Rwanda will forever be associated with the horrific massacre and genocide of nearly one million people in 1994. And that is a double tragedy. It should also be associated with what has happened since, We have as much to learn from how individual Rwandans are dealing with the aftermath of the evil that overtook their country as we do from the genocide.
What is overlooked is the remarkable resilience of Rwandans – to rebuild their country – to exorcise the evil that manifested for 3 unimaginable months – and to personally embody peace and forgiveness.
My daughter Catherine invited me to Rwanda ten years after the genocide. We visited the Genocide Memorial Museum, met dozens of survivors and attended the wedding of Catherine's childhood friend. Rwandans provide answers to tough questions. How does life continue for survivors after unspeakable tragedy? How does one interact with people who killed your loved one(s). Is forgiveness possible? How does a country heal?
Remember most of the killing in Rwanda was done by hand, using machetes and clubs with a sharp spike. And these were often brandished by neighbours and former friends. This was not the impersonal, automated killing of modern warfare. Yet Rwandans are learning to live together and to teach the rest of us about genuine peace and forgiveness..
One person who survived for 91 days hiding in a cramped bathroom with seven other women is Immaculée Ilibagiza. She lost nearly half her weight (115 – 65 pounds) during her ordeal. She escaped to discover most of her family had been murdered. She eventually met and forgave the man who killed her mother and brother.
This testament to love, faith and forgiveness has been brought to life by recent Vancouver resident Leslie Lewis Sword, in Miracle in Rwanda. I experienced a preview of Leslie's one woman show last fall. It is riveting. Leslie's performance is neither voyeuristic or maudlin. She makes it possible for darkness to be enlightening She is now touring the world. Vancouver-ites can catch Leslie's performance during the Fringe Festival from now until September 19th and after the fringe from September 28 – October 3rd. All performances at the Arts Club Theatre. For the rest of you, check her website for performances in your region or country.
There are numerous books on the Rwandan genocide. I have read most of them. Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands With the Devil , is one. Another, I highly recommend is Canadian Dr. James Orbinski's, Imperfect Offering. The last is New Yorker writer Philip Gourevitch's, We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families.
How countries and political leaders deal with the aftermath of catastrophe is much different than individuals. For years there have been reports that the current Rwandan Government practiced genocide itself against the original perpetrators of genocide when they pursued a million of the 'genocidistes' who fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo. A UN investigative report on massacres in DRC has just been leaked. Have a look at this BBC report.