Monday, April 30, 2012

Visiting Anasazi Ruins Near Bluff, Utah

16 Room Ruin - near Bluff, Utah

Ever had that moment when you wanted to explore an archaeological site without the crowds?  Although I was enjoying my spring break trip to places like Canyonlands National Park, I wanted some time in a less traveled location.  During my exploration of things to do in southeast Utah, I was pointed in the direction of 16 Room Ruin near the town of Bluff.

Late afternoon sun on one of the dirt roads we traveled.

This Pueblo III ruin used to be easily accessible from a footbridge over the San Juan River.  However, the bridge washed out in 2007, and has not been rebuilt.  While the ruin is still accessible from the river, to drive to it is quite a journey.  We researched online and found some rather convoluted directions, and set off with perhaps more optimism than sense to see if we could find this ruin.  It sounded simple enough, but we almost turned back at several points as we traveled far south of the ruin to find various dirt roads leading back to it.  At times, the directions I had seemed to contradict themselves, and I wondered if we would ever find the place!

View of 16 Room Ruin

Apparently this ruin is known by many different names (like 16 Room House, 17 Room Ruin, etc.).  For sake of consistency, I am referring to it as 16 Room Ruin.  Curved under a massive rock overhang, the ruin blends with the rock wall.  We could see it tucked in the alcove far above the road, so we parked and scrambled up to it.  There was no trail that I could see, although when the bridge was intact, this ruin received many more visitors.

Gap in the exterior wall of the ruin.

There was a sizeable gap in the exterior wall of the ruin allowing us to enter.  I must confess even though I knew this place had been depleted of any artifacts long ago, I found it exciting to be here.  We were careful to not disturb any walls, and only explored rooms where low walls and gaps made it possible to enter without climbing or putting our weight on the fragile walls. To preserve this ancient home for future generations, utmost care must be taken to prevent further damage to these delicate remnants.  That being said, this was one of my favorite places on our trip.

Inside 16 Room Ruin

Once inside, I marveled at the tiny rooms.  I wondered how tall the former residents were.  How many rooms here were used for living space, and which rooms were used for storage?  How many people could live in a place like this?  Two or three families?  One large extended family group?  With all signs of occupancy stripped from the site, I could only speculate.

Room with a view.

Fields stretched below us, with the river bottoms in sight.  What a view!  16  Room Ruin faces north, unusual in a Pueblo site.  But the alcove contains a perfect, sheltered ledge on which to build, and the rooms feel very safe and defensible.  With water and flat land suitable for cultivation nearby, it is not surprising that these rooms were constructed here.  

Interior of 16 Room Ruin

Of course, hundreds of years ago these rooms would have been roofed.  The rocks used to form the walls lacked any uniformity of size and shape, but since the walls were still intact after all these years, the construction method was obviously effective.  I could see small holes in some of the lower walls, and wondered if they were used as peepholes to see out, or if they provided ventilation.

Holes for seeing out, or for ventilation?

The east side of the ruin has a series of holes along its interior, where logs could have been placed to create a floor for a second story.  It is highly possible that this section of the ruin had two stories.  Not only are there holes to support a second floor, the walls above that area differ in construction style.  Since there are not many possibilities for outside entrances in the existing walls, there may have also been roof entrances for these buildings.

Uniform row of holes on the left could have held logs for a second story.

Late afternoon was beautiful up here, and very peaceful.  We took our time just looking at the remnants of an ancient society.  I doubt anything would remain of my current home in 1,000 years, and it is amazing that so much has survived.

Handprints above 16 Room Ruin

Handprints are etched in the rock wall that rises above the ruin.  Are the reddish spots naturally occurring, or were they placed here by the original residents?  Coming to a place like this raises more questions than it answers.  I wonder how many early residents of Bluff took home a souvenir from this place.  What remnants used to rest on these dirt floors?  What secrets do these walls hold?

This eastern section of the room appears to have had two stories.

