Monday, July 9, 2012

His project

Emmanuel is an orphan.

After the genocide, he was raised by his older sister, Claire, in this house.

Many children and siblings lived in this house with Claire, and she raised them all. Emmanuel brought me to Claire's house one evening after I'd left Avenir. The burnt-orange brick house is located up and around a broken road from Avenir; it took us two minutes to walk. Inside, we drank Fanta and Primus and Mutzig and Claire showed us family photos. Since raising Emmanuel, Claire has married and raised five children of her own; three of them still live at home with her and their father, Noel; the two eldest are away at boarding school. We sat together on the couches and I taught Calvin, the second-to-youngest, how to draw hearts ("This means you love someone," I tell him) and play Tic-Tac-Toe. Every time Claire showed me a picture of one of her children as babies, fresh and young and just-born, Calvin giggled sheepishly. Then we ate a tomato-base casserole with beans and bananas served over rice. We shared stories and once again I found myself interpreting Kinyarwanda conversations.

"What," I would ask gently when the conversation hesitated and Emmanuel would look at me.

One answer was: "She is saying you look like a Tutsi woman. It's your neck and the way you are built."

I am conflicted accepting this compliment, but of course I accept it. I smile and am genuinely touched. She is calling me beautiful. But the history of discrimination based on appearance and, consequently, the roots of this compliment, are still unnerving. 

I'm still learning.

The next morning, I tell Emmanuel: "I hope this isn't disrespectful and absentminded, but I want to tell you something. I want to tell you how lucky you are to have this family, your family." There was a unique element of unity that I felt being in the presence of his family, a raw feeling of ease and tenderness in which each family member would lean against another. It felt wasteful not to tell him.

"Thank you," he said, and I wondered how often he feels the same.  

One of the first lasting impressions I'd experienced with Emmanuel was at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre after I had exposed myself from within the exhibition, faded pools of mascara collected under my eyes. I had just walked through the Children's Room, a segment of the museum with enlarged photos of children aged 6 months to 12 years and mini bios underneath each picture. So, I had been floating through this tunnel of memories -- each bio listed the child's favorite food, personality, best friend, last words and cause of death (which, in most instances, was "hacked by machete") -- and I kept thinking of Emmanuel, who had been 9 in 1994. I'd cried, and at one point I told Lauren, "I don't think I can go any further" and sat down on a bench. Outside, I found Emmanuel resting against a wall, and I had to ask him. I had to ask him how many times he'd been here, and how he could be here. The answer he gave me was my first experience with true humility. 

"I come here often," he said. "I like to come here and feel close to the families. Here, I can do whatever I want. I can cry, I can listen. This is a part of me, so I like to come here."

Emmanuel has not removed himself from the genocide. It haunts him, as it haunts everyone, but in a different way. There is a force within Emmanuel that convinces him to always do better. He wants to be honest and share his honesty with strangers and Rwandans and politicians and teachers and students, etc. The Rwandan genocide is not something that disappeared and it is not something that is inevitable. What differentiates members of the international community from Rwandans is not genocide, but the way the human condition disintegrated and then emerged. Have you ever seen anything like this before?

Emmanuel wants to share his story and the stories of other orphans. He is working on a documentary called "The Children Who Lived," a story about the struggles and realities of being an orphan in post-genocide Rwanda. Below is a trailer of the documentary, even though Emmanuel and his co-director, Natalia, are still editing and searching for funding.

Here it is, a story for you. Please watch and see what Emmanuel's courage has drawn him to do.     


1 comment:

  1. the blog is really nice :)