WNN Book Excerpt: The Bone Woman

We spent the next day and a half in town, gathering our exhumation equipment from the Tribunal's offices to take to Kibuye by car. The roads of central Kigali were in excellent condition and allowed Bill to drive fast, roundabouts providing an extra thrill. When I wasn't sliding across the backseat, I could see that Kigali's hills seemed to create neighborhoods through topography. People walked along the road, some carrying pots on their heads, while others tended the oleander bushes in the median dividers.

The Tribunal's headquarters were in a small multilevel building that provided only the barest respite from the growing warmth and humidity. We set about unpacking the many boxes of equipment that had been shipped to Kigali in the previous weeks. As we sorted and inventoried the contents, it became clear that much of the equipment was either inadequate or simply absent: we had office supplies and rubber boots of various sizes, but the surgical gloves were three sizes too large; the scalpel handles were massive and their accompanying blades were so big I wondered if they were meant for veterinary pathologists; the screens were all wrong, nothing like the mesh trays needed to sift small bones and artifacts out of bucketloads of soil. There was no time to remedy the situation. We would simply have to be creative once we were in Kibuye.

We ate a late lunch at the Meridian Hotel, Bill challenging Dean, David, and me to think about our purpose in the work for PHR and the Tribunal. He reminded us that our priority as forensic anthropologists in Kibuye would be to determine age and sex, gather evidence of cause of death, and examine for defense wounds. The conversation was as yet removed from reality because we hadn't begun the exhumation. It was more about expectation and had an almost academic distance-Bill even asked us what sort of bone remodeling we might expect in people who had regularly carried heavy weights on their heads. When the conversation turned back to human rights and the right to a decent life, David told us about retrieving human remains from a mine in Chile, where he had helped found the Chilean Forensic Anthropology Team. He talked of how it took hours to just climb in and out of the two-hundred-meter-deep pit on a rope, retrieving the skeletons bone by bone, and of having to deal with the grief of the families sitting on the edge of the mine shaft. Although it was the highlight of the day to talk together like this, as we sat in the shadow of the hotel I began to feel chilly.

I couldn't shake the feeling even during dinner, which we ate at an outdoor Ethiopian restaurant set among other houses on an unpaved back road. At one point, four men dressed in different styles of Rwandan military uniforms strolled into the restaurant. They were carrying machine guns. I don't know what I expected to happen-were they there to eat or to arrest someone?-but everyone just looked at them and they looked back and then strolled out. Whether out of tension or jet lag, I suddenly lost my appetite; Dean and David weren't eating much, either. We watched Bill tuck into his dinner, but on the way back to our hotel, David said to me, "You didn't eat much. You are still hungry." It wasn't a question.

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