"None of us can help the things life has done to us. They’re done before you realise it, and once they’re done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you’d like to be, and you’ve lost your true self forever." Eugene O'Neill (Long Day's Journey into Night)
While researching and writing my book, You Alone May Live, the story of my experiences of the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath, I spoke to those who have similar stories to tell, whose resilience has pushed them to challenge their trauma and focus on the future. Together, we’ve witnessed the wounds of trauma in its various forms. <!--more-->
I began to recognise how influential this long term trauma is on the remaking of an individual’s reality. A person’s fear, combined with apprehension, vigilance and lack of trust, can make life’s hassles and stresses overwhelming. They can become quick to blame and direct anger towards one of their loved ones. Their fear is most certainly real, but they cannot confront the cause of it. The crimes committed against them and their families are still raw and recur often in their dreams: images of the killers waving machetes, gang-raping and driving their weapons into the hearts of their loved ones are constantly replayed. This is made worse when the victims are forced to coexist daily with the perpetrators. An everyday confrontation with the killers of one’s family results in a constant hopelessness, and demoralises one’s will to live. Reliving the memories of these horrific events is a burden that renders life meaningless.
I set up the Survivors Fund (SURF) to give these survivors a purpose in life, a reason to fight. Setting up SURF was worth every sacrifice, not just because of the memory of my lost family but especially for my brother Jean Baptiste. I believe that SURF has made his life worthwhile. SURF focuses on helping to rebuild the lives of survivors. And it derives its strength from the determination of the people not to be consumed by the hatred perpetrated against them. They were fighting, in a sense, fighting back with purpose and meaning.
After the holocaust the world said “Never Again”, yet the Rwandan genocide claimed one million lives in a mere hundred days. The Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, recalls the words of Martin Luther King: “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”
You Alone May Live highlights the fact that despite the world’s obsession with forgiveness and reconciliation, the survivors of the genocide still live in dire situations and ill health with no shelter, no income, no appropriate rehabilitation and no justice for their lost families. Fear is ever present in their lives. My book gives voice to their stories, telling the world about their survival against all odds. Political justice for the survivors of the Rwandan genocide is essential so they can heal their hearts and minds, and eventually aid their forgiveness and reconciliation with the rest of Rwanda.
You Alone May Live is available from Biteback, priced £17.99