I have a friend who I met in curious circumstances; it was about 2 years ago, around this time of year. I was driving in the rain when I got to a junction and saw a man on his knees in the puddles of mud and the flowing red rivers of silt.
I wound down my window to shout at him “are you OK?
Are you crazy or something, why are you just kneeling in the road?” His eyes didn’t register me at all, I thought it was rain in his eyes but it was tears.
I just shrugged and carried on driving and almost forgot the incident. A year later I met the man in a shop near my house, he sat on the veranda staring into the abyss. I introduced myself and bought him a beer, I eventually asked him about the first day I saw him on that junction.
“My family was stuck at a roadblock there, we were around 11 of us. We were all kneeling as they hacked us one by one. They were taking their time to torture people, we all just said goodbye and hoped to meet in heaven.
There were only 3 of us left, they were making us dance for them. I danced like I never danced before and I’ll never dance again.”
“They were so drunk and high that some were getting drowsy. We danced for them for one hour until they told us to kneel down to die. As the machete struck my brother, a rain cloud came out of nowhere and it started pouring. Rwandans are so scared of rain that they ran and left us there. Just my sister and I survived.”
When Rwanda was broken after the Genocide against the Tutsi, the trauma was just too much to even begin to understand.
The first priority was just to get society to a level where it could even begin to deal with the trauma. On a national level we had reconciliation and rehabilitation of both survivors and killers but on a personal level the effects of trauma are still felt.
Psychological trauma manifests itself over generations, several aspects of our beliefs and behaviour are determined by what previous generations went through. We will never know the full effects of 1994 until maybe a century from now. We can either treat the symptoms or go for the cause.
The symptoms of psychological trauma are; flashbacks, emotional detachment, depression, insomnia, repressed memory, nightmares, hallucinations, extreme anger, as well as schizophrenia and other extreme mental illnesses.
Children who weren’t born in 1994 now feel the effect from their parents. Scientists now have found a way to remove trauma or tragic memories from the brain. This can be done either by medication or neurosurgery.
The question to my survivor friends is this; would you want to erase your memory of the trauma? This is because happiness and trauma are stored in the same files in our hard-drive, if you delete the sad memories you will also lose some happy ones.
Then there is rediscovering the fact that a traumatic event happened to you, and then you can go back to square one.
In dealing with this trauma we have so many options that can help us. Holistic therapy is important is dealing with physical and mental trauma combined.
I was recently impressed by a lady who teaches yoga to genocide survivors and AIDS victims. Scientists now readily accept that many physical ailments have psychological causes. Healing can be speeded up if the mind is healed first, cancer sufferers with stronger faith and mental capacity tend to survive more than others.
The problem with Rwanda is that we are dealing with mass-trauma, from survivors, to witnesses; they are all victims of psychological trauma.
The only method that could work on that scale is to copy the pictures you see in China, where you see masses of people in a square or stadium doing tai-chi or relaxation exercises that promote mental harmony.
The techniques are universal; relaxing your body, clearing your mind, thinking positively, and visualising success. Of all the methods, nothing is more effective than just talking about your feelings to someone who cares.
Nobody in Rwanda wants to forget what happened but we want to be able to deal with the traumatic memories. Some survivors have used the worst events of their life to spur themselves on and build something out of that pain.
My Friend says “I don’t want to forget what happened, until the day my family was killed, we were the happiest family.
To forget how they died is to forget how they lived. All those who died will be reborn in the faces of my children and their children.”
Rama Isibo is a social commentator