Back outside, we prepared to scramble down the steep, overgrown slope.  I didn't see signs of anyone coming up here recently, and I was glad there wasn't a well-traveled trail.  It preserves the solitude of this wonderful place.

Rooms on the western end of 16 Room Ruin.

We did not access all areas of this ruin, as we did not want to damage any of the walls.  I have no idea if there really are 16 rooms, or where this count originated.  I suspect any such count must include second story rooms.  The alcove just isn't that large.

Rocks on the way down the slope.

As we picked our way down the slope back to the parking turnout, we spied many smooth, rounded rocks. They look as though they tumbled through the river many years ago.  Smooth and colorful, we chose rocks that fit comfortably in our hands, and then, we set them back on the slope, taking nothing with us from this place.

Eastern section of 16 Room Ruin

Having traveled much further than we anticipated to reach the ruin, we were later than we had planned heading back to Bluff.  We stopped at the Twin Rocks Cafe, and ate delicious fry bread with our dinners.  After eating cinnamon ice cream for dessert, we were refreshed and ready for the short drive back to Blanding, Utah.  What a wonderful day!

Just east of the alcove where the ruin rests.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

National Poetry Month - Sara Teasdale

Arlington Cemetery - Photo courtesy of William Newbold

"There Will Come Soft Rains"
(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum-trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

--Sara Teasdale

This Sara Teasdale poem was used as the title for a Ray Bradbury short story.  You may want to check it out!

Gettysburg - photo courtesy of William Newbold

Friday, April 27, 2012

Visiting Dead Horse Point State Park

View from an overlook at Dead Horse Point State Park

After leaving Canyonlands National Park, we drove on Highway 313 to Dead Horse Point State Park.  The views here are spectacular, and we spent a little time enjoying the scenery before heading to Moab.  This was our last stop of the day.  

A short trail connects various viewpoints along the rim, and you can look across mesas and down to the Colorado river 2,000 feet below.  We experienced high winds when we visited on an early April afternoon.  Even with blue skies and sunshine, it was very chilly.  We were grateful for sweatshirts and it was a hold on to your hat kind of day!

Hold on to your hat!  It was a windy day.

Formations jut from the buttes and mesas at Dead Horse Point State Park.

Late afternoon proved to be a good time of day to visit in April, as we were able to see sunlight on the river below.  Cowboys used to herd wild horses out on to the point.  Its narrow neck could be fenced to keep the horses corralled.  After taking the best horses from the herds, the remainder were set free.  Legend has it that some horses were left on the point, and did not leave, but rather died there of thirst with the river flowing down below.  That is how Dead Horse Point got its name.

Sunlight on the Colorado river - the famous view of Dead Horse Point

Dead Horse Point is operated as a state park with a $10 per vehicle entrance fee (at the time of this writing).        The park offers camping, biking trails, hikes, and incredible views.  Located just 32 miles from Moab, this is a great stop if you are visiting places like Canyonlands or Arches National Park.  

View from Dead Horse Point overlook.

If you go:  From Moab, drive northwest on Highway 191 for 9 miles.  Then turn southwest on Highway 313.  Travel 23 miles to Dead Horse Point State Park.  The road ends at the visitor's center and overlook area.  It takes about 45 minutes to drive from Moab to Dead Horse Point.  Plan on 1/2 hour to 1-1/2 hours  at the park to enjoy the overlooks. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hiking to Mesa Arch - Canyonlands National Park

View from Mesa Arch - Canyonlands National Park

On our half-day visit to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park, we stopped to hike the Mesa Arch loop trail.  This easy trail is only .5 miles in length, and has an elevation gain of 100 feet.  We hiked the loop in about 35 minutes, which included plenty of time for taking photos.

Mesa Arch Trail

The Mesa Arch trail is about 6 miles from the visitor's center, and there is a parking lot at the trailhead.  The trail is well-marked.  We started on the right-hand side of the loop, as did many other hikers.  Later, we noticed the trail guide suggested starting from the left side of the loop, which may be a better choice since there are interpretive signs along the way.

