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TESTED TO THE LIMITA Genocide Survivor's Story of Pain, Resilience and Hope
By CONSOLEE NISHIMWE
BALBOA PRESSCopyright © 2012 Consolee Nishimwe
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA THOUSAND HILLS
My country Rwanda is a small but beautiful country in central Africa. It is often referred to as the land of the thousands hills due to the many gentle hills that can be found throughout. God created this serene land for us Rwandans and others to harmonize with each other and to enjoy in all its' splendor. I was born and raised in the western part of the country in Kibuye, District of Karongi. I spent my entire childhood in a small town called Rubengera which I grew to love so much from the time I got to know "a wheat and a leaf green". Kibuye is one of the more beautiful places in Rwanda. It is endowed with luscious green and hilly landscape interspersed between the glistening and enchanting Lake Kivu, which majestically winds its way through many parts of Kibuye, with several small inviting islands scattered within it. Like many other parts of Rwanda, Kibuye enjoys a very cool, fresh and moderate temperature throughout the year which many visitors find amazing.
I lived a happy childhood with good parents who were just regular primary school teachers but who were full of love and worked together to create the best for their family and community. I was also blessed to have loving siblings and relatives and good friends and neighbors with whom I shared the best of everything with love, joy and togetherness.
Growing up as a child in that environment and looking forward to a great future with everyone I loved, I never imagined that one day in a flash all that I was expecting to fulfill would be violently changed by such an insurmountable tragedy as Genocide.
For the first fourteen years of my life I grew up cherishing the fact that most of my close family members were around me, which was comforting and secure. Most of us were able to see each other almost on a daily basis, as we lived not too far away from each other. I still have fond memories of spending time with my paternal grandparents who lived directly across from our home and who we visited almost every day. I also enjoyed having fun with my cousins who lived less than two miles away. Since we lived close to the main road, they frequently passed near our house going to and from their homes. My maternal grandfather died before I was born. His wife, our grandmother, lived a little bit further about thirty minutes by foot from my house, but we still managed to see her regularly, mostly on weekends.
It was a great feeling, and regular visits between family, friends and neighbors to converse, exchange pleasantries, and update each other on issues whenever the opportunity arose, was part of our way of life. In our situation during that era, given the history of Rwanda from earlier times, family and friendship meant so much to us, and we as a people respected that and saw the extreme necessity to care for and look out for one another.
As I reflect on the closeness my family shared during my childhood days, I am convinced that there is no substitute for that feeling of hope, acceptance and unity which a sincere and caring family provides, especially when faced with difficult challenges in life. Such feeling goes deep within you and positively feeds your soul.
My mom Marie-Jeanne Mukamwiza and dad Andre Ngoga were born and raised in Kibuye where they lived all their lives. They were introduced to each other by a mutual friend who had a good relationship with both of them while they were all teenaged students attending different schools in the Kibuye area. Their 'chemistry' apparently clicked from the very first time they met, as after that first meeting in 1972 they became inseparable and started attending many events together in the area. Being awed by the kindness and pleasant spirit of my dad, I was curious to know what impressed my mom most about him when they first met. "Mom, please tell me ... what made you fall in love with Dad?" I asked her one day. "My child, if you must know, I loved the way he 'rocked' as a goalkeeper," she laughingly replied. "That's it?" I enquired. "No Cherie, your dad showed me his pure heart from the first time we met and that was sufficient."
I couldn't contain my glee after hearing her response and ran out of the room smiling shyly from ear to ear. I immediately went in search of my younger sister Jeanette to gossip with her about what Mom had just told me.
Mom was the fourth child in her family, having an older brother Alphonse, two older sisters Rose and Esperance, and a younger brother Vincent. She came from a truly respectable family who cared very much for one another. Mom was very focused on her education, and her determination to do well was strengthened by the great difficulties they had to endure to get an education in those days. She completed her secondary school with excellent grades, and earned her diploma in technical education and later became a teacher.
Mom and Dad belonged to different Christian religions but that did not get in the way of them developing a very close relationship. Mom's oldest sister Rose was a firm believer in the Catholic faith and had encouraged her to join the faith when she was in primary school. "The Catholic church will protect us from the troubles our people faced from the Hutus in 1959 and 1963," she quipped, as she sought to convince my mom.
"Do you really think so?" Mom childishly asked. "Of course, trust me on this" replied Aunt Rose. She must have been very convincing, as Mom promptly converted from Protestant to Catholicism and is still a believer up to today.
