A couple weeks ago I received an email (below) from a young woman named Alice Musabende who I met in early 2006 when I traveled to Rwanda with two of my coworkers at Green Mountain Coffee: Lindsey Bolger and Laura Peterson. We spent a long day visiting coffee farmers and co-ops, and later in the day visited a genocide memorial – a site where 40,000 people were massacred over 4 days in 1994. Alice was about 18 years old and very bright, and traveled with us as our translator. She was working to develop radio programming in the Butare region of Rwanda, and had hopes of receiving a scholarship to attend Carleton University in Canada.
After visiting the memorial on our way back to Butare, I sat next to her in the front of our landcruiser, and she told me about her life and the day of the massacre when she lost most of her family and her friends. She was only a young girl, and when she learned of this horrendous event she headed to Kigali (the capital) – about an hour’s drive from Butare – where she found her aunt, one of her only living relatives.
After living there a short period of time, her aunt told her that she was a bright girl and that she needed to go to a girls Catholic boarding school where she could receive a good education, and she sent her there. Alice did not want to be there, and told me that for the first months she performed terribly. One day, a nun approached her and asked her why she wasn’t applying herself. She responded by saying that she had lost everything – her family, her home, her friends, and that she no longer saw any reason to keep on living. Her mother and her entire family had been killed, as had almost everyone she knew. The nun responded, “Your mother knew that you weren’t with her when she died. What do you think she was thinking about you at that time? You were and are her only hope in the world for the future, and that is what she was thinking.” Alice told me that this brief conversation with this nun turned her life around. She hadn’t been able to look at this tragedy this way before.
The last time I communicated with Alice was by email a year or so ago. She was attending Carleton, and I believe may still be studying there. I have invited her to visit. Hopefully some day she will.
Here is the note I received from Alice, remembering the ones she lost, on the 15th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide:
15 Years later….Remembering the people who were mine.
15 years. 15 long years since the last time I saw my mom’s beautiful smile. Since the day I last saw my little brother’s baby face. The pain is there, has always been there and will always be there. I still remember it all, just as if it was yesterday. Some days, I can’t help but let tears roll down on my cheeks, silently. And some other days, I wake up in the morning, and tell my self that I am going to make it. And I know I will.
15 years passed by but I haven’t forgotten a thing. I never will. I haven’t been able to forgive the people, who one early morning of April 1994 decided to take the lives of the people who were my world. Ever since that day, I have been trying to understand what kind of people who couldn’t just be seduced by my baby brother’s smile or my mother’s beauty and let them live. People who thought they had the right to kill them. I haven’t been able to forgive them. Does this make me the devil one? Maybe, but 15 years later, all that I am left with is my anger and my sorrow, they keep me moving.
exactly what his face looked like. I want to keep everyone’s memory alive. But it is very hard, because they are so many.
In 15 years, I have learnt so much. I have learnt that God keeps an eye on me, every day of this life I call mine. I have learnt that when you loose the family you had, you can always make a new one, a family of friends that destiny puts on your way. I have learnt that sorrow doesn’t kill, it can break you down or it can make you stronger, it’s one’s choice. I have learnt that love is the best medicine, the best way of healing oneself.
I am remembering all of them today, Annonciata, Aloys, Elyse, Alain, Christian, Gabriel, Asterie, Andre, Cadette, Mimi, Flambert, Bosco, Toyota, Mudeo, and so many others I can’t name here. I am remembering them, as much as I remember them everyday, and just as much as I dream about them every day. I am remembering them because I want them to know that I am alive, for me and for them. I want to tell them that the candle in my heart will be lighten forever. And that I will always honor their memory, because they are me and I am them. I am All of them.
-Alice Musabende, 2009