David Ignatius: During a trip to Kigali in 2008, I met a remarkable Rwandan named Antoine Rwego-Gasasira. I have never forgotten the nightmare story he told me of the assault on his family in the terrible days of slaughter and suffering in Rwanda. In the years since I met him, Antoine has taken a master’s degree in international health from Heidelberg University in Germany and now works with the Rwanda office of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survival and, indeed, triumph of the human spirit that he exemplifies is the enduring answer to the hell on earth that was Rwanda in 1994. I wanted to share Antoine’s message with readers.
Antoine Rwego-Gasasira: I took this photo at the Ntarama memorial site in April 2012. For me and for many others in my generation, this “Tigana” shoe calls to mind the good times we spent together playing “karere” (soccer ball) in the fields of our primary schools and in our neighborhood streets.
However, as I reflect on the young man who wore this shoe for the last time, the shoe symbolizes something else: a future crushed so suddenly, a lost hope, a dark night that engulfed thousands of young Tutsis in 1994. Not just them, but Rwandan youth in general.
To all the survivors, being here present has a great meaning for the living and for those departed. We are still here because we have a duty to accomplish. Maybe it’s a duty that we already know or we do not yet know, but it’s there.
It has been twenty years, and the youngest of the survivors are about twenty years old now. But do they truly understand their history? Twenty years from now, they will have their own children who will pepper them with questions about the experience of 1994. What are they going to respond? One of our duties as survivors of the genocide against the Tutsis, thus, is to write our own history. We are no longer in the time of oral tradition. We must write before the memory begins to fade from our minds. If not, our children will never know what we’ve experienced. They will know nothing of our parents, our families, our friends; nothing of our Rwanda back when we were kids, our unique realities, our daily lives! If you are lucky to find a photograph, write its story!
Our painful past is not the only thing we ought to write about, either. We should write about our experiences after 1994. We should write about our failures, our successes, our achievements, our loves and hates, our dreams for the future, our vision for Rwanda, our aspirations and most of all the Rwandan we are. May God bless you and may God bless Rwanda, our greatly cherished nation!!