• 100 Life Stories

    #100days100RwandanStories it’s a series of stories that details the profound impact of The Genocide against Tutsis on diverse personalities ranging from scholars, survivors, politicians and journalists and many other individuals that had direct or indirect role either as victims, perpetrators and actors. We start the series with few selected stories and more stories will be published during the period of Kwibuka23 (April - July).

    Anifa

    Jo Ingabire.

    Survivor, Writer and ST Director

    It’s not every day you meet someone who saved your life. At barely 5 feet, I towered over her. A small, diminutive, perfectly dressed woman, she was no longer the cool girl I knew. I remember her in blue faded jeans, a white shirt and red lipstick; bronzed by the January sun, gleaming with youthful beauty.

    I muffled welcome and quickly ushered her through the lounge room, and was soon spilling hot water all over my hands in an attempt to make her a cup of tea.

    She could barely look me in the eye. She wiped away a tear with a delicate, manicured hand and sipped on the white cup staining it with red lipstick.

    “Last time I saw you, I was cleaning your wounds as your mother clasped her hand on your mouth to muffle the screaming.” She whispered.

     

    I didn’t expect that. It never occurred to me that my face might have haunted her for 21 years. I remember the colour of her lipstick but she remembers the colour of my blood. She was only 14 when the war broke out. She climbed over the fence to help us, dodging bullets and Interahamwe when more able neighbours refused to budge. And there she was; the embodiment of courage and goodness, bravery, grace and beauty, my perfect hero. I was the end of her innocence, a bullet-ridden child’s body forever burned in her mind, a traumatic memory to carry for many years to come. She sat next to me and held my hand.

    Kwibuka 20

    Nicki Hitchcott.

    Author and Associate Professor and Reader in African Francophone Studies, Nottingham University

     

    In April 2014, I travelled from the UK to Rwanda to carry out research for my book, Rwanda Genocide Stories: Fiction After 1994. I also wanted to participate in the national commemorations for Kwibuka 20, the twentieth anniversary of the Genocide Against the Tutsi. On 7 April, I attended the official commemoration ceremony at Amahoro stadium in Kigali. What this experience confirmed for me was just how difficult it is to commemorate genocide, an issue that was crystallized in the specially commissioned spectacle, Shadows of Memory. In this piece, performers re-enacted the history of the genocide. At one point, a jeep raced into the stadium driven by what we took to be Belgian colonizers wearing pith helmets. These Belgians then swapped their pith helmets for blue berets and left the stadium, powerfully symbolizing the withdrawal of UN peacekeeping forces once the genocide began. But the most troubling part of the spectacle was when the performers fell to the ground as if they were dead and then lay there for several minutes until soldiers ran onto the pitch and lifted the people up, restoring them to life. What was so troubling about this scene was the response it evoked among survivors sitting in the audience. While the bodies lay on the ground in positions that were all too familiar to those who had witnessed the genocide in 1994, uncontrollable screaming could be heard all around the stadium. People were having post-traumatic flashbacks brought on by visualizing the performance. As the screaming survivors were carried out by therapists to a quiet place, reporters from around the world zoomed in with their cameras.

     

    As I watched Shadows of Memory, listened to the screaming, and saw the journalists zooming in, I became acutely aware of my own position in relation to the genocide. Although I was in Rwanda to research and better understand the Genocide Against the Tutsi, I felt like an intruder, a tourist, and a member of the international community that had failed Rwanda in 1994. That feeling is something I will never forget.

     

    Commemoration is painful, but we must never stop remembering.

    Untitled

    Celeste Dushime.

    Rwandan.

    Two summers ago, I was a member of the Yale Young Global Scholars Program, a leadership program with student from all over the world. One particular evening, it was decided that we would watch ‘Hotel Rwanda’. I had never watched the film before or any other genocide film; those kinds of films tend to lose significance when everyone in your family has real life scars. It was a mortifying experience. Every time an actor screamed it echoed through me, those were my people! The cruelty presented before me was disgusted. There was nothing humane about Hutus in my eyes.

     

    However, sitting in a room where I was the only Rwandan, no one could identify me as a Tutsi. The female lead in the film had light skin, which made me, a dark skinned girl, automatically ‘the other tribe’. Heads turned and stretched to give me a look over, scrutinising eyes burning guilty into my skin. To them, I looked like the people I hated. For the first time I felt the shame my Hutu classmates had had to carry; guilty by association, sons and daughters paying for the parent’s crimes. I had always prided myself on being purely Tutsi, an irrelevant title, yes, but I was born that way. I was born on the right side of the genocide, post 94 and completely innocent. Slowly, the shame began to lift and regret set in.

     

    “How did I become that shallow?”

    Football my saviour

    Eric Eugene Murangwa.

    Survivor, Founder of Football for Hope Peace & Unity and Survivors Tribune.

