• Ian Manzi

Stanzas in a Ceasefire

Bom-Bom! Bom-Bom! Bom-Bom! Bom-Bom! Bom-Bom! Bom-Bom! Bom-Bom! That sound again. The sound of my heart beating so heavily I can hear it in my ears. It’s the sound in my mind, at the touch of my past’s frigid fingers. It’s the unsettling sound of my existence re-shattering every time I remember the torment and plight of my motherland. My beautiful motherland, that was maimed and hacked by her own sons and daughters. The motherland that loved and nourished us all, nonetheless. A motherland with a story of resilience, even after her rivers of milk and honey were sullied with the blood of her own.

It’s the sound of the engulfing gloom and anguish at the thought of all the lost moments. The innumerable lives that won’t be lived and the stories that won’t be heard. Those sons and daughters, who will not get another chance to create memories with their parents. The ones who will settle for savoring the little they were left with. The mothers and fathers who won’t be able to live out their dream of parenthood. The ones who will relive every tiny shred of moments that memory and time will allow them, with heartaches and agony.

It’s the sound of the tears I never manage to smother before they break loose. Tears that are the words my heart fails to speak every time I recall the way animosity drove harmony out, and tore beauty to pieces. Every time I remember the inhumanity with which many valuable lives were torn from us. It’s that sound again.

Dear Rwanda, here I am, over two decades down the line. Will my heart ever stop hurting? Will my head really stop spinning? Will I ever stop dreading the nightmare in our past? Here I am looking at your walk of glory, and here I am healing. But, will I truly stop fracturing at the thought of the evil that lurks in your history?

December 2015 “As fog dissipated this morning, bodies of young men were found in the roads of Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. Residents said dozens of men were rounded up as their homes were raided. According to the UN, at least 240 people have been killed since April and more than 200,000 have fled to neighboring countries.”1

Bom-Bom! Bom-Bom! Bom-Bom! Here we go again! Have we not seen enough inanimate bodies scattered across the plains of our nations? Tell me, motherland, how could your shrieks have left the status quo so undisturbed? Is the human memory failing us, or were our souls barely grazed by the adversities that befell you? Do we all need to be dying before we start fighting for life? Did the pain that you endure not teach us anything?

Tell me Rwanda, is your story making me see what is not there? Am I delusional for looking at the world today and thinking we have learnt so little from the torture of your spirit? Even if I was crazy though, don’t they say, “umusazi arasara akagwa ku ijambo”? Even the crazy man can make a point, that’s what it means, right? So how can we hear all this and not see the darkness? How can we work so hard on what label to stick on the loss of lives, and not break a sweat to avoid it? Are our history books so empty and outdated that we seek newer narratives of stories we know so well? My heart shatters every time tears and resonating cries for help, are met with a silent response that sounds very familiar to me.

April 14, 2014 ‘Shortly after a mob looted his Bangui neighborhood and killed a Muslim man in broad daylight in December, Khaled Dea Oumar joined other young Muslims in the street. Exasperated at what he saw as a lack of protection from French and African Union forces supposed to be keeping the peace in the Central African Republic capital, he ran up to a group of African Union soldiers who had arrived on the scene too late. “We tell you to come and you don’t come,” he shouted. “What are you doing?”’ 2

Do you not hear it? That eerie sound that mