Surviving the the Rwanda Genocide - the story of one Girl

 One Girl's story of the Rwanda Genocide

Surviving the Rwanda Genocide

One Girl's Story

Monie sat there almost stoic like. We had  met a few minutes earlier and were outside of Gisemba Orphanage in Kigali, Rwanda. The war of 1994, was over, 800,000 people had died in a most horrible genocide including the parents of Monie whose only crime was that they belonged to the wrong tribe.

I tried to make her feel at ease by giving her a Coke and a croissant I had taken with me as my lunch, but she sat there just frozen. Her eyes looked sad, her face sunken, her shoulders slumped. Monie did not want to talk. I could see the pain of her heart. Her soul had been scarred and wounded. She was still like a raw wound, hiding like an injured animal inside of herself.

Just a few weeks earlier she had seen her father beaten and shot, her mother and sisters raped and killed. She herself was thrown for dead into a pit of bodies where she remained until nightfall and then crawled up through the dead bodies and made her way back to Kigali. There she knew of Gisemba Orphanage, where she knocked and was able to find shelter even though the person running it was a Hutu and not a Tutsi like her. She remained in hiding for three weeks until the war was over and the Hutu soldiers had fled and the Tutsi rebels had won the conflict and saved lives, even though it was to late for her family.

Monie still sat there, she moved a few times and I thought as to how I could reach her soul, touch her heart, help her on her way to healing?

I understood what was going on inside of her. She did not trust me. Like with so many people when they meet, there was an absence of trust. This little girl of eight had seen so much, had been hurt so severely, that it was safer not to risk, safer not to trust, to reach out and take the hand of this white man.

My thoughts went to my own life and how I reacted to someone when I did not trust, when I was skeptical about their intent and motive. When words would flow from their lips, but my heart could not receive them.


I thought how trust was a sharing; a knowing that I will not be hurt will not be used, abused, thrown away. Trust means I can be open, honest, vulnerable, share myself knowing that I will not be rejected, but what I say, who I am will be taken to heart and held there ever so tightly.

Monie did not trust me. I looked at her into the eyes, took her small frail hand and led her down the path to town. We stopped at a little restaurant that had just recently reopened. Bullet holes, stains were everywhere. The owner came to us and I asked him to get us some ice cream. He looked at me like I was crazy. Ice cream in Rwanda, with no electricity, no ingredients, impossible.

I looked over to a taxi driver and asked him to come. I gave him 20 dollars and instructions to go to the Belgian Sabena Hotel and bring us some ice cream. He thought I was crazy. Mumbled something about those crazy Americans.


The voice of Bette Midler drifted through the hot, humid African Air, "From a distance." I thought how ironic. That was exactly my problem.


In the meantime we sat there. We had ordered some fries and chicken. I have moved a plate in front of her. She looked at it. I could see her mind churning. She grabbed the drumstick and ate like a person who had not eaten in days. The food at the orphanage was nothing like this.


I began to tell her about my daughter and told her some funny things. She never spoke but her eyes began to gain color and sparkle. I began to tell her stories of my youth in Germany, of the times I spend all alone not thinking anyone understood me. About my father leaving when I was young and never seeing him again. Not knowing whether he was dead or alive.

She listened and even nodded or shook her head at times. Monie was slowly coming alive. The sound of the taxi returning got both of our attention. The driver approached us with a big grin and a package.

Quickly we opened it, got some plates and ate Mango, Pineapple, and Passion Fruit Sorbet. Monie surprised me when she started to say a few things as to how it tasted and how she had some before like this with her Papa. She was coming out her cocoon; she was starting to trust this strange white man who made her laugh, who ordered ice cream via a taxi.


She began to unfold. I had made her feel good about herself. For a moment the pain was put on a shelf. I had affirmed her as Monie, simply by being with her. My hand reached out for hers. For a moment she hesitated, and then put her tiny brown hand into mine. We smiled.

There is a great landlocked ocean in everyone, potential not yet discovered; not yet dared to be let out. There are words floating around that have not found the substance they fit; the words are ourselves-as yet unsung. Trust is knowing that the other person near us wants those oceans to be without dams, boundaries, those potentials fully realized. I saw it happen with Monie, even without words, just as our hands met, our eyes looked at one another. She knew that I understood her.

Like a flower that meets the morning sun she began to unfold, to talk to me, of her pain, of her heart. She trusted, she knew I understood. It was not the ice-cream, the food, it was that she knew I was not gong to harm her. She knew I was safe to be with, a place of refuge after a long storm.

She talked, I listened, and tears welled up in my eyes as I heard her story in childlike terms. I felt her heart, I felt her soul, felt her pain. It was as if I was experiencing it vicariously. She saw my tears, she felt my hand, she squeezed and we were in the same place.

Monie did now know it, she did not understand it all, but she was on her way to be healed to be opened, to be healed by sun, to be touched by light. Her wound could heal as it was exposed.

Strangely that night I thought about my own past, the wounds that were still there. The ache of heart of rejections, of feeling thrown away like a used Kleenex. I took my Swiss Army Knife and unfolded the small blade and squeezed it in my hand. I could feel the sharpness. The words let go came to me. I opened my hand and the knife dropped to floor. Symbolic of letting go of the pain of it all.

Monie will live with scars in her life, for all of her life. The miracle is that they do not hurt anymore. From time to time she will feel pain, but they will be fleeting reminders from her past. There will always be scars, they can always be seen, but she will know that there is light that heals the wounds and that the scars are reminders not so much of the wounds but of the healing light of trust.

 

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