View from the trail to Mesa Arch

The trail is mostly dirt, but does cross stretches of slick rock. Cairns mark your way as the trail winds gently over the Navajo sandstone layers.

Slick rock near the Mesa Arch trail

We were almost to the arch before we saw it. The arch has formed in the white layer of Navajo sandstone and hangs precariously over a cliff.  Be advised that park policies forbid climbing on the arch.  Despite this, some people scrambled to the top while we were there. Besides being dangerous, it also interferes with taking photos!

Mesa Arch - Canyonlands National Park

While climbing on the arch is forbidden, you can walk right up to the edge and see a spectacular view of Canyonlands beneath the arch's expanse.  There are no fences or guardrails here, so use common sense when approaching the cliff area.  The drop off from below the arch is about 500 feet.  As you look across Canyonlands, however, the elevation drops are even greater.

View of Canyonlands from Mesa Arch

When the loop trail reaches the arch, it affords wonderful views of Canyonlands and the Island in the Sky area.  The LaSal mountains are 35 east of the arch, and we could see the peaks in the distance, still capped with snow.

View under Mesa Arch - Canyonlands National Park

If you have limited time in Canyonlands as we did, visit the scenic overlooks, and take 30 minutes to hike the loop to Mesa Arch.  This is an easy trail, and well worth your time.  On a sunny day, wear sunscreen and take water with you.  Beware of lightning on stormy days.  This arch is high atop an exposed mesa.  There are no facilities at the trailhead.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

National Poetry Month - Thomas Hardy

Silver Lake - Brighton, Utah

Poets often cover emotional themes in their work.  This "break-up" piece by Thomas Hardy is masterful in its moodiness.  His language captures the realization of a loss and the detachment that follows.   Beautiful in its stark description, Hardy's "Neutral Tones" is one of my favorite "sad" poems.


We stood by a pond that winter day,
And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,
And a few leaves lay on the starving sod;
         – They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.
Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
Over tedious riddles of years ago;
And some words played between us to and fro
         On which lost the more by our love.

The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
Alive enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
         Like an ominous bird a-wing….

Since then, keen lessons that love deceives,
And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me
Your face, and the God curst sun, and a tree,
         And a pond edged with grayish leaves.

--Thomas Hardy

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Island in the Sky - Canyonlands National Park

View from the Buck Canyon overlook, Canyonlands National Park

We started our spring break trip with a morning drive to Canyonlands National Park.  "Vast" is the word that came to my mind as we drove through the park.  Canyonlands is very large (527 square miles) and is divided into districts by the rivers that cut through it.  The districts are the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers themselves.  The Island in the Sky  and the Needles are the two districts most accessible by passenger car.

As is typical for me on a road trip, my itinerary was too full, so the eliminations began early.  The first day, we visited the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands.  As we had about 3-4 hours, we decided to drive to the Grand View Point, with a stop to hike to Mesa Arch along the way.  We paid our fee and stopped at the Visitor's Center.  There are restrooms at the Visitor's Center, and two picnic tables right by the parking lot.  We had a great picnic lunch and then headed out to explore the park.

Near the entrance of Canyonlands are two rock formations named after ironclad Civil War ships:  Monitor and Merrimac.

Monitor and Merrimac face off in the desert of Canyonlands National Park.

On our drive through the Island in the Sky, we stopped at several overlooks.  The first overlook we passed was Shafer Canyon.

View of Shafer Canyon from the Overlook.

We could see hiking trails and dirt roads down below.  Looking down into these canyons made me understand the origin of the name "Island in the Sky."  We were high up, and could see the vast canyons nature cut into this "island" plateau.

Buck Canyon Overlook

Buck Canyon stretched off to the side, its imposing red walls dropping steeply down to the floor below.  It was beautiful, even in the glaring light of midday.

