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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand. Charles Dickens' story, "A Christmas Carol," features the ghosts of past, present and future. They try to teach a lesson in humanity, in caring for others. It's an apt lesson to remember, as this year marks the 15th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. Independent producer Jake Warga visited Rwanda and has this story of that country's ghosts.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

JAKE WARGA: Can you describe for the tape what you've seen?

HARRIET (Translator): What I'm seeing is, these are skulls.

WARGA: This is my translator, Harriet. We're in a crypt under the Nyamata Church near the capital, Kigali, where in 1994, 10,000 people took refuge from the genocide. They were all killed above us in a single day. And now, we're looking at their skulls, or they're looking at us.

(Soundbite of music)

HARRIET: Oh, my gosh. This is unspeakable. I don't know what to say now. But this should never have been, for heaven's sake.

WARGA: You can't miss the ghosts of genocide in modern-day Rwanda. They line every road, wander through every village and speak to anyone willing to listen. And the Rwandese work extremely hard to listen to the ghosts of Christmas past so that the past does not repeat itself.

(Soundbite of children talking)

WARGA: Today at one of Rwanda's many orphanages, children are decorating a tree in the center of their courtyard with Christmas streamers and bows. A paper banner is stretched across the gate, saying in English: Merry Christmas.

RAFIKI (Orphanage Operator, Rwanda): I pray that genocide could never, never, never again be happened, not only in Rwanda, but wherever in the world.

WARGA: Rafiki(ph) runs his orphanage for former street children just outside Kigali. In '94, he was shot and thrown into a hole and waited among the dead for two days 'til help came. I'm talking with him on the school's soccer pitch, and behind us in the distance are men tilling land, and they're all wearing pink shirts and pants.

RAFIKI: That is a uniform for prisoners in Rwanda. Those people are in jail.

WARGA: After genocide, the country faced the problem of having too many people in prison. So, instead of building more prisons, low-level offenders might serve some time, but then as part of reconciliation, given the pink uniforms and sent back to work in the community 'til their debt is paid. These men are helping the school cultivate a new garden.

I mean, is that kind of an uncomfortable feeling?

RAFIKI: You know, it's a kind of facilitating unity and reconciliation. Yes, they have participated on genocide, but they are also Rwandese and we have to share the same Rwanda. We have to all live together.

WARGA: The children had asked that we don't bring any Christmas presents because presents actually remind them of what they don't have, what's missing for the rest of the year.

(Soundbite of singing in Rwandese)

WARGA: Another experiment in dealing with the ghosts of the past is to live together. Millennium Village Project is one experiment to bring the past and present together. Victims and perpetuators live together in the same village in hopes that, as well as exchanging the occasional cup of flour, they also tried forgiveness. Traditional dancers put on a dizzying show before one woman steps up to tell us her story. Harriet translates.

Unidentified Woman: (Rwandese spoken).

HARRIET: She's saying that after the genocide, they felt so terrified. They thought that they would never live together again.

Unidentified Woman: (Rwandese spoken).

HARRIET: So, they had to come together to finish their houses.

Unidentified Woman: (Rwandese spoken).

HARRIET: They have no problem with each other. They are now living together peacefully.

WARGA: She's a victim of genocide, and after telling us her story, a quiet man stands to tell us his.

Unidentified Man: (Rwandese spoken).

HARRIET: Yeah, like, there would be a big group and they would all participate in killing.

WARGA: He's a perpetuator, responsible in part for her losses.

Unidentified Man: (Rwandese spoken).

HARRIET: Yeah, like, if you have surrounded people, ambushed the people, and you start participating in the killing, you can't say you are not involved in the killing. Definitely, you are among the killers.

WARGA: Now, they're neighbors. Their children play together, and when he's sick, they bring him food.

Can it happen again?

HARRIET: (Rwandese spoken).

Unidentified Man: (Rwandese spoken).

HARRIET: It can never go back again. That if it happens, he will just decide to die, but he can never kill again.

WARGA: He tells us he found God in prison, so I asked him if he's going to Heaven or Hell.

Unidentified Man: (Rwandese spoken).

HARRIET: That's one is to leave it for God to decide. That if he did wrong, God will punish him.

WARGA: Back in Kigali, there's a genocide museum above crypts that hold over 250,000 bodies, where the ghosts go to sleep once they've been heard. In 1994, between 800,000 to one million people were killed in just 100 days. That's five and a half people killed per minute.

Mr. RAFE BART (Group Organizer, People to People Ambassadors Program): I had a moment in the memorial where I completely lost it. I think I understood my response to Rwanda.

WARGA: I'm traveling with People to People Ambassadors Program. Rafe Bart(ph) is our group organizer. The program, started by Eisenhower, believes that cultural understanding and peace can come from talking to ordinary citizens. When I first met Rafe and heard his accent, I suspected there was a deeper reason he was here.

Mr. BART: I grew up in the apartheid era in South Africa. I just - I wasn't brave enough to take my own life, put my own life at risk, to really do something about apartheid, so I chose to leave the country. And then in '94, the images of what was happening in Rwanda were on the television, and my response to it was, oh, yes, it's Africa. I know Africa. I've seen this all before. You know, people in Africa kill each other. It's just the way that Africa is. I feel that this is my chance to make up for some of that, to do something here. The experience in Rwanda has taught me that you can't just look in the images in Africa and say, there they go again.

(Soundbite of music)

WARGA: The caution in Dickens' story comes by showing us what could happen if we don't change our ways. For this story, the ghost of Christmas yet to come takes the form of a soldier. Sam wouldn't talk to me on tape. We met at a cafe in Kigali. I found him deep in a corner, smoking. Sam just got back from Darfur, Sudan, as part of the African Union Peacekeeping Observer Troop.

Tell me about it, I said. Taking a huge drag, his first words came to me as smoke. If you go there, you will cry. He sighs and sinks down into a plastic chair. The smoke continues out of him like a soul, smoldering. Having survived the genocide, Rwanda was the first to volunteer troops into Darfur, eager that it should never happen again.

I can't, I won't, repeat the horrible and bloody crimes he described witnessing in Sudan. They're acting under the same UN charter that was in place in Rwanda in '94, which prevents them from using force. I point this out to him. That's why people died, he said. The world has not learned, his last words going up in smoke.

(Soundbite of singing in Rwandese)

WARGA: Driving past the airport to go home, I pass a genocide memorial, a white concrete column with manicured gardens around it; they're scattered throughout the country. An ignored past is a failed past, and all monuments are cautions to that. I hope that when all the survivors' voices are gone, when grandma's tears have stopped, these beacons to the collective memory of the country will tower above all else, the past watching over the future, each and every one.

(Soundbite of singing in Rwandese)

BRAND: Producer Jake Warga's piece, Christmas in Rwanda, came to us from the NPR series, Hearing Voices.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: There's more to come on Day to Day.

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