Tag Archives: beautiful confusion

It Doesn’t Make Sense

I moved to a foreign country with no solid contacts, no job, and no idea of where to live. People called me crazy. I don’t live by other people’s standards of success, but I am not crazy.

Honor and Dustin were best friends as children. D came from a more well off family than H, so he often brought extra food to school to share with H. D and H lived on the same hillside outside of Kigali, so they saw each other all the time. They laughed about giving each other piggyback rides to and from school, and the amount of time it took because of this game.

When H was 14 years old, both his parents and 5 cousins that lived at his home were killed in the Rwandan genocide. He fled into the hills surrounding Kigali and hid for two weeks, until the rebel soldiers gained control of the area and created an environment of safety. His home was torn apart, literally—his neighbors used their own hands to tear pieces of the roof and walls apart. His parents, his cousins (who were for all intents and purposes his siblings) murdered. H harbored hatred. H said that if the killers and thieves died, he would feel no remorse. As H grew up and matured as a human, he recognized the humanity in his neighbors, and realized that they were “not inherently bad people, they were the same people after the crimes as they had been prior.”

In 2006, H attended a community trial. The purpose was to exchange lesser punishment for statements of the truth. Accusations abounded, and when H heard other convicted genocidaires accuse D of killing members of H’s family, he was dumbstruck. This didn’t make sense; H could not fathom his best friend engaging in violence against his own family. D was prison, but so was half the country, so H didn’t think it was actually for murder. He went to the prison in-order to find the facts for himself. H said that he needed to see D in person to confirm that he wasn’t a monster. He needed to see that he was still human.

During the first of April 1994, D heard the sounds of a mob taking apart the neighbor’s homes. He ran to join in the destruction. After tearing a roof completely apart, some members of the mob took off to find the residents of the home and kill them. H and his entire family lived in this home. And D joined the factions that sought out the family. He was part of the group that beat and killed two of the eldest boys, H’s cousins. When the law swarmed back through the land, D was sent to prison with close to a million others, just another participant in chaos.

H naively walked into the prison, wanting only to reconfirm that his childhood best friend was still what his memory told him. When D saw H approaching, he was terrified that H knew what he did and was going to take revenge.

“Because I loved him very much, I wanted to forgive him. I wasn’t scared of him, but that he would be scared of me,” H explained of his purpose there.

H asked straight up, what D did. D openly admitted to participating in the deaths of H’s family. H merely said that D should ask for forgiveness. They did not speak again until D’s release one year later.

This is where H went crazy.

After D’s release from jail, H immediately called him up and said you need to come over and meet with my family and I, so we can work out our relationship from here.  The entire family sat and listened to D’s account of the murders. Then, they agreed to forgive him and invited him back into the family. He is treated as a blood member of the family, closer friends than when they were children.

That is crazy.

This story was part of the project I worked on with Jeremy Cowart through AWFRI. H and D were part of his photo series. This is them.

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It’s true, I am back in Colorado. And to be honest, I’m not really sure what to say.  What was Rwanda to me? Peace, reflection, struggle, confusion, beauty, frustration, connection, learning.

My questions are still unanswered, and my research far from complete.  “But I am okay with that now.”  Everything about my experience taught me so much about patience and acceptance.  We cannot control the majority of what happens in our lives.  In a world and culture that operates on a schedule with systems intended to make life easy, it seems like we have control.  But we don’t.  And honestly, it is a lot more fun to just take life as it happens anyway.  Which is why I can say that I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do and that it doesn’t matter; I know I will accomplish it one day.

In the meantime, I learned so much about the emotional complexity of the human spirit.  I have never been so confused and heartbroken, but so at peace.  I ran into a wall of frustrating cultural norms, but in the end I totally understand the norms and cannot blame the way things operate.

