What happens when survivors and perpetrators choose to work together? As a researcher I had always longed for the answer to this question. What I discovered immediately was that endless chats/conversations occurred. Upon witnessing them conversing, I thought to myself: “They must be talking about a critical information related to the key to reconciliation and peace building.”
One day, I was filming a joint-labour session of Lawurencia and Thasiani and witnessed that the dyad stopped their work suddenly, started leaning on their hoe, and started having a conversation. They ‘appeared’ to me as if they were arguing. The survivor used her hand gestures to try and explain something to the ex-prisoner. The ex-prisoner was listening to her for seconds with a big frown on his forehead and all the sudden faced away from her by voicing his frustration and irritation. “Ahhhh.” The photo below captures that moment.
As this occurred at an earlier session, I immediately reacted defensively, thinking to myself: “This is not working.” “They have started arguing.” “I have to do something to ensure their safety.” I called my on-site security guard and asked him, “What are they arguing about?” “Are they ok?” “Are they going to start a fight?”
My interpreter on-site who was also observing the situation walked calmly to me and said, “Relax, Masa, they are just talking about a meat.” I replied, “Meet?” “What?” “What do you mean by meet, to meet and talk about something?” My interpreter replied, “No, a meat. A meat you eat.”
It turned out that they were talking about different kinds of meat available at a market. Lawurencia told Thasiani that she will be inviting her family to a dinner and she was going to prepare for them a Rwandan dish called Ugari. Thasiani asked whether she bought meat for the dish. She replied yes. Thasiani further inquired where she bought the meat and she said at a market in Nyamata (a nearby market village). He further inquired whether she bought the meat at a butcher. She replied yes. He asked if she bought the meat that was hung at the butcher or the one taken from their fridge. She replied, “From the fridge.” That was the very moment I captured that he faced away from her with ‘frustration and irritation.’
The truth was that he simply told her, “Ahhhh, that’s not good! The meat from the fridge was imported and brought by a foreigner. The meat from the fridge does not have the same good taste as our Rwandan cow as it was frozen. You should not have bought from the fridge. It tastes horrible.” She replied, “Oh, I see. But it was cheap.”
I stood appalled hearing what they were conversing. Whenever I spotted dyads conversing, I expected that they were talking about serious issues related to peace and reconciliation. But the answer participants allowed me to hear was simple.
I thought to myself, “What a peaceful conversation they are having.” That was the moment I learned, “The answer doesn’t have to be complicated.” My ‘Teachers’ taught me throughout their sessions that the key to reconciliation could take a very simple form of a chat, a normal chat they termed. I realized that it was me who was expecting a complex answer.
I learned that the ordinary things (e.g., normal chat) in an extraordinary relationship (survivor-perpetrator) make the ordinary, an extraordinary. Because they shared the extra-ordinary relationship (where normal chats were not possible before), the occurrence of simple normal chat was an extra-ordinary luxury for them. Throughout the sessions, hundreds of normal and peaceful conversations were born on various topics. All participants reported that their normal chats were healing for them and helpful in strengthening their relationships.