Dad was the eldest in his family of four boys and two girls. He and his siblings grew up as a close knit family with his mom Ancille Mukabaseka and dad Paul Ngirabanyiginya. Dad was a stickler for education and used every opportunity to insist upon us on how important education is for all of us. "You kids should consider yourselves fortunate to have access to education," he would often say. "Oh Dad, not another one of those lectures again," I joked with him one day. Taking me seriously, he quickly replied: "You should know that my parents never had a formal education and I was the first in the family to do so." I continued laughing as he replied, but to him this particular subject was no laughing matter. "My dear, education is so important to me that I have been making many sacrifices in order to send my younger siblings to school," he continued in earnest.
Dad liked to joke a lot, but seeing his eternal smile replaced by raised eyebrows and only a half smile, I had to concede and cut out the jokes.
Dad had excelled in high school and graduated with a first class diploma in teaching. His job as a teacher was very demanding but he was a very determined person and put his heart into everything he did. He was truly a strong believer in educating people. Many times he stayed late after school on his own time, giving additional lessons to kids who were having difficulties with their classes. I remember him also coming to the rescue of a young boy named Jackson in our neighborhood whose father had abandoned him and he was unable to pay his high school fees. Dad volunteered to pay the fees himself which allowed Jackson to continue classes and graduate from high school.
Dad also loved sports, and played soccer as the goalkeeper for his school, as well as the village team. Whenever he had the time he would practice his goalkeeping skills with other youths in the area. He was loved and admired by many people in the village because of his friendliness and good heart and the energy and passion he put into his soccer games.
Mom and Dad were engaged in a Rwandan traditional ceremony in early 1977, and months later, in August of that year, they were married. They had five kids, with me being their first live birth. Mom told me amid a bit of sadness one day, that she had conceived with their first child shortly after their marriage, but had unfortunately lost that child at birth. She again conceived in late 1978, and on September 11, 1979 they were ecstatic when I became their first live birth! With a joyous smile on her face during that conversation, Mom said to me: "Cherie, when you were delivered as a live birth that day, it was such a great joy and comfort for me and your dad that we immediately decided to call you Consolee, which means comfort, consolation."
In 1982, three years after my birth, my sister Jeannette Ingabire became the new addition to the family. From her early childhood, Jeanette was a loving and caring sister to me and my brothers, whose births subsequently followed hers. She was always willing to help out at home, making sure my little brothers were taken care of and contented. I loved asking her to help me do things because she never hesitated to help. She was a very quiet kid and didn't like to bother anyone. While I, as a child, loved to laugh and run around a lot, Jeanette was not like that; most of the time she would just watch me play and do her own stuff quietly. "Jeanette, let's go outside and play jump rope," I would sometimes beg her. "Oh, Macwa, I don't feel like it!" would be her usual reply. Mom or Dad would sometimes say to me: "Consolee, why can't you sit still and be quiet like your sister Jeanette?" and I'd reply "okay Mom, okay Dad, I will," and minutes later I'd be doing the same thing again.
I loved the fact that Jeanette and I understood each other so well even though we had quite different personalities. Whenever Mom gave us some tasks Jeanette would do them with a calm spirit and no complaints, while I'd be fretting with myself about the amount of work she had given us. Jeanette never liked talking much, and would always do things quietly and respectfully. She is my loving sister and best friend.
In 1985, when Jeanette was three years old, we were ecstatic when my first brother Philbert Nkusi was born. Philbert had a warm personality, was always in good spirits, and loved to smile. He was a handsome young boy with large charming eyes that sparkled whenever he wore his beaming smile. He loved to be around my mother and used to talk to her often. Sometimes at home he would be around her helping with some of the work she was doing. I remember every morning at school before we entered the classroom we had to line up to say the daily prayer and recite the national anthem. As a rule, whenever this was about to start Philbert would look in Mom's direction and smile at her and Mom would also look in his direction and smile back. I have never seen Philbert with a scowl on his face; he had a big heart and was always joyous and lively. "Consolee, your little brother Philbert is so friendly and cute!" my friends would sometimes tell me. He had a really touching personality and everyone felt his burning sincerity while around him. Even at a tender age, Philbert was already showing so much potential to become a great person in his community. When the genocide started he was in the third grade.
