A scar on her right-arm bicep; formed by a wound from a machete cut, twenty two years ago this April; every year around this period, vivid images of the brutality replay on her mind; the vicious attack on her family by six men, in the early days of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The scar is a lasting symbol; a lasting memory of the events that forever changed her life and permanently dented the happiness of what had been a great family.
Apparently, the mission on the attack that morning was to finish off the husband who had, for long, been an ardent human rights activist and a constant thorn in the boots of the genocidal government.
In the months prior to the Genocide, he had been in and out of jail countless times, beaten and tortured by the then government on allegations that he was a collaborator of the rebel forces; it was true. And the torture didn’t deter him.
But after the attack, he was a dead man; two of his sons too. His house was set on fire. The woman was wounded and bleeding from the machete cuts; she was lucky they didn’t rape her. But life would never be the same again.
Now in her mid-60s, the woman has spent the last twenty two years dealing with the challenges of single motherhood, raising her four kids that survived; how they survived is another long, tough story; but forever thankful they survived, that is what matters.
But even after over two decades, her strong memory can list at least 300 people that she knew personally, all dead, brutally murdered.
In her sleep, she often recites their names, one by one; they include her sons, a husband, hundreds of relatives and friends, all among the over a million people that perished in one of the world’s most brutal killings.
Everyone was silent as she retold her story in a room full of both survivors and former perpetrators. An elderly woman seated by the window wiped a tear from her left eye; she lost her right eye in yet another incident of brutality.
As the woman went on with her narration, a tall elderly, dark-skinned man walked in, limping on a clutch, his left limb was disabled, later, when it was his turn to narrate his experience, explained that he fell and broke his leg in a trench as he ran away from his pursuers.
He too, survived but lost his wife and a son. They were found hiding in a huge basket, with clothes on the top; as the killers ransacked the house, the boy sneezed, perhaps from near suffocation; a heavy boot kicked the basked and two scared pairs of eyes stared death right in the face.
From his hiding spot behind the wooden closet, the man fled like a mad man, surprising the assailants, they followed him in hot pursuit but he was faster. He continued running, not in any particular direction, just running only stopping after he fell in ditch next to a road, badly twisting his bone.
He lay there, just waiting to be killed, just like the wife and son, a few minutes ago. He was lucky, a speeding van of a fleeing family picked him up and deposited him at a hospital in the process saving him to live to tell his tale, twenty two years later.
As these stories were being narrated, one man, seated at the back of the room seemed uneasy. With the forehead buried in his large palms, he occasionally raised it to look at the narrators, shake his head before burying it in his palms again.
The local leader presiding over the session noticed him and called out his name. He asked whether he had anything he wanted to say to clear his mind. The man remained momentarily silent, all eyes in the room focused on him. A loud silence engulfed the room.
Slowly, the man raised his head. He then looked at the local leader and nodded in approval. He wanted to say something. The silence deepened in anticipation.
“I was among the men that attacked and killed your husband and sons (pointing to the woman with a scar on her arm) and I know who killed your son and wife (pointing to the disabled man) he’s dead but I was there when it happened. I am sorry.” He said, before breaking down in tears.
He gave out a cry, perhaps not of pain but relief or maybe both. The man is among those that were charged and convicted by the Gacaca courts; served his time and released, not many years ago.
But even after jail, the guilt remained. For years, sleep has evaded his eyes. He has longed to meet and apologize to some of his victims; the meeting on Friday afternoon provided him the opportunity. His victims didn’t seek revenge but graciously acknowledged his apology.
His revelations were not received as breaking news. His role in the Genocide was well known; but that was in the past. The focus of everyone in the room that afternoon was threefold; to remember, unite and renew everyone’s commitment in fighting the Genocide ideology, the theme for this year’s commemoration.