How to Research in Two Languages

The large majority of my research thus far has been reading — treatises on how the political situation in Rwanda led to the genocide, theories on how it could have been avoided, analytic dissections of how a political party was able to convince thousands of people to brutally murder thousands of others who had been neighbors and friends for generations. I’ve listened to dozens of radio broadcasts from Radio Rwanda, run by the Hutu extremist party that calls the Tutsis “cockroaches” and “infestations.” I’ve seen some footage from aid workers who couldn’t capture the extent of the horror but did it in little pieces. Those are haunting — sickening — powerful pieces.

I am lucky that I just spent seven months in France because this research would not be complete without the original French records. Some of the translations that I’ve seen are inaccurate, or misquote people, or just simply don’t exactly convey the intent. The interviews especially are much more powerful in French than in their English counterparts.

But a particularly interesting piece of the puzzle is the reports from other nations, especially France. France was one of the first countries to send in police and aid workers, but in stark contrast it became clear that many of the munitions and money that were used to fund the genocide and propaganda were from European development donations. This was true in Rwanda and in neighboring Burundi, which teetered on the peak of a similar genocide with similar causes and effects.

In the coming weeks I’ll hopefully be doing a series of interviews, which I think will add depth — and human faces — to my project. One of these will be conducted entirely in French. It will be challenging, but also a tiny bit cool, to need to translate my interview for the final writeup.