Canyon stretching across the plateau at the Buck Canyon Overlook.

With a detour to Mesa Arch (which I will cover in the next post), we continued on to the Green River Overlook and the Grand View Point.  When we stopped to see the Green River curving and carving far below us, it was very windy at the overlook.  The only birds out were some hardy crows who cavorted in the strong winds, folding their wings and diving at alarming speed toward the earth, then spreading their wings and soaring on the wind, higher and higher across the canyon

Green River Overlook, Canyonlands National Park

Despite the wind, I enjoyed seeing the meanders the Green River has etched through this land over thousands of years.   

Grand View Point, Canyonlands National Park

From the Grand View Point, you can see the park stretching out to the Needles district, and you can also see the LaSal Mountains and the Abajo Mountains in the distance.  The brochures state the the Grand View Point is the best place to see the park.  We pulled off at an overlook thinking we were in the right place, and were definitely not impressed with the view.  Returning to the car, we consulted our map and continued on until we found the Grand View Point.  It was a much better view of the park, and quite pretty.  

Purple flowers growing at Canyonlands National Park

I have found that each of Utah's national parks has its own feel and beauty, and I enjoyed Canyonlands.  I would love to return to do more hiking and really see the park, but if you only have a few hours, the drive is paved and quite pleasant.

Planning a Trip to Canyonlands
DO start your trip planning with a visit to the Canyonlands website.  Here you can peruse information about things to do, view and print maps and brochures, and more.  It was a great help to me in planning my itinerary on this vacation.  The park website makes suggestions for your visit depending on how long you have to spend in the park and has sample itineraries varying from a couple hours to a few days.  As with other national parks, there is an entrance fee.

Leaning rocks on the drive into Canyonlands National Park.
If you go:
From Salt Lake City drive south on I-15.  At Spanish Fork, take US-6/US-89 east.  Continue heading southeast until you come to I-70.  Take I-70 east.  Pass the town of Green River and continue for several miles until you see the turn-off toward Moab, UT.  Take exit 182 toward Moab (US-191). Drive south on 191 until you see the turn-off to Canyonlands.  It will be on the left (west).  It is approximately 240 miles from Salt Lake to Canyonlands.  Plan on 4 to 4-1/2 hours driving time to get there.

Note:  Canyonlands has vault toilets.  They were the nicest vault toilets I have ever used, and several even smelled fresh!  That being said, it was April, and things may be different in the summer heat and at the height of tourist season.

Monday, April 16, 2012

National Poetry Month - Walt Whitman

The Astronomer - Jan Vermeer

When I was growing up, light pollution was not nearly the problem it is today.  I could lay on the ground in my backyard and look up at the Milky Way, lost in the endless number of stars.  My children have not had the same opportunity.  Last fall when we were in Tropic, Utah, I took them outside, and we lay on the ground and looked at the Milky Way.  I have always been fascinated by the stars and the immensity of space.  No wonder I love astronomy in art and poetry as well!

"When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer"

When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with 
much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

--Walt Whitman

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Titanic - 100 Years Later

The much-touted Titanic embarked on its maiden voyage April 10, 1912 with 2,223 people on board, including the crew.  Four days into its voyage, Titanic hit an iceberg.  It was 11:40pm on April 14.  Less than three hours later, at 2:20am on April 15, Titanic sank.  Only 706 people survived.*
(Read more Titanic facts here.)

Why does the wreck of the Titanic continue to fascinate us?  Perhaps because in hindsight, it shows us the spectrum of human nature, both the best and the worst.  It is easy to armchair quarterback this one from a hundred years' distance.  Some things seem obvious now:  there should have been enough life boats for the number of people on board, and it was wrong to lock people in steerage and not let them make it to the deck.  However, I think we should tread lightly in judging some of the actions of those who were caught in a disastrous moment.  One wealthy woman survivor is quoted as lamenting the loss of her possessions as the ship went down..  It sounds inappropriate at best, but who hasn't said something stupid under duress?  Who knows what kind of shock she was in at the time?  Being adrift in a lifeboat in the dark and cold may not have been the ideal conditions for incredible insight.

