A Rwandan Story

Here I am, 60 years old and I’ve already witnessed the most terrifying experience that could ever happen to me, or maybe anyone in the world. Even now 42 years on, thinking about this story gives me nightmares from the past.

It all started when I was 18 years old. Two of my younger brothers had died from starvation and my sister had been poisoned by dirty water. Everyone in my family had been called the same name, it had been in our family for generations. We were all called Diante. Anyway, hundreds of thousands of people were starving throughout the country. I hated the sight of it. Our country was in more poverty than you could ever imagine. We relied entirely on the weather and the growing of our crops. If they failed we would all be among the dead as well.

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Water here was nowhere near clean. It could have been the cause of many deaths here-we don’t know. There were only a few doctors in the whole country, let alone in our area. Our lives were in complete poverty and we couldn’t do anything to help that. The few educated men had asked the United Nations to help us, but nothing has ever been done. The population around the country had started to decrease due to disease and famine. There were even talks about a rebellion in southern parts of the country. I couldn’t understand why people would want to do this. I mean, te government are doing all that they can to help us out of this and I have faith in them that they will keep their promise. It may not be in my lifetime, but I am positive that one day we will be free to plenty of food and clean water supplies.

Although this is only dreaming. Over the next month situations got progressively worse. People in the village that I had known well had died of starvation. Weeks later, our worst fears had been confirmed.

Rwanda had broken out in civil war.

I couldn’t believe it, I wouldn’t believe it. But then again, I had to. There are events in everybody’s life that you don’t like, but you have to accept them. This was one of those events. But I think that millions of people will be thinking exactly the same thing.

The next few days past and more and more negative rumours reached our village. There were stories that the rebel army now had half a million supporters, children included and were threatening to force the prime minister into exile and take over the country. My husband and I both knew what must be done. I didn’t like it, neither did he but the decision was final. He and my two elder sons were going to war.

In the next few weeks that passed, no one in the village had really said anything, as if they had given up all hope of relieving the poverty. A few days later, my dreaded day had come. My husband and sons were walking out of sight along with fifty other villagers. I hoped and prayed that all of them would return.

I heard that everyone who was willing to fight in our area was to travel to Kinbunga, the second biggest city in the country where they would be given weapons to attack the rebels.

In the months that passed, I was very lonely. The one child that I had left was only two months old so he slept for most of the day. No one in the village had heard of the soldiers or what was happening in the war. Although one day when everyone in the villages hopes had fallen to the bottom of a bottomless pit a message arrived from a white man on a horse. He dismounted and everyone gathered round him. Without been asked anything he said “I am an ambassador from the United Nations Army. Your countries government has asked American Leader George Bush for support but he has rejected. He says that your country can fight out your civil war without involving his troops. I have been to many villages such as this one and seen the hope on people’s faces, only to become glum again when I tell them the news. I do not think that any of your loved ones are dead, as there has not been any fighting yet. I do not have the time to answer your questions, as I must tell lots of other villages before sunset. I wish you the best of luck to help you through this difficult time.”

And that was it. No one knew what to say then. He had just come from nowhere it seemed, told us everything that we needed to know and left as quickly as he arrived. I was confused, but at least I knew that my husband and children were safe.

For now.

From that day on, a messenger came every week, usually during the hottest part of the day. Every week the news got gradually worse. We heard that thousands of soldiers on both sides had been killed but the names of them were yet to be named. I hoped and prayed along with everyone else in the village that our loved ones would return alive.

More weeks passed and these soon turned into months. I had heard of civil wars in other African countries that had taken decades to be resolved. If that happened I may never see my family again. All I could do was wait in fear. It was coming into summer now and the sun was beating down on the hard, crumbly ground for up to sixteen hours a day. This was usually the time of year when the food shortage was at its worst because the harvest was back in September and no matter how well the weather would have been that year, the crops would have become inedible as they would go strange colours and smell strange. Although this year as half of the village was fighting we had twice as much food. I knew and so did everybody else that we would rather our families and be hungry. Over the next few weeks the fighting had erupted to a matter of life or death. Over two million soldiers and civilians had been massacred and their houses looted of the few possessions that they owned. The rebellion was rampaging through the towns and cities and had forced the Prime Minister into exile. Although our nation was probably the worst off on the planet, no other nation offered any support for us. The week after that we stopped hearing news from the UN messenger. We heard stories that he too had been slain by the rebel leader himself, Madi Diouf. So from then on we would hear nothing until the day that they returned. I prayed that I would see that day.

Thankfully, that day did arrive. Our glum spirits were lifted by two hundred percent when we saw them, a roup of villagers that we knew walking towards us under the scorching red sun. when they were within fifty yards of where I was standing I ran towards them, crying tears of joy. Although unfortunately they were tears of sadness as well. Out of the fifty villagers that went to war, only thirty six had returned. I was one of the unlucky ones. My husband was the only person out of my family that I could see. I ran up to him and hugged him.

“What Happened?” I cried. “Are neither of them coming back?” “No” he replied sadly. “They were both killed in an instant, blown apart by mines in the ground. There was nothing anyone could do about it. As soon as I saw their bodies lying hopelessly on the ground I could see that they were dead. There was nothing I could do.”

“So what happened?” I asked. “What was it like?”

“I’d rather not talk about it today” he replied yawning. “Saying that I’d rather not talk about it ever.”

“I understand.” I said.

And I did.