It is the people who stay with me most. Oh, the places were amazing…beautiful and varied and incredibly rich in textures and images. But the people! When I close my eyes, it is the faces I see, the voices I hear…and they fill me with joy. Faces…youthful and elderly…of so many different shades…with expressions both strong and soft, both courageous and vulnerable, both joy-filled and touched by tragedy. Faces…when I close my eyes I see them all…
Simon…a dear Rwandan friend, just turned thirty…a genocide survivor and orphan… educated and gifted, and now working for the Clinton Foundation. I see him clearly, sitting with us in the Memorial Garden at the Ntarama Church Genocide Memorial, his voice quietly, haltingly speaking about the terrors of those days…of the memories which fill his heart and mind whenever he comes to such sites…sitting, just sitting, as the horrors of this place washed over all of us.
Florence…part of our Rwandan “family”…barely twenty and proud owner of her own business, a small neighborhood restaurant which is now employing eight area residents…her smile filled with both pride and gratitude as she welcomed us to her place, showing us around, serving us lunch, and thanking us again and again for the help we have given her over the past 2 years (little enough, but she saved it all in order to fulfill her dream).
Pelagie, Japeth, Partout, and Cherubim…the other members of our family in Rwanda… both parents primary school teachers who are working hard on their advanced degrees so that they will be able to teach in secondary school and triple their admittedly-meager wages…smiling, welcoming us into their home. And the two little boys- Partout, just 5, and Cherubim, almost 2- trying on the T-shirts we brought for them and smiling with delight at this small gift from their American “grandmothers”.
|The American "grandmothers" and our Rwandan Family|
Emmanuel…the now seventeen-year-old who, at age thirteen, so captivated my heart that I began- with the help of numerous friends- to pay for his school fees so that this bright, engaging, talented young man might one day realize his dream to become a doctor. And I see his eyes filled with tears, reflecting my own, as he hugged me good-by when we drove him back to school on that Sunday evening.
Then there are Innocent and Emmanuel (another Emmanuel- it is a very common name in Rwanda), twenty-something brothers, artists, who recently opened their own gallery and studio, with space for 10 artists to work and display their works, with a sewing center for women to learn marketable skills, with space for a 20-person youth dance troupe to practice for performances throughout the community of Kigali. And I see us sitting with them on the outdoor deck of the Heaven Restaurant, along with another young artist, Tu-tu…the five of us enjoying dinner, talking and laughing and sharing an evening as good friends, in spite of the vast differences in our ages and in our home cultures.
Adding color and texture and joy were the nearly-one-hundred grandmothers we met, women of beauty and strength and courage…women united by their grief at losing adult children to HIV/AIDS…women united, too, by their determination to provide a better future for their grandchildren. Their beautiful faces radiated that determination, as well as their joy at welcoming us into their midst.
How could I forget Immaculaee, the beautiful young woman who cared for our room at the guesthouse, who made us breakfast each morning, her shy smile and quiet voice and gentle spirit so responsive to our every need, so determined that we would lack for nothing for our comfort.
And how could I fail to include Rwanda itself, a truly unique nation which has risen like a Phoenix from the ashes of its own self-destruction to become a beautiful country, its people united in spirit and determination to never forget the past but to move beyond it, into a better future for all its people.
Memories…my mind is flooded with memories…and my heart is filled with loving gratitude for these people entering, populating my life.