As a journalist, nothing is more frustrating than a person who tells me what they think I want to hear.  My project relied entirely on hearing and understanding the heart of a person: his hopes, fears, and reasons for restoring a failed relationship.  And if that relationship is not restored, I need to know that too.  But most of what I heard was rehearsed stories of “I forgave him and now we visit each other for drinks or seeing each other’s families.”  Seriously.  I have 19 stories that say these exact words.  This is frustrating.  But I cannot change it.  I cannot teach a man of 54 years old to express himself honestly, when he has spent the last 20 years restraining his emotions and responding to the demands of the authority.

Instead, I learned to see him as the man he is.  With a past that explains his current actions.  He is not less of a man.  He is not wrong, or right.  He is human, like me.  So sadly, dear reader, this has made it difficult for me to find exciting ways of talking about the people I met.  I don’t want to make them out to be extravagantly different people living exotic lives.  Its just life to them.  Eating, sleeping, loving and hating their families, and working hard to do these things.  Just because their lives appear to be different from yours does not make it necessary to put them on a pedestal.

So for now, I am processing what I have seen and felt.  And I hope, one day, that I will be able to eloquently write about it all.

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Africa removes any last illusion of control in your life. The fact that one can arise in the morning, make and drink their coffee in a matter of 15 minutes, get in a car and arrive at the office in 20 minutes (or an hour for real city dwellers…) and successfully go to the bank, type AND print the report for your boss, and pick up groceries before 5 pm, gives Westerners the false sense of having control over their lives.  Here, my notion of productivity has come to the belief that sending one e-mail and connecting with a contact on the phone to set up a future in-person meeting constitutes a successful day.  I cannot pretend to control my activities here.

Which is a more honest way of living anyway.  When we think we are in-control, things like a job loss, or relationship upheaval, or violent storm completely cripple our lives.  Knowing I cannot do anything about what just happened to me makes whatever it was a little easier to bear.

This is also a necessary attitude in dealing with people around us.

All I can control is my response.  All I can control is what I say.  I cannot control how the other person receives it.  And I cannot control what the other person will do following said reception.  The best I can do is say what is on my heart and then react according to the reaction.

After 7 months, what do I think about the depth and honesty of reconciliation here?  I have my theories, but I cannot honestly know.  That is between the individuals involved.  And in a polite society that would rather look pretty and bury the anger, perfection is perhaps not here yet.

However, honest reconciliation is all about the individual heart.  Carrying the guilt or anger towards another can dominate our every thought, and dictate our emotions.  Offering honest forgiveness or repentance primarily serves to set our hearts free.  Emmanuel Kolini, Archbishop of Rwanda, Retired, said that reconciliation is necessary.  And an element of that does involve a superficial getting along with one another so that life can continue.  Alternatively, true healing comes from setting your own hear free.  Kolini said it does not matter if the other party does not want to accept your heart.  As long as you lay it bear and state what is honestly happening, then you’ve set yourself free.  It is up to the other to choose that freedom as well.

But we cannot control the other.  We can only control ourselves.

So is it deep, and honest and true here?  For some certainly.  And for others, it is up to them to take the offering.  But no one else can force that.

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I don’t understand anymore. Nevermind, I never understood. And the thing is, when dealing with interpersonal conflict, I never will. I will never, ever understand what the other person is thinking. Which means I can’t understand how they react. I can only accept the facts and act accordingly.

“It’s not knowing that hurts so much. If I could understand, if I could, then it would be all right again…

-Why do we have to understand? Has trying to understand been so wonderful?


Milan Stitt “Runner Stumbles”

“[That is arrogant…]

-To know the truth and to understand it?

-Yes, with respect, Commander, I think it is…[a]n arrogance, and perhaps, an impertinence.”

P.D. James The Private Patient

“What will happen will happen, whether I wish it or no. So, yes, I accept. It does not mean that I like it or wish it were not otherwise.”

Kate Mosse Labyrinth

I’ll Never Understand.”

P.S. The woman speaking in this song is on the board of AWFRI (and Shad K’s mother). That is her personal story she is telling. I am in love with this whole family.

