Camera Machete: Rwanda 2006

The church at Nyamata is now a Rwandan Genocide Memorial, commemorating the deaths of
the 50,000 people laid to rest in its grounds.
Tinder dry, the marram road uncoils,
clings to his skin, stains his hands red.
He walks through swarm dust clouds to Nyamata,
where a church lies flat, symmetrical, its geometry exact.
The brickwork still has holes in it.
Inside he watches stale blood weave its path
through walls and floorboards,
carve alter cloth to patchwork.
He feels the crypt’s hollow like an impostor.
Touches skulls, arms, feet, a single broken tooth.
Smells death close, but tempered, papered into crevices,
ingrained beneath a socket, a strand of hair,
tiny fingers divorced from a hand, like blades.
Twelve years on he has bought cows,
tilled the hillside into rows,
which crack to rivulets in the dry season,
plucked mangoes, oranges, ground coffee beans,
smoked bees from hives to make his honey.
He greets his neighbours ‘Amarkuru, nemeize’
we are all Rwandan.
Placid as Lake Kivu, before the rains come.
When they arrive, they take him by surprise.
A woman, white and blonde, a man with a beard,
glasses perched on a beaked nose,
a girl, about twenty, with a notebook.
They stake him out like an exhibit.
Swing cameras against the shelves of bones
and flattened by light, he raises his arms,
surrenders to them, head lowered, hands splayed wide.
I am Alphonse.
And one dry season, I went back,
to watch blood drain from red to brown,
the Interahamwe come, with cameras.
I lay in the marram road outside,
flat, face down, chewing dust,
grinding earth between my teeth like maize and waited
for photographs to colour into flesh, features,
curves, lines of cheeks and eyes and lips
and even names of all the dead,
in marshland, river beds and hollow crypts.
Giving me the faces I remembered.
This poem was Long Listed for the National Poetry Competition 2020
I worked in Romania, then qualified as a social worker and have worked in China, Outer Mongolia, Canada, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Nepal and briefly in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea. That was with VSO, the French organisation Humanity and Inclusion, Relief International and the Red Cross. 

 

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