Write About it Wednesday: Rwandan Refugees

“It’s strange how you go from being a person who is away from home to a person with no home at all. The place that is supposed to want you has pushed you out. No other place takes you in. You are unwanted, by everyone. You are a refugee.”

The Land of a Thousand Hills used to house tens of thousands of mountain gorillas. The country was known for its multitude of lakes, national forests and chains of volcanoes. This all became the backdrop of one of the worst massacres of the 20th century as a plane crashed down in 1994, killing President Juvenal Habyarimana. Calls were made throughout Rwanda to incite violence. Death, destruction, and powerless victims remained while others fled. My first impression of Rwanda was the 2004 movie, Hotel Rwanda. I didn’t notice the landscape over my own tears.

Clemantine Wamariya, author of The Girl Who Smiled Beads, wrote about her experience fleeing the Rwandan massacre. People asked questions of her after the movie premiered, but she did not feel they had a right to her pain. This memoir shares the journey of that pain as she travels through several countries, refugee camps, all the way to the United States where she begins to heal. Almost a million Rwandans were killed, and hundreds of thousands raped. The weapon of choice was a machete, a tool that had previously been used to support the economy. The refugees fled to surrounding countries but feared returning after the massacre came to an end. The country is still recovering and relies heavily on foreign aid. The bravery behind this memoir is heroic. It truly puts a face to the Rwandan genocide, even if Clemantine does not agree with that term.

The actual writing was a bit faulty due to repetition. Also, her appearance on Oprah would have been better towards the middle of the book once we know Clemantine, instead of the appearance setting the tone for the book. Her perspective feels like the minority of refugees because the opportunities she was blessed with allowed her to receive a private school education then acceptance into Yale University. I would like to take the fresh perspective of this memoir and compare it to other refugees who returned to Rwanda after the crisis.  There are many complaints that the book is whining about her circumstance, but wouldn’t you? Have you slept on dirt, had bugs climb into your skin, been forced to give up all your possessions, and had no contact with your family to know if they are dead or alive for many years? I think the complaints aid the belief that the world is smaller when you are young. You have fewer wants and needs but the loss of them seems larger. I do wonder how her family felt of her portrayal of them, especially her sister Claire. It would be interesting to see the family reunited after the release of the book to discuss their diverse perspectives on the events.

Overall, this wasn’t a five-star read but it made me THINK. It made me really think. Honestly, isn’t that a reason to read?


A Stolen Life

“I don’t believe in hate. To me it wastes too much time. People who hate waste so much of their life hating that they miss out on all the other stuff out here.” 

Who hasn’t heard of the Jaycee Dugard case? An eleven year old girl kidnapped on her way to school. The horrors she faced while captive are outlined throughout this book. Jaycee writes her experiences, and then shares a reflection on how the events make her feel looking back. These reflections bring reality to her abuse and how it affects her long term. We often see kidnap victims returned to their family with a big party and media outlets splashing it everywhere but what happens after the newness wears off? She is left to return to a life that she hasn’t lived since she was 11 years old. She has daughters, and has never made real choices of her own. She has to learn to drive, learn to rely on herself, and cope with the sexual abuse that became normal for her. She felt sorry for her kidnappers, and wanted to do what was best for them. Changing an entire mindset takes time.

This book is horrifying. I would be concerned about anyone who felt it wasn’t. She was 11 years old the first time he raped her. She thought that being with someone was lying next to them. Her first child was born when she was 14 years old. As her kidnapper began to use drugs the abuse became worse. He asked her to have sex with a dog. This is a CHILD. He believed that by living out his fantasies with her, he would not harm anyone else. She was his salvation, and the angels told him what he was doing was right. He was a master manipulator, and Jaycee truly believed that she must suffer the abuse to save others. Another horrifying truth is that his wife never said a word. She knew what he was doing and let it happen. She had several opportunities to let Jaycee go, but chose to keep her locked up and parade Jaycee’s children around as her own.

The most frustrating part of this book is the failure of parole officers, psychiatrists, and numerous other people to find the truth. He believed he was smarter than law enforcement and that he would never be caught. They would live their life as a family. It scares me that the world has people like this in it. At this very minute something of this nature could be occurring and we are blind to it. I know it must have been hard for her to write this book, but I am so glad she had the courage to speak out. This is a book for anyone who feels like they have been through too much and can’t make it back. Not only did she make it through, but she has founded an organization “to be of service to families that have suffered a familial or non-familial abduction or other trauma; to spread the message of compassion and awareness through educational programs; to encourage the collaboration of various entities to provide “Protected Spaces” for families to heal.” Here is a link to check it out: http://thejaycfoundation.org/