17 December 2017

Rwanda: Jabo On How Poetry Helped Him Overcome Suicidal Thoughts

Come December 27, Elysée Jabo will stage an exhibition at the Kacyiru based Inema Arts Centre. Dubbed 'The story behind me' the exhibition will be more than just photographs.

"The event will be put in way of saying these are photos that describe each scenario of my past. Things that I hold within myself. The photos will be explained because I will interact with the people on the why and the how and answer all their questions.

Then later on I will deliver the story behind the photos. The idea is to show an image of a whole story behind that image,"Jabo explains.

His story

Jabo was born and raised in Rwanda, but his parents were killed during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi when he was just one year old. His paternal uncle adopted him soon after the genocide.

He was living a beautiful and happy life under the care of his uncle, when in 2005, while in primary five, he had an accident that immediately changed his life.

"I stepped on a landmine that took both of my legs and from that part on, things started changing too, because that is the same period that I found out that I was an orphan."

"From that moment I started to feel different and became distant from other people. The situation became tense when I reached S.3. Even when I had a chance to get prosthetics and continue my studies, when I got to high school things continued to get darker and blurry and I started to feel like I don't belong to this world. I started to get suicidal thoughts and created my own world within the world that I was living in," he narrates.

His melancholic depression increased as he got older because he learned about his parents at a later stage in life, which captured him immensely.

"When I lost my limbs, at first I was feeling very normal but the more I realized that there are certain things that I cannot do that's when it started to get darker within myself," he adds.

During his dark world, when suicidal thoughts were creeping in, he started to write letters to himself.

"Every moment that I was living in, and everything that was consuming my thoughts, I would put it to writing and keep it to myself, so that often I could get to read and see if things are getting better or worse," he says.

Sharing his life through poetry

He recalls in 2011 when a friend, Christian Intwari of sick city, read some of the writings that he had made.

"Christian mentioned that he wanted to have a youth commemoration and he wanted to do it in a way that is interesting but at the same time commemorate.

That's when I showed him my letter and asked him to share with anyone who wanted to recite it. He read it and decided that instead of another person reciting it I should, because my words would come out better."

"He said that it was inspiring but he was actually speaking to himself. He eventually asked me to perform at 'Our Past'. At first, I did not want to go out there and share my own thoughts and feelings but he insisted and I decided to give it a try."

That year, he made his first performance before an audience. Immediately after the event, he was receiving positive feedback and some were captivated by the spirited performance.

"It gave me a new perception of how to actually help people get better although I wasn't okay within myself.I guess that when you actually help others, you are helping yourself even though you might not acknowledge it. From there on, I kept on writing but in a poetic form but to me they were simple writings and letters to myself."

"At later stage in life I got to learn and appreciate. It helps me out and keeps me away from the darker thoughts and loneliness that might keep me away from appreciating what I have right now. Every time that I write, I write things that I have lived, seen and I try my best to put it in a poetic way other than writing a long letter to myself," he says.

With the positive effect of his poetic performances, he decided to participate in the monthly Spoken Word Rwanda shows last year, until this year when he decided to use other avenues to tell his story differently.

"I kept getting positive feedback that kept me going back until recently, in January. I got an experience where people misconduct themselves, whether knowingly or not and tend to do things that hurt me or discriminate me, saying words that are painful to me."

"Getting to hear stories from other people but in different versions of what or why I lived, made me think 'what's the point of telling different stories all along of how you actually live? Why not go out there, share it all and tell people what I actually live, how I live it and how I actually plan to live it? I need to tell people what actually makes me go forward, believe in myself and not have suicidal thoughts anymore," he explains.

This is what the event will be about. There will be seven pictures that Jabo made with African Miles, portraying himself and how he lives because 'sometimes people say I look normal and that I am okay. They look at me ever since I got prosthetics and say, how come you still have crutches? How come you still walk like that?'

"Some pictures I portrayed myself without the prosthetics and I will get to share different experiences throughout my disability and my whole life and what others who go through a similar experience," he says.

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