Two years after Philbert's birth, in 1987, my second brother Pascal Muvara was born. He was very funny, intelligent and energetic, and enjoyed doing stuff with my father. When he started school he hung around Dad all the time and bombarded him with many witty questions which were amazing for a child his age. Like Dad, he grew up liking sports and they used to listen to soccer games on the radio together. At age 5, Pascal knew the names of many of the players in the Africa Cup tournament, and already had his favorite teams. "Dad, it's Saturday, how about we go outside and play some soccer?" he would suggest as soon as it was bright outside. Pascal was also fond of gymnastics and was always practicing flips when he had the chance. He loved to be physically active, and was very creative in doing many things. Like my father, he was brilliant in almost every subject he studied and he amazed the family by how quickly he grasped knowledge. He was also a good artist and liked to sketch whatever he saw around him. His drawings were very impressive for his age and I believe he would have grown into an excellent artist. Pascal was in the second grade at the time of the genocide.
My baby brother Bon-Fils Abimana was born in 1993. He was the sweetest little boy and we all loved him so much during the short period he spent with us. He was a quiet and contented baby who did not cry too much. When my mother became pregnant with him we were surprised as we thought that she was finished with babies, since my second brother Pascal was about to enter the second grade. Bon-Fils was still a baby, approximately sixteen months old when the genocide of Tutsis began in Rwanda.
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REFLECTIONS ON CHAPTER 1
Rwanda is my beautiful homeland which I will always love and hold dearly in my heart. God created me there and I will always remember and cherish it every single day that I live. Every part of Rwanda has great things to bring joy to its citizens and foreigners alike.
When the genocide took place in 1994, it destroyed so many things materially, spiritually and psychologically in that beautiful land and left scars which will take a very long time to heal. Despite all of this, I continually meditate and pray that what happened then will never happen again and that the next generation will take a different path and live a peaceful life full of love for each other.
Rwanda has been pulling itself out of the ruins of 1994 in great strides, and the next generation surely has a bright future to look forward to. May God always bless and protect our land and our people from ever reaching those unimaginable heights of hatred and ethnic discrimination again, and instead keep it flourishing in every way. Rwanda is, and always will be the land of the thousand beautiful hills.
Chapter TwoFAMILY VALUES
I grew up in a most loving household which I am so thankful to God for having given me. Mom and Dad both grew up being loved and cared for very much by their families and the values and teachings they imparted upon us during our childhood reflected many similarities from their own upbringing. Mom told us that her parents were very forward thinking people who gave her and her siblings a chance to do much more than they themselves had the opportunity to do in their early lives. They raised them with love and brought them close to one another and taught them the importance of family. Her father, Dismas Ruhago, who we never knew but fondly referred to as Grandpa Dismas, was asthmatic and died in 1974.
"Your Grandpa was a really great person who had loved us so much," Mom often told me as I was growing up. From what she spoke about him, I always wished that he had survived so that I could have had the opportunity to talk with, and question him, on so many things about his life, and get to know who he was in person. I truly feel that he would have enjoyed seeing his grand kids and show love to them as he did his children.
Mom and Dad were upstanding people in our small community, and they loved giving advice about school and life in general to youths in the area. They worked hard and put their heads together and built a humble dwelling which was comfortable enough for all of us.
From my early childhood I would feel the care and affection coming from my parents, especially Dad, who was fond of "his beloved little girl." He was very protective about me and made sure I was kept away from harm. I remember many evenings when he used to take me outside to play and laugh and to watch the moon and stars while Mom usually stayed inside the house doing other things. He was someone who liked to smile a lot and I think I inherited that trait from him. Mom would sometimes come out and look on, and on occasions would join us for a little while before returning to do other things in the house.
Being the first of their children, I basked in the outpouring of care and attention which they gave to me. When the time came for me to go to school, Dad was the one to take me there on that first day. It was fun but I was a bit apprehensive and needed him to stay with me throughout that day. Luckily for me, both he and Mom taught at my school. Dad and I maintained a close relationship and I always happily looked forward to walking to school with him, talking and smiling at each other with affection.
On weekends we used to spend a lot of fun time together as a family. Sometimes on Saturday afternoons Mom and Dad would get us all together in the living room where we would laugh, tell stories to each other and ask anything that came to mind. I used to come up with some weird and funny questions and they would be laughing all the time.
Even when we were having fun Mom seemed to always have work on her mind. "Sorry kids, I have to tend to my flower garden now, but you can continue playing with your dad," she would say after about an hour of fun. "But Mom ... we just started to have fun with you," some of us would protest. Mom would smile to us and say: "Don't worry, when you grow up and have a family, you will understand," while rising to get her tools. She was passionate about growing beautiful beds of flowers of different shapes and felt happy to see them in full bloom and ready for making bouquets for the house.
Excerpted from TESTED TO THE LIMIT by CONSOLEE NISHIMWE Copyright © 2012 by Consolee Nishimwe. Excerpted by permission of BALBOA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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