The last lifeboat to leave the ship, holding 22 passengers.

I think the most fascinating thing about the Titanic is not the ship and its construction and opulence, but rather the stories of the people.  Someone on that ship paralleled each one of us in age, circumstances, or hopes and dreams.  They were awakened in the night, and had to make life or death decisions rather quickly.  Would you be a hero?  If  you saw an empty seat on a lifeboat that was being lowered, would you make a leap for it?  What if you were a man, and were supposed to leave that seat for women and children?  Would you leave the seat empty and watch the boat leave?  J. Bruce Ismay, the president of the White Star line who built Titanic, chose to take the seat, and although that action saved his life, it set him up for a great deal of ostracism and criticism throughout his life.

Many people made sacrifices to save others, knowing and accepting their own fate.  Who would you be under these circumstances?  I think exploring the stories from Titanic lets us explore the possibilities in our own natures from a safe distance.  That is the fascination::  mentally putting ourselves in that situation and thinking about what we might do, without really having to go through it.

Bow of the Titanic

How will you mark the hundredth anniversary?  You could watch the James Cameron film again.  Or read stories of Titanic's survivors.  Rosa Abbott, for instance, was the only woman survivor pulled from the water. 

In honor of the anniversary, here are some other things you might find interesting: has digitized several records related to the Titanic, and has made them available for free for a limited time.  It is interesting to scroll through the records and see what you can learn.  For example, did you know that employees on the ship were terminated on April 15, the day the ship was lost?  Those who were rescued were now unemployed and left to their own devices when they reached shore in North America.  One page I looked at showed corrections to a list of crew members given to American authorities.  It read:  "Wright W was entered as lost instead of saved."  Mr. William Wright, age 40, survived the Titanic.  He worked on the ship as a steward, made it onto lifeboat 13, and was rescued by the Carpathia.  Can you imagine the emotional roller coaster of Mr. Wright's family?  Lost, and then saved. What a story in a simple handwritten line on an old piece of paper!

RMS Titanic gives information about the ship, stories, and exhibits and commemorative events surrounding the 100th anniversary.  If you get a chance to go to one of these Titanic exhibits, they are well worth it.  We visited one in Idaho Falls a few years ago.  When you arrive, you are given the description of a passenger on the ship to take through the exhibit with you.  You know if they were a first, second, or third class passenger, their name, age, and a few other details.  As you go through the exhibit, you view artifacts in amazing condition.  One I remember was a perfume bottle that still emitted a delicate scent after all these years.  Also inside is a huge wall of ice, to give you an idea of what an iceberg is like. How long can you hold your hand on it?  Long enough to melt an indentation?  This ice block helps you appreciate the intense cold of that fateful April night. By the time you complete the exhibit, you are anxious to find out whether the passenger you were given survived or not.  Just like on the Titanic, many did not survive.  Some of my family members were sad to see their "passenger" did not make it.  I was moved to see that the female passenger I had been given was one of the survivors.

Here is another website that is interesting to navigate.  It has a Titanic Tribute section that includes photographs and stories of passengers and crew.  Very informative and makes the people come alive.

Lastly, the comprehensive site at is also worth your time and has details about the ship, passengers, survivors, and more.

*The number of passengers and survivors varies slightly depending on your source, from 2,222 to 2,228 passengers and from 705 to 706 survivors.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

National Poetry Month - Gerald Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Tree at Versailles, France

During my senior year of high school, I attended a scholarship competition that involved a couple of days of testing, speeches, and interviews.  On one of the exams, I was asked to analyze this poem.  I had never read it before, but fell in love with it as I wrote about it on the test.  It has remained one of my favorites.  Oh, and I must have done all right on the analysis because I got the scholarship!

