb
for clean patterns

some cool oil, some warmth when her hands gently repositioned her head like so
sometimes a last pat on the back of her head, sometimes her neck.
Okay, it’s done, you can go out and play now

Absurd that any little girl would forget that – and has.

Wangechi Mutu_Day 55_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Wangechi Mutu_Day 55_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Day 55
Our lives became both
endless and immediate

There were no guards at the door
There was no door
& the only tax required was a last breath out

One moment you were alive
& the next gone
One minute you were alive
& moments after that you wouldn’t die
your chest gargled endlessly
we were afraid of being heard & then we weren’t
One minute we cared & the next nothing mattered
Day 56
Before the maiden voyage
we heard that every water-faring vessel
needed sacrifice

The sacrifice had to be young
The sacrifice had to be blemish free
The sacrifice had to have no dimples, no piercing in the ear
The sacrifice could be male or female

Stay close to home, we were beseeched
Stay close to home lest the sacrifice gatherers came by
We stayed close to home, in those first days
We stayed close to home but the sacrifice gatherer didn’t seem to care for details
They came to harvest all kinds of bodies for a ship whose size has never been measured
Day 57
We were halfway to dead when we were reminded
that we were halfway to dead
Hovering, suspecting, tripping
or tiptoeing over the terrain
lest any semblance of confidence betrayed us again.

Ghosts flitted about
attentive to our progress
Chrissie knew

Chrissie could see that having never left ourselves
we were never going to arrive
Day 58
Karmic proportions may indicate
that we wanted, expected, earned what we got,
that we wanted it
that we had to go through it
that we had to overcome the trials of life

And you who hasn’t gotten it yet
were and/or are lucky

think again
think again
as long as we’re caught inside the neveragainness of things
we will remain blind to the hundreddaysness of others

Wangechi Mutu_Day 59_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Wangechi Mutu_Day 59_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Day 59
You want me to talk about what happened
because you say you want to understand
because when you engage with people like me, you say you can make a difference
because you say we all need to make a difference
because all of it, as you say, begins with me telling you what happened

Change the blue dice
Choose the cast
Lock up the hypnotic evil-thought-bearing others

When you engage, you say, you can relieve me of my nightmares
you say you can help me to heal, to look forward without anxiety

When you engage, you say, you will do so with understanding
because you think that at the level of articulation that I have
you say you will have understood
because you will have gotten it, you say,
because you feel me, you say,
because you’re incensed, you say, & will continue to be.

Dear God (or whatever is left)
save us from all the saviours of the world
Day 60
I’m coming to understand what seems to be so apparent in nature:
time passes
things change
some live, some die
none escapes this life without an end

I’m coming to understand that there isn’t much more else to it:
time passes
things change
some live, some die
none of us escapes a final end.
Day 61
Incredulity is a soft-paced wonder
& in the thick of days
Memory is a slippery thing

What do we remember from those one hundred days?
What happened on the tenth day or night
Might have well happened today, or yesterday
Incredulous is word from an innocent space
It is tepid, blubbery sometimes
because everything can happen and everything did.

Wangechi Mutu_Day 61_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

Wangechi Mutu_Day 61_Rwanda Genocide 20th anniversary

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