The New Times (Kigali)

21 April 2013

Rwanda: Enjoy Your April Night Rains but Never Once Forget 1994!

opinion

With the nightlong drizzles of this past week, and their musical tap-tap on the roof, those of you not afflicted by sleep disorders must be sleeping easy. I can imagine you in dreamland, enjoying all the wonders of the world, only to be knocked hard against the rock of reality when you wake up: it was only a dream.

Well, c'est la vie! Mentally shrug it off and go back to your humble slumber and enjoy it.

For, what never occurs to you is that that humble slumber is the stuff of life. It is the ultimate joy of living, when you get it after you've done what matters. And what matters in life, except that you should live to serve others by all your humble means?

You may live long, own all the riches on earth, but you are only an insignificant, tiny dot. In fact, considering the intergalactic space, its vastness, its millions of years of existence so far and yet to come, a tiny dot is a huge thing. However puffed up with self-importance, as Shakespeare aptly puts it, in the end you'll fall into "mere oblivion/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

Humble dots, then, let's all together live for others instead of hungering for what's not ours and let's enjoy our humble slumber. The reality of life is that this is not always possible. The greed of man is such that they'll always deny many that simple pleasure. To appreciate this, remember what happened in Rwanda.

When in mid-April 1994 one early evening that musical tap-tap began to play out and Gertrude Gahonzire, 12, began to doze off, the door burst into splinters and she shot up, suppressing a scream. As Gert and siblings cringed against the wall, they were blinded by torchlight and one sweeping kick sent them through the door-less exit of their small room and into their equally small living room. There they crouched, covering their heads as if it'd make them invisible

And, indeed, for the next few minutes nothing happened. They could hear noises but did not know what was happening. Then the eldest brother pulled them all up and silently pushed them through the door-less opening and, once outside in the rain, fiercely whispered to them to run for it. The next thing she knew, little Gert found herself in a swamp alone where, for the following three weeks, she lived off a mixture of rain water, mud and leaves.

When finally she ventured further inside the swamp, she found herself at the edge of Akanyaru River, which she knew very well. They'd played around that river, drawing water with their blackened cooking pans before going back home. Now, however, there was no home to go back to. Only one thing was on her mind: getting to the hill across the river without being detected.

She sank back in the swamp to wait for the evening. When evening fell and with it the rain, she listened intently and looked up and down the river and, when she saw nobody, she softly and feebly swam against the current until she reached the river bank across.

Once across, she rested her exhausted, hungry body that was dripping with April rains and fell into what was more of a coma than sleep. But when late in the morning she opened her eyes, she screamed.

She was lying on a mat in a hut that looked much like her parents'. Instead of her cold, damp dress, a warm kanga was covering her little, hungry body. When she tried to get up, she could not find the energy and sank back. Then a shadow fell across her eyes and, on looking up, she found herself gazing in the eyes of an old woman who bent over her and asked: "Wavyutse?"

With energy from she-knew-not-where, she got up and hugged her legs, sobbing softly.

She knew Kirundi, from the many interactions her parents had had with Barundi. You see, Akanyaru River is the frontier between what was then Butare Prefecture in Rwanda and northern Burundi. So, Gert had made it safely across Akanyaru River!

The old woman nursed her until she was strong enough and then accompanied her to the border post, where she found all her siblings. After a few days, their mother also crawled from the river and was reunited with them. Together they got a lorry to take them to Bujumbura where they waited until July that year, when the RPF put an end to Genocide.

Today, Gertrude, now 32, can tell you that her father was killed and her mother was gang-raped. As to whether anything beyond her story happened to her, that will remain buried in her mind until the end of her times. But, knowing the demons of the time, we know the story is longer.

Enjoy your night rains, yes, but never forget to spare a thought for Gert and a million-plus who went through such horrors and worse. For, worse there was - much worse.

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