A girl scrolls the gallery of photos on her phone and she comes across the one picture, black and white, of her grandfather. He stands grinning, but the picture is faded so she can’t really be sure if she’s not imagining it, projecting her feelings on a frozen frame.
Twenty-four years later, and her home like many in Rwanda is overshadowed by a solemness that comes with remembering the people lost to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The commemoration period to honour the people lost to this tragedy; remember, renew, reunite.
This time in April she remembers those missing from her life, mourning them has become a practise in loss and grief. It’s dissonant for someone to grieve for a person they never met, well technically she can’t remember him, but mourning those that died before we can build memories with them is a matter of relationships she can trace her lineage from.
On rare occasions she hears stories about her grandfather bubble forth from her father. So she spins tales of what his laugh might have sounded like, or the words he whispered as he held her as a baby; perhaps some cheeky joke about a girl who looks like her father, and in turn himself.
As a child she would wake from nightmares, her gut churning with fear, from the grief and rage that seeped into her psyche at the injustice of it all. She deserved a grandfather to spoil her and tell her stories her parents have buried to move on.
They say time heals all wounds, but she knows that time only dulls pain. The world kept spinning, and their life had to keep moving on. Arrested once in a while by her father’s consternation at her eerie resemblance to her grandfather, not just her face but the gestures of hands when she spoke, like the apparition of a ghost.
The commemoration period is not only about resuscitating compartmentalised memories, but seeks to gently remind us that the killings that seeked to erase them never succeeded because they live on in us. Grief travels through time to bring awareness of our lineage, and this cuts to the core of who we are.
Their energy embodied has been passed on and is now expressed in her; her resilience, her compassion, her joy in small things is a gift from those of a prior generation. Their hopes and dreams to live in peace are all happening now through her, and the current generation.
Hers is the generation that can heal old wounds, forgive old enemies, shift perspectives about her people, release the ideologies that has held preceding generations captive.
Twenty-four years later, this is the legacy of the current generation to leave behind violence, and bring healing, transforming the wounds carried from those who came before, this generation also changes the trajectory of those who come after.
The country that descended into the abyss rose to be a beacon of hope to others. Our power doesn’t solely lie in the metrics from the next big organisation validating what we know, it’s the candid conversations we have to face our collective trauma and not be drowned by it. Her father tells her the story behind that picture; it’s a family christening of a cousin, her grandfather is definitely grinning in that frozen frame.