     

    In the early hours of April 7, I am woken by the sound of bullets and bombs coming from all corners of Kigali, and soldiers who have come looking for weapons swamp my neighbourhood. About five soldiers break into our house. I only escape death when one of the soldiers recognises me as ‘Toto’, the goalkeeper of Rayon Sports. A few weeks before, my team has played in CAF — the Confederation of African Football Cup — and has eliminated El Hilal from Sudan, one of Africa’s football giants. For about three hours this win is a very significant moment in Rwandan history. Rwandans become united, with scenes of celebrations that bring Hutu and Tutsi people together. The El Hilal game is a big factor in why this soldier spares my life.

     

    In 1994 I am 19 years old and the goalkeeper for Rayon Sport, one of Rwanda’s biggest football teams. When my teammates and I go for training at Mumena Stadium on April 6, it is a normal afternoon in Kigali, if a normal afternoon includes explosions and grenades and shootings. Still, I don’t have the slightest idea that this day would become the worst in Rwandan history, a day to reduce every single Rwandan to tears. As the killings intensify, my teammate, Munyurangabo, makes sure that I and a number of other people are all looked after by providing protection, supplies and hope. He goes out to look for food to feed us all. He gets information that enables some of us to escape to the safe area of the city. He even goes the extra mile to negotiate with killers when they want to attack us and, in my case, he pays his own money to free me and some of my colleagues from the Interahamwe. Out of more than ten people who are sheltered at Munyurangabo’s house, only Munyurangabo himself loses his life. Munyurangabo is not a Tutsi. He is not even a so-called ‘Tutsi sympathiser’. He is just an ordinary man who happens to be an incredible human being, with courage and humanity that most people inside and outside Rwanda lack, at a time when people need it most.

    Abanyarwanda: Are we proud or ashamed?

    Margo Rukashaza.​

    I think I am proud.

    I am proud of my name and origins,

    I am proud of culture and customs,

    Proud of my childhood and language,

    I am proud of my beliefs and history.

     

    When I meet someone who shares this pride,

    I raise my guard instantly, I’m cautious and vigilant.

    I study my surroundings before I open up,

    I calculate my approach and measure my behaviour.

    I wonder often if I should ever reveal myself.

     

    We have learned to live like this,

    We are cultured in playing this game.

    We’ve been burned and toughened,

    We are not naïve anymore, we understand.

    We are insiders.

    The Children’s Room

    Dr Laura Apol.

    A poet and scholar at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

    I am a poet. I write poems as a way to sort through complicated feelings, to help make sense of the world. When I began writing in Rwanda, I used poetry to put into words what I was thinking and feeling—a way to understand myself and the world around me. In particular, I wrote in response to the genocide memorials I visited: Nyamata, Ntarama, Nyanza. I could not comprehend, except through poems, the magnitude of what had taken place.

     

    Here is a poem I wrote in response to the first site I visited: Nyamata.

     

    Genocide Site 1: Nyamata Church

    Nyamata
    means place of milk.

    In this room, piles of clothes.
    Bullet holes in the ceiling and walls.

    Blood on the altar,

    a glass box of rosaries,
    preserved like the priests
    who chose safety and fled.

    The niche for the Host
    is open, empty; God,

    nowhere to be found.

    Rows of fractured bones
    form a mute congregation
    in this place of milk
    and horror.

    Broken bodies, shed blood,
    but not those of a Savior—

    not in this Golgotha, this God-
    forsaken
    place of the skull.

     

    Over and over, poems helped me express what within me was deeply troubling. However, there was one site that never found its way into a poem. It spoke to me too deeply and profoundly for words: the Children’s Room at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre.

     

    When I first was directed to the Children’s Room, I thought it was a place (as is found in many museums and educational sites) where children learn from and engage with information that is being presented. I expected a room that explained, in child language, the ways hate turns to harm. I was wrong.

     

    The children’s room is not a room in which children learn. It is a room that commemorates children who were killed in the genocide. It focuses on just a few children, up close. It offers two or three aspects of each child’s life: her favorite games and foods, his nicknames,thememories her family shared, or his last moments before death.

     

    In visiting the rest of the memorial sites, I had taken my time, taken notes, taken it in, trying to fit together pieces I was only beginning to understand, wanting to fully comprehend what was being presented.

     

    But there, in the children’s room, I could hardly breathe. I had worked so hard to comprehend, to make sense intellectually, to understand the long road to genocide and to find my place on it—the role of my country, the place of my white skin. But here was something beyond history, intellect, numbers, chronology. Here were bright faces, too-brief lives.

     

    All life shortened is a loss, is potential gone missing. But this was incomprehensible in a completely different way. These were children, utterly innocent—entire lives and dreams waiting to unfold, a future that would never take place.

     

    I knew then that no matter how many books I read, how many memorials I visited, how many testimonies I heard, how many notes I took or poems I wrote,this was a horror I could never fully comprehend; that whatever I learned in weeks or months or even years, this was a loss I would never understand.

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