Thursday, October 25, 2018

And then. And then. And then.

So last October I attended the Global Leadership Summit and heard Immaculee Ilibagiza share her story.

Immaculée Ilibagiza was born and raised in Rwanda, Africa where she lived with her parents and three brothers. After high school she went on to the National University of Rwanda to study electrical and mechanical engineering. It was while she was home from school on Easter break in 1994 that hell erupted.

On April 6 1994 the Rwandan President’s plane was shot down over the capital city of Kigali. This assassination of the Hutu president sparked months of massacres of Tutsi tribe members throughout the country.

To protect his only daughter from rape and murder, Immaculée’s dad sent her to the neighbour's house for protection. The neighbour, a Hutu pastor sheltered Immaculée and seven other women in a hidden 3 x 4 foot bathroom. For the next 91 days, Immaculée and the other women huddled silently in this small room, while the genocide raged outside the home and throughout the country.

Her presentation at GLS was powerful. I bought her book:

and AND THEN I read it this summer.

NOT light reading, but so full of hope. Her family, her community, her people was slaughtered by her neighbours with machetes and hate. For her, the only way to move forward with her life after that was to forgive. Forgive.

AND THEN, like, ... right now, Brandon of Humans of New York, (my all-time most favorite photographer/story-teller/social-media-user) is posting the photos and conversation-bits of folks he's chatted with in Rwanda. GUT WRENCHING. Folks who've lived through the genocide. Folks who've had to figure out how to live rich, full, healthy lives when everyone they loved was murdered.
This is how he starts the series:
"On April 6th 1994, an airplane carrying the President of Rwanda was shot down over the capital city of Kigali, serving as a catalyst for genocide against the minority Tutsi population. One million people were killed over the next 100 days. It was one of the most violent episodes in human history. The stories from that time can be traumatizing to hear. Living through them is nearly unimaginable. But in the wake of this tragedy, an equally unlikely story has unfolded. It is the story of Rwanda’s recovery and reconciliation. Rwanda has become one of Africa’s model economies. Its streets are clean and safe. Over one million tourists visit each year. If you walk through Kigali today, it’s difficult to imagine the events that occurred less than twenty-five years ago. But the stories are still there. And you can’t listen to them without being reminded of humanity’s capacity for violence and the fragility of peace. During my week in Rwanda, I focused on the stories of people who took a moral stand during the genocide. These are members of the Hutu majority who risked their lives to shield and protect Tutsis. In Rwanda they are known as ‘The Rescuers.’ Over the next several days, I will be sharing their stories."

The stories?
x 1,000,000

"He pushed me on the ground and leaned over my body. He was covered with sweat. His eyes were wide. There was dried spit on the edges of his lips. He had the face of the devil. He took off his belt and began beating me until I lost consciousness.”
“The killings were being encouraged by the national radio station. Every day they would announce how many people had been killed. They’d announce the location of the killings. And they’d give thanks to those who were doing the killing."
"On April 21st, the genocide officially came to our town. The militia gathered up Tutsi pedestrians in the city center. They brought them to this stadium. There were 200 people in all. They put them in lines. Then they opened the doors and invited the public to fill the seats. The governor was forced to sit in the front row. He had mixed blood and was against the genocide. After the last person was executed, they brought the governor down and killed him too. His body was paraded through the streets. The killers were screaming into an intercom: ‘We’ve killed the governor! Anything is possible! Now let the hunt begin.’”
“On the day I watched my father die, this is the skirt I was wearing. I was only eighteen years old. I completely lost my will to live. I walked down the street like a zombie. I came to this house. The owner wasn’t home at the time because she was busy looting my family’s home. I tried to hide under her bed, but there was another Tutsi man there. He began yelling at me to leave. ‘It’s too small,’ he said. ‘You’ll get us both killed.’ So I ran outside to jump in the toilet, but the killers were already at the door. They dragged the man out from under the bed and killed him before my eyes. They were about to kill me too, but the team leader said he had ‘other plans for me.’ And everyone listened to him because he had a gun. He started leading me toward a plantation. He told me to comply or he’d kill me. He made me lie down on the ground. He unbuttoned his shirt, lay down next to me, and tried to spread my legs. So I grabbed his balls and squeezed as hard as I could. He started trying to punch me. So I squeezed them harder and twisted. He kept writhing around but I didn’t let go until he fainted. Then I began running through the dark. I couldn’t see a thing. I fell into a latrine full of shit, and I remained there all night because I was too tired to move.”
AND THEN he (Brandon) met/talked with the President of the country:

“There was a huge puzzle after the genocide. How do you pursue justice when the crime is so great? You can’t lose one million people in one hundred days without an equal number of perpetrators. But we also can’t imprison an entire nation. So forgiveness was the only path forward. Survivors were asked to forgive and forget."

Humans of New York is on all social media platforms. (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). But the Facebook page has the most comments/interaction on it. Some people shouldn't have access to keyboards, but aside from them, the discussion that takes place after each post is positive, enlightening and emotional. In some cases, the subject of the story (the Rwandian) comments as well.

Go have a peak.
Then pray for Rwanda. And for us. That we (the collective 'we' of humanity) would learn from this and try harder to be better.
Be better at being kind to our neighbours who are from a different tribe.
Be better at recognizing injustice and standing up against it.
Be better at helping those who are desperate and homeless.
Be better at being aware of what's happening around the world.
Be better at asking people their stories.
Be better at forgiving.

Three things I'm thankful for:

1. I live in Canada.
2. My grandparents went through their own hells to get here. For their kids. Their grandkids.
3. It looks like there'll be a break in the rain on Saturday:

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