Life Surrounded by Grenades
Translation by Ms. Hitomi Sagawa (BC Institute of Technology) &
Ms. Haruka Osada (Simon Fraser University)
I thought I was used to living in remote rural areas.
I enjoy backpacking as a hobby. As a human, and a clinical psychologist, I especially love to travel historical battlegrounds, since I am fascinated in learning more about the lives and the attitudes of people who actually survived distressful conditions. However, danger always follows when tracing these places.
In 2009, I traveled to one dozen historical battlegrounds. Especially in Africa, I always had to face life-threatening dangers, such as robbery, violence, kidnaping, murder, drugs, and swindling. One false step could lead to stepping on mines or unexploded bombs. I had also experienced being held at gunpoint twice during these travels. Another pressing concern that I had throughout these trips was the fear of catching an infectious disease such as malaria, dengue fever, or rabies. These experiences prepared me for my trip to Rwanda; it gave me the confidence I needed to spend one year there. I exercised, and got eleven different vaccines within two years – all to ensure that I was ready for any dangers that could occur during my stay.
However, there were terrors that I could not prepare for, no matter what precautions I took – grenade bombers. In Rwanda, grenade terrorism has been happening continuously since the genocide of 1994. Last year, in 2011, it occurred every month from January up until Rwanda Genocide Memorial Day in April.
As early as the first three days of this year, the horrors of grenade terrorism already happened; there were two people killed and eighteen wounded. It is said that the crime was caused by the neighboring country’s terrorist group which has hostilities to Rwanda’s present government, but the detail is not open to the public.
When darkness falls, all citizens stay away from crowds of strangers – this is the ironclad rule of today’s Kigali (the capital city of Rwanda).
Interahamwe, the primary organization of the Hutu that played the main role in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, was expelled to their neighboring country, the Republic of the Congo, once the genocide was suppressed. No one yet knows the truth about criminals behind the grenade terrorism in January, but it is said that the Interahamwe group still lurks in the Congo. I was forced to live with the fear of grenade terrorism as a part of daily life there.
Literally, a plunge with fear. I learned the true meaning of this for the first time. Leave the fear of terrorism as it is, and do what I can do now. I cannot make this fear disappear, but I cannot let it hinder me from what I am doing either. All I can do is to be careful and pay close attention to my own safety. I thought of peaceful cities such as Kyoto and Vancouver – I truly appreciated the peace there that I was taking for granted. I felt homesick.
We, the people from developed countries, are surrounded by many “ordinary” things in our daily lives, and I feel that we do not appreciate them until we lose them.
This is only my imagination, but this is probably how Japan was after we lost the War. It was becoming my pleasure to find the things I was taking for granted, from the life here in Rwanda. Also, I found that there are things only exist where we do not have these “ordinary” things. Through the life in Rwanda, I am discovering what we gained and also lost from modernization.
Life Without “Ordinary” Things
I cannot let my fear stop me. I have many tasks that I need to complete here, and I even feel happy for being able to witness the value that I can spend my life for. Now, I would like to talk a bit about the “things that only exist where we do not have the ‘ordinary’ things” that I noted earlier.
I have a local guide, who also works for me as a security guard. His name is Emmanuel Ndahemada, and he is a 29 years old fine young man with a wife and two cute daughters. He is a loyal, kindhearted man who values moral and norms, and also his family. I spend my day with him everyday, and I receive his calls frequently even outside the business. It is probably more accurate to say I am spending time with my family, rather than working with him. On day offs, he says “don’t spend your off-day by yourself, don’t have dinner by yourself” and invites me to his house in the slum. At his house, his wife treats us her specialities, like a potato dish that tastes just like “nikujaga” (Japanese stew) without soy sauce, which makes me feel warm and nostalgic. Although poor, they are a heart-warming, happy family. Even the smell of the slum disappears when I am surrounded by their happiness. He always says to me, “Masa, call me when you get home”. I was sure he was raised in a happy family as well.
I often talk with Emmanuel till late after the research. I had something I wanted to ask him once – whether his parents are alive and well.
Emmanuel always keeps his smile on his face, but his smile disappeared in a blink of an eye when I asked. He started, “my father died of Malaria while his family watched, before the Genocide. My mom was killed during the Genocide…”
“Back in the time when my father passed away, there weren’t any mosquito nets or antimalarial drug available in the rural area, so we couldn’t buy any. It was frustrating and sad. My mom is Tutsi so she was killed in the Genocide. I still remember it. On the day when the Genocide started, my mom took me to my father’s parents who are Hutu. Then she gave me a hug while she shed tears, and left me there. After the Genocide, I was told by my grandma that my mom was dead. I still can’t forget it…”
I was crying too. I held his shoulders, and he said just “thank you”.
Emmanuel loves his wife’s rice with soup that tastes like tomato and beef stew, and he told me it tastes just like what his mom cooked for him. That “nikujaga” tastes like hers as well, he said. He finds the warmth of his mother in his wife now, and his wife, who also lost her parents during the Genocide, finds the shadow of her father in Emmanuel. His home is filled with love and warmth because of their feelings for their lost parents. They grew up without “ordinary” things such as having parents and home; but because they do not have them, they are able to build a warm and loving family by themselves, and for themselves. I am feeling respect and hope in the warmth.
Emmanuel has a dream: building schools in the rural areas that were affected by the Genocide, and teaching English to the survivors and the orphans. He believes that they will be able to find better jobs if they can speak English, which supports their independency.
I would like to support Emmanuel and his dream as much as possible. Not only Emmanuel, but people in Rwanda are all experiencing the terrific Genocide and a life without the “ordinary” peace. that is why they appreciate the “ordinary” peace now more than anyone else.
From them, I am learning about the life, little by little, while reflecting on the importance of “peace”, “life” and “home” – the things we overlook as “ordinary”.