Every survival story must be publicly proclaimed

However much we may want to avoid overly dwelling on the hell that engulfed Rwanda in 1994, we must know that decency alone, if nothing else, demands us to publicly proclaim and repeatedly recite all who endured it, especially during this season of sorrow.

However much we may want to avoid overly dwelling on the hell that engulfed Rwanda in 1994, we must know that decency alone, if nothing else, demands us to publicly proclaim and repeatedly recite all who endured it, especially during this season of sorrow.

For, not doing so is playing in the hands of those who deny or minimise the Genocide against the Tutsi.

If 1,074,017 victims have been confirmed to have perished, why does the world continue to insist on quoting “800,000”, not “over 1m”, if it’s not to minimise it? Yet, even today, every so often victims are discovered in hitherto unknown places.

Just as every so often we encounter a hitherto unheard story of a survivor that still manages to convulse us, as I did only the other day: a story like the following, which I chanced upon last month, on a visit to a friend in Mageragere.

In April 1994, Leititia, at seven years old, was a blossoming, vivacious and beautiful thing in second year of primary education.

As Leititia recounts, today there being no school, rather than engaging in seeking to fulfil scholarly aspirations, she was busy in family chores, carrying water drawn from a river on her head.

“Today” here refers to 20th April 1994 in the then Butare Prefecture, where Leititia had lived in a happy family of six.

That “today” would turn out to be the beginning of an unimaginable brutishness that she’d live for the rest of her life.

At the family house doorway, she found her father and siblings lying mutilated, in a pool of blood. She could hear noises inside and so, walking gingerly back, she climbed up a tree in the compound and hid in its branches.

When Interahamwe/rapists were through with her mother, they killed her and, on leaving the house, they noticed the water container. They knew the girl was hiding somewhere but their search yielded nothing. They left, promising to return later; more urgent ‘work’ awaited them.

When night fell, little Leititia climbed down and, like a zombie, just walked away from the house until she collapsed and slept on the side of the path. She was roused awake in the morning by a gendarme going on duty, who took pity on her and left her in the care of his wife.

However, “care” was far from the wife’s mind, as Leititia learnt when she overheard her talking to neighbours later, and at night she set off again, on her ‘zombie walk away’.

Excruciating details apart, a month or so later she ‘miraculously’ found herself in Kigali, after walking more than 250km, scrounging for bits of edibles on the way. Relatives from Kigali had always talked about living near Gitikinyoni.

But, unknowingly, she found herself around Remera Giporoso where a ‘Good Samaritan’, an elderly man, offered to ‘shelter’ her.

That’s when she realised that, as words, ‘miraculously’, ‘Good Samaritan’ and ‘shelter’, in this “land of milk and honey”, as she had been taught to recite in class, had lost meaning. The “milk and honey” bit itself was a sick misnomer.

In fact, equating hell to that Rwanda was an insult to hell!

Recounting the agony little Leititia went through in Remera with the ogre of a “Samaritan” is not for the weak hearted. Suffice it to say that from that night, her tender, seven-year-old body was subjected to nightly torment that left her dead to all senses.

It was the same nightmare every night: clank the door open; tear at her; sometimes throw crumbs of food at her; assure her death awaits outside in form of Interahamwe; lock the hovel from outside after about an hour; bam and scram.

For eternity, her bleeding, starving body lay in the dark dungeon and underwent that torture without even a mat to lie on. And, needless to say, without water, fire, cloth, anything.

It was in these conditions that she gave birth to a baby girl four years later, assisted by the “Samaritan”. And another baby girl, five years later. And a baby boy, seven years later.

Wrap your mind around this: at fourteen years of age, bleeding-skeleton Leititia was mother to three bleeding-skeleton babies, fathered by a génocidaire-killer of thousands of her kith and kin.

When the rotting foursome emerged from the dungeon covered in maggots, rescued by neighbours who heard the cry of a baby, it was 2001! Rwanda had seen the fall of the génocidaire government and the RPF government was in its seventh year of existence!

Where the vampire “Samaritan” is, whom Leititia wouldn’t recognise, anyway, she knows not.

“My biggest regret is that I’ll never be able to see President Kagame!” says now-blind, HIV-afflicted Leititia. Her plight is no longer on her mind; she has learnt to live with it.

She is happy that her children are going to school free; she is on free anti-retroviral drugs; has a brick house with electricity and running water; survivors have seen their dignity restored; many killers and their victims have reconciled; she lives in a clean, prospering Rwanda.....

However teary our eyes and often our telling, we must bring out these stories.

butapa@gmail.com

butamire.wordpress.com

 

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