Acceptance and Understanding

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“Grief can’t be dissolved like rain washing dust off a roof. Sorrow knows no washing away, no easing…no end of time.” Francine Rivers, The Last Sin Eater

According to the always helpful homework cheater helper scribd.com, rain symbolizes both despair and new life.

How can this be possible? says my ever so black and white personality.

Oh yeah, the world isn’t arranged in extremes and separations. (Which is exactly why art is the most vital avenue for understanding the world around us.)

Charan Ahuja describes the symbolic nature of rain as “an exhilarating marvel of nature, rain has magical powers to entwine the twin threads of emptiness and contentment together.”  She goes on, “from a gentle sprinkling to a torrid downpour, rains can be both life giving as well as death dealing.”

So it is fitting then, that the month of April begins Rwanda’s long wet season.

As a month started by official mourning activities, rain lends itself to a period of brooding and sitting indoors.  Nothing is quite as melancholy as rain slowly streaming down the windowpane.

In the Rwandan context, rain really only disrupts life.  It doesn’t last long, so it’s not something that needs to be addressed, but once it starts, no one leaves his/her current shelter.  We all just stay put and wait the 15 minutes needed for the torrential downpour to let up and allow us all to get back to business.

While I LOVE rain, I am totally fine with the whole wait it out concept.  I like being wet, but not arriving at my destination freshly showered.  So I have become really good in my predictions of when the rain will hit and can time my errands accordingly.

So Sunday was an anomaly for me.

This weekend was devoted entirely to buying a blender.  (Ours broke Friday night and we use it at least 5 times a week, so $100 or not, it was totally necessary to replace it.)  Saturday my roommate and I tried first the China store (an exact replica of the cheap rubber motor thing that broke on us Friday night, $100) and then the expat grocery store (an upgraded version that had a plastic motor—so it wouldn’t shred over time—$60).  While gloating over our plastic find, a British kid we keep running into but don’t actually know approached us and asked what we were doing.

“Umm you know, buying a blender.”

“Well I’m selling mine.”


“How much is this one.”
“How much are you selling yours for?”

“This one is probably like 39,000 RWF isn’t it?”

“Actually it’s only 32,000 RWF.”
“Well I’ll sell you mine for 20,000 RWF [$40].”

So Sunday we had to go find him and actually pick up the newest and most beloved addition to our household. We head out ten minutes before said meeting time.  I have just come back from the store, not a cloud in the sky and sweating from the heat of the middle of the day.  But heading back out sixty seconds later, I see the sky filled with grey clouds and hope that I don’t need my umbrella. Two minutes later, not even at the end of our street, it starts to sprinkle.  Another minute later, right as we are approaching the moto taxi station it starts to rain.  Not hard, but actual drops for sure.  So we decide to turn around and head back to wait out the building storm.  I walk in the gate five minutes later caked in mud and looking like I’ve just stepped from the shower, fully clothed.

Yea, I literally just walked back in the house.

This is the kind of rain I really truly love.  It falls from the sky with more force than my shower (really that doesn’t take a whole lot of pressure to beat the slow stream I attempt to wash myself in every morning) and spills so much water on the earth that everything gets washed away.

This is the kind of rain that could possibly wash away grief (if of course, that were possible).  Ironically, it came at the official close of the two-week commemoration period.  So in a sense, it did wash away the mourning time.

God bless the rains down in Africa.

So again, how can rain bring both death and new life?

Remember that time I found myself waiting out the rain with about 20 business men who just wanted to get on their way as well?

Remember how the mourning period was just two weeks of the year where we all hole up and wait for life to resume?

Remember how rain stops life, temporarily, but stops it nonetheless?

Remember how grief paralyzes any future plans?

Remember what the rainy season brought in April of 1994?

It may only be 15 minutes, two weeks, or a whole three-month/100 day stretch but the rains can bring death as well as new life.

I found life in the rain because I actually acknowledge it, stood in it, felt it.


Ahuja, Charan. “Rain Symbolism in Literature”. Willows Talk, Issue 11. 2010. Web Access 17th April 2011

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