Spring and Fall:  To a Young Child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah!  as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

--Gerald Manley Hopkins

Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Review - The Luncheon of the Boating Party

The Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland is a wonderful historical fiction book that captures  1880s Paris as artist Pierre Auguste Renoir struggles with his artistic identity.  Renoir is committed to the Impressionists, but is also struggling financially and plans to do a painting to hang in the annual Salon.  This break with the Impressionist exhibit might unhinge the group, and he grapples with his love of painting en plein air, and his need to make a living.  He wonders if, for him, impressionism has run its course.  He doesn't want to be a completely traditional painter, and as a new movement of painting the miserable side of la vie moderne begins to swell, Renoir clings to his vision of painting la vie en rose.  Life has enough misery, he maintains.  He wishes to paint things that are beautiful.

Vreeland ably writes the character of Renoir, giving him personality and character traits that make him come alive on the pages of her novel.  She captures the sights, sounds, and food of 1880 Paris, and her writing flows.  In the novel, she follows Renoir in the months he takes to plan and paint the famed "Luncheon of the Boating Party."  It is a critical painting in his career, and although you know the painting will get completed, Vreeland manages to build tension in the story as Renoir scrambles to get it done.  His desire to complete it completely outdoors on a series of Sundays using live models makes the task seemingly impossible as the cast of characters alters.  Will he ever get all the models together consistently?  Will he make his deadline?  Will this be his piece de resistance, or his greatest failure?

La Grenouilliere - Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The novel includes images of several Renoir paintings.  Vreeland weaves these paintings into the narrative as well.  Renoir used many friends as models for this painting.  It is the first time Aline Charigot models for him, but not the last, and eventually, she becomes his wife.

Vreeland does not shy away from the fact that many artists carried on affairs with their models.  She also acknowledges the seedier reputation of the girls who frequented the dance halls of Montmartre and often became models. However, she does not stoop to graphic, gritty accounts, and keeps her prose as colorful and sparkling as a Renoir painting.  This is a very enjoyable read, and very quickly and painlessly teaches the reader about the main players in the Impressionist movement in Paris.

For more information about Renoir's painting, click here.

Read my other blog post about Renoir.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Genocide in Rwanda - Remembering April 1994

Gorilla in Rwanda

This April marks the 18th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, a tiny African country that used to be more known for its mountain gorillas than for mass killings.  But now Rwanda has gained notoriety for an extremely organized and efficient genocide effort.  Between 800,000 and 1,000,000 people were killed in 100 days.  With many people dumped in mass graves or thrown in the river, and whole families and villages massacred, it is impossible to account for each individual who died.  8,000 people dying each day is an incomprehensible number.  The fact that many of the victims were killed not from a distance with bombs and grenades, but in a very personal manner--being hacked to death with machetes--is even more disturbing.

Rwanda - Land of a Thousand Hills

The United States had a difficult time even calling it a genocide.  Calling it by name would have obligated the US to do something about it.  Overall, the US and Europe chose to look out for their own citizens and interests, and left the Rwandans on their own.  Tensions in Rwanda were running high in the early 1990s.  The UN had a peacekeeping force on the ground.  There were many indications and warnings that the genocide was pending.  The UN commander, Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, even asked permission to confiscate weapons caches that were in place in Kigali to prevent the weapons from being used in the mass killings he feared were imminent. Dallaire's request was refused.

Map of Rwanda and genocide sites.

If the international community had intervened with a greater level of commitment at any point in 1994, many lives could have been saved.  UNAMIR (the UN Assistance Mission To Rwanda) was understaffed and ill-equipped.  Their mission was so narrow that UN soldiers were not able to save many lives.  It is haunting to read the communications from  Lt. General Romeo Dallaire requesting forces and permission to act as the genocide erupted around him.  This competent and seasoned commander wanted to do more, and could have, had the UN given him the mandate and resources he desired.  Instead, his hands were essentially tied, and he was left to witness the horrors of nearly a million deaths.

