Each year Rwandans commemorate the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi over a period of 100 days, starting with a national week of mourning from April 7 to April 13.
This year’s genocide commemoration period found me in the Eastern Province districts of Gatsibo and Bugesera.
Here I was introduced to colorful Kinyarwanda words and expressions like; Duhumurizanye Iwacu, Mvura Nkuvure, and Humura turi kumwe.
These are all message-laden indigenous expressions that immediately grabbed the attention of the Kinyarwanda learner that I am.
I was in Gatsibo and Bugesera to do stories about the workings of community-based Sociotherapy groups operational in the two areas.
Literally, it translates to “treat me and I treat you.”
This was the first expression that grabbed my attention and for obvious reasons; It is what Sociotherapy is all about.
The concept of Mvura nkuvure or Sociotherapy is similar to that of local Cooperatives, only that Mvura nkuvure deals more with the psychological side of the business -treating each other’s psychological wounds.
A sociotherapy group will come together to bail out a member in financial distress, but most of their energy is reserved for hearing out and healing each other’s pain arising from their past, and in this case, their experience of loss and suffering arising from the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
Duhumurizanye iwacu simply means “comfort each other in one’s neighborhood”.
In Bugesera district’s Mwogo Sector, I encountered Duhumurizanye Iwacu Rwanda (D.I.R), a local NGO whose main focus is to implement Mvura nkuvure in Bugesera and Gatsibo districts of the Eastern Province.
Remember the two districts were greatly affected by the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
The overall vision of Mvura nkuvure is to continue to facilitate Rwandan communities to create a healthy and peaceful society that promotes reconciliation and the equitable distribution of resources for the well-being of all.
More specifically, its objectives are to restore human dignity and communal safety, reduce psychological stress and enhance mental health in society, and to support government efforts in creating unity and reconciliation.
100 days of mourning
Every Rwandan and friend of Rwanda is called to be part of it. Activities include ceremonies at memorials and gravesites, solemn reburial of human remains, conferences, meetings, and vigils across the country, and continuous broadcasting of programs about the past atrocities and current commemoration events.
The questions these activities raise are; how much memory can a society take without losing itself too much, and how can Rwandans find a route between too much memory and too much forgetting to prevent re-traumatization?
One woman in Gatsibo narrated how constant memorization of the painful past has incapacitated her in her daily life tasks. The bad memories cause her Kuhamuka (severe physical and psychological distress).
The distress of ihahamuka is a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The woman went on to distinguish ihahamuka from ihungabana. The latter is a milder form of distress. It refers to something you live with inside your heart and to sadness when you think about anything that troubles you. In contrast ihahamuka generally draws the attention of other people.
As a person affected by ihahamuka she would run away, often screaming, when remembering the threatening situation they were in.