Memory

The Darkest Day That Only Survivors Can Understand

Shiki and Mom

L-R, My wife and my mother -in- law slightly before she was murdered in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

Every genocide survivor has at least one darkest day in his life. A day that made his entire life fall apart forever. A day that only those who lived it can understand. May 7th is that trying date for my wife, her brothers, our best friend Frida and many other survivors who lost their beloved ones on this day, during the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, 25 years ago.

It is in the spring of 1994. The same period that the fate of all Tutsi across the country of Rwanda was sealed.

From April 7 to Mid-July 1994, we, the Tutsi were targeted for total annihilation. Our fellow countrymen and their Hutu Supremacist government aimed to wipe all traces that we existed — a goal that they almost achieved.  At the end of 100 days of slaughter, more than 85 % of Rwanda’s Tutsi population inside the country were systematically slaughtered. Over 1 million women, men, and children decimated simply because they were born Tutsi or identified as such.

On this day, 25 years ago, my wife narrowly defied death when the Hutu killers got to their home in Kagarama—One of Rwanda’s capital Kigali neighborhoods.  Her mother did not survive that day. Armed with rifles, the Hutus fired at everyone in the house leaving them for dead in cold blood. The Hutu Killers left their bodies lying right in the front yard of their home.

That image, of a lifeless body of a mother, surrounded by her semi-conscious children, all lying on the ground still haunts one of the children, a 7-year-old girl, who became my wife, twenty years later. Covered in blood, and heavily bleeding, my wife and my brother -in- law, Aristarque, woke up and started a journey towards nowhere.

What happened later and how they eventually survived is a story for another time.

The call to wipe out all the Tutsi of Rwanda reached each and every corner of the country. From the capital Kigali to Nyanza in the south, no single inch of Rwanda’s soil that did not drink the blood of Tutsi.

My wife shares her darkest date with our friend, Frida, who was in Nyanza at the time of genocide—a district in the southern part of Rwanda.  On that day, too, Frida watched her entire family being brutally butchered with machetes by the Hutus. She was left for dead and buried alive in a pit hole along with her family members.  She is the sole survivor in her immediate family.  Her story of courage and resilience is covered in a memoir she re-published in 2017.

The brutality my wife experienced at the hands of Hutus on that Saturday of May in 1994, left deep visible and even deeper invisible scars in her life.

Today, visible scars are healing. She got used to doing everything with one hand. She successfully learned how to write again using a different hand. She drives a car. She is even faster than me at typing.

_Al shiki 4817

My wife, Shiki, and I, April 2018.

It is impossible, though, for her to forget that she once had a normal life before the dark date of May 7. Impossible to forget that she was once able to tie her hair or peel vegetables without any help.  Impossible to forget this dark day that robbed all her childhood’s innocence.

The invisible wounds, however, will apparently stay with genocide survivors as long as they live. Nightmares and flashbacks of the terrible images my wife and many other survivors witnessed haunt them on a regular basis.

‘’This makes me sometimes wonder if surviving in itself is a good thing or NOT. It is  difficult to live with such a heavy burden of memory on my weak shoulders.”  My wife, Shiki, told me recently.

The dark day of May 7, 1994, robbed me a chance to ever see a hero that gave life to my wife. My children will never afford the luxury of having a grandmother. The Hutus took her life so soon, so young.

Although I never met her before, I see her every day through her beautiful daughter that I married. We talk about her all the time.  Her love, her courage and above all, her resilience against all odds.

She endured what no one should experience in life.

Three years before the ‘’final solution’’ of 1994, her husband, my father-in-law, was killed in anti-Tutsi pogroms that targeted the ‘’Bagogwe’’—The Tutsi sub-group living in the Northwestern part of Rwanda. Unaware of the fate that was waiting for her and all the Tutsi in 1994, my mother-in-law fled to Kigali literally with nothing.

She raised her four children as a single mom and found a modest job, teaching in primary school during the day and at the same time, working as a private tutor in the evening to make some extra money.

The cursed day of May 7, 1994, swiped away the life of an iron woman, my mother-in-law.  May her soul rest in peace. May the souls of Frida’s family and others who lost their lives on this day 25 years ago, rest in peace. They are alive because we survived.

By Albert Gasake

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