Why talk about genocide now?  Why remember Rwanda?  Here are two things for you to consider.  18th century statesman Edmund Burke said "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."  If we are unwilling to learn from past experiences, how will we respond better the next time a world crisis rolls around?  With many hot spots around the world, it is only a matter of time until the international community is faced with genocide again.  Secondly, to quote Philip Gourevitch, a journalist who has written about the Rwandan genocide, "The best reason I have for looking closely into Rwanda's stories is that ignoring them makes me even more uncomfortable about existence and my place in it."  (from We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, by Philip Gourevitch, Picador, 1998). Like Gourevitch, perhaps we should be more uncomfortable with ourselves and our place in this world if we DON'T care.   Should we, as people, be able to ignore the horrors happening to others?

Nyarubuye Genocide Memorial

Americans are quick to state "Never again!" when it comes to talking about the Holocaust or other genocides.  But how firm is our commitment?  Would the US population really support putting American lives on the line to save people half a world away caught in situations most people don't fully understand?  And yet, that may be the only way to make it so genocides don't happen again, and again.  In his book, Shake Hands With the Devil, Romeo Dallaire said, "If we believe that all humans are human, then how are we going to prove it?....In the future we must be prepared to move beyond national self-interest to spend our resources and spill our blood for humanity....For the sake of the children and of our future:  Peux ce que veux.  Allons-y."  (Where there's a will, there's a way.  Let's go.)

If you would like to know more about the genocide in Rwanda, Artwife recommends the following:

  • Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza.   This book tells the story of a woman survivor who hid in the tiny bathroom of a pastor's house for three months.   Seven other women were with her.  Immaculee tells of the role her faith played in her ability to cope with the terror of her situation.  Her story is compelling and uplifting as this amazing woman chooses to rise above the horrors she has lived through.
  • An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina.  Paul Rusesabagina of "Hotel Rwanda" fame tells his own story here, and professes that he is not a hero, but just an ordinary man.  As you read his account, you cannot help but wonder if placed in the same situation, you would be as extraordinary as this ordinary man.
  • Shake Hands With the Devil by Lt. General Romeo Dallaire.  This book is a wrenching insider's account of a UN commander on the ground in Rwanda. 
  •  We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch.  Journalist Philip Gourevitch explains in uncomplicated prose the history of Rwanda's ethnic tensions, and succinctly summarizes the events of 1994.  He interviews many who were there, and includes their accounts in the narrative.  If you want a great overview of the genocide and its aftermath, Gourevitch's book is good choice.
  • Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda by Alison des Forges.  This book was published by Human Rights Watch in 1999.  It is difficult to find a copy of this one, but it reads well, even at over 700 pages.  I read this one year between Thanksgiving and New Year's, and it is unforgettable.  The late Alison des Forges painstakingly documented the genocide from its inception to the aftermath, and effectively analyzed the movements of the Interhamwe, as well as the international response (or lack thereof).  Des Forges manages to distill an enormous amount of information into a surprisingly approachable volume.  I was fortunate enough to get this on interlibrary loan from a university library.  You can also find a PDF file of it on the internet if you search.  It is well worth it to read even parts of this account.
  • Hotel Rwanda - movie.  This is an excellent movie with Don Cheadle starring as Paul Rusesabagina (see "An Ordinary Man" above), a Rwandan hotel manager who manages to save over 1,200 people in his hotel during the hundred days of genocide.  It is both riveting and terrifying.  Yet Rusesabagina's story of courage under extreme circumstances is a must-see.  The film is rated PG-13, and is appropriate for older teenagers and adults.
  • Sometimes in April - movie  This movie aired on HBO, and subsequently on PBS.  It is the story of two brothers who found themselves on opposite sides during the genocide.  As one seeks to rebuild his life, he hears from his brother who is imprisoned for war crimes.  The imprisoned brother claims to have information for him regarding his wife and child who were killed in the genocide.  The movie is based on actual events, and is an interesting picture of people trying to cope with the aftermath.