Page 3 of 4   <       >

For Rwandans, Fragile Acts of Faith

In a nation contending with the legacy of the genocide, Rwandans struggle to forge a national identity stronger than the ethnic ones that pulled the country apart.

Then the situation changed dramatically. Kagame's Tutsi-dominated rebels began defeating the genocidal Hutu forces, and soon it was the Hutus who were running for their lives, pouring into eastern Congo. "We ran in all directions," Hakorimano recalled.

Somewhere in the forest, he was separated from his mother, so he made his way into Congo alone. He eventually joined the Hutu militiamen who were regrouping in Congo's vast refugee camps, vowing to "finish the work" in Rwanda.

Over the years, though, such ambitions appeared to fade as the group became known for exploiting Congo's mineral resources and preying upon Congolese villagers.

"It was a miserable life," Hakorimano said of his time in the bush. But he added, "I never killed anyone."

He married another Rwandan refugee and became a father to Baraka, 11, and Solomon, who is a month old. "I noticed I was aging," he said, explaining why he left.

He made his way with his family to a U.N. base and eventually to Mutobo, where on a recent sunny afternoon, he and his family boarded the white bus for the trip back to his village. The scenes that unfolded only vaguely matched his memories.

The hills were covered now with patchwork plots. The once-potholed roads were smooth, and the bus rolled past forklifts widening the lanes. A group of schoolboys, about the age Hakorimano was when he fled, traipsed along in khakis and sharp white shirts.

The bus zipped through little towns with new Internet cafes, and Hakorimano had the feeling, he said later, that he'd been left behind as the world marched on.

He turned to his wife, a pretty, quiet young woman whose parents had died in Congo's refugee camps. "This is the place I used to tell you about," he said, pointing. "That's home, below those hills."

Soon, they turned onto a narrow dirt road. Hakorimano got out and began looking around. Little was familiar.

They walked a bit, and Hakorimano spotted a tall man in a tattered black blazer -- his uncle.

"You're very welcome," his uncle said, hugging him. "You're so very welcome."


<          3        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company