Reflections on Sunday: Graphic pictures? What can you see?

If I always talk in jest, today I must disappoint. As all who care for the sanctity of humanity know, this is a season of sorrow in Rwanda.

If I always talk in jest, today I must disappoint. As all who care for the sanctity of humanity know, this is a season of sorrow in Rwanda.

 Not that the shame visited on this country can ever be seen in seasonal recollections. Rather, that time must be spared to embark on a healing future.

Else, the 1994 horror is a permanent smudge on the collective morality of mankind.

And if I disappoint in not batting banter, I’ll also disappoint in showing no civility to sensibilities. I know a journalist who pleaded with the President of Rwanda that people be spared the graphic pictures of the 1994 genocide.

However, isn’t revisiting that horror once in a while the least we can do for its survivors?

What does it mean to be a survivor? Imagine you are a 12-year-old youth in a happy family of mother, father and four siblings in a Rwandan village.

One Wednesday morning, 6th April 1994, you have just enjoyed a hearty breakfast of steaming porridge. After, father goes to his workstation, mother to her house chores, children to school or to play with village chums.

During the day, some members of the family meet but others don’t, until evening when they converge for evening prayer and meal. The children are in bed when father, portable radio set to the ear, rushes to mother with the news:

“Mama Baby, we must hide the children! President Habyarimana has been killed!”
Father is not aware of who or what has killed the president. Still, he knows that that death spells doom for not only the family but a whole section of Rwandans.

As father stands paralysed with fear, mother reacts. She dresses up the children in warm clothing and takes them to the nearby swamp for hiding.

Mother then goes back to get Papa Baby and, together, they gather the nearest pots and pans and rush to the swamp.

Meanwhile, Mama has remembered to pick a matchbox and a packet of porridge flour. She has even remembered a warm blanket that her youngest children will surely need.

For four days they are able to stay in the swamps while some nights they move to the edge and make a fire that they cover with some cloth and cook some porridge for the very young ones while they all try to warm themselves.

By Wednesday 20th April, however, they are all famished and that night mother and father venture out to rummage through their fields for food.

Unbeknown to them, though, one Interahamwe is still roaming the fields. On spotting the two, this latter makes a maniacal scream of triumph:

“Nazivumbuye za nyenzi!” (I’ve got the cockroaches out of their lair!). Soon, the hills are swarming with devilish silhouettes descending on the victims.

The crazed gang parades their naked victims around the villages. After that, they take turns raping the woman as they chop at every part of the man’s body and taunt him to look at the spectacle of his wife.

Then the victims are bound up together, barely conscious, as the gang goes for a short night’s rest.

Unfortunately, by morning the victims are still conscious and are treated to another round of torture. They also are taunted to reveal their children’s hiding but stoically refuse.

Barely alive, the two are forced to dig a grave and, even before it can be deep enough, the woman is chopped up into pieces and the man is forced to scoop up the pieces and throw them into the grave.

Then the man is thrown into the grave and given a hoe to scoop the soil back into the grave. The man rejects that final humiliation and is pounded on the head until he dies.

The lunatic lot must now get bodies to fill up the grave and so it is the hunt for the children.

However, the kids have learnt to melt in with the swampy water and to retreat further with every noise from the demonic posse.

In fact, they have even learnt to survive on swamp grass and water, as they play hide and seek with the Interahamwe.
Until Wednesday 15th June, this cat and mouse hunt has been going on.

Then the following afternoon, deep in the swamp, the demented cry is up: “Twa tunyenzi ngutu!” (The small cockroaches are here!) One of the Interahamwe has waded deep into the swamp and fallen upon the emaciated kids who are practically bone and hardly any flesh.

The big boys are chopped up and the girls raped and then killed.

For being slashed by erstwhile playmates, the 12-year-old is thrown among the bodies of his siblings, taken for dead. Still, from under the bodies he can see the smug face of the parish priest who was the first to rape his eldest sister and who chopped off the head of his eldest brother.

A few weeks after, Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) fighters also almost took the boy for dead.

Today, the now-28-year-old sees those graphic pictures every second of his waking and sleeping minute. And somebody wants to be spared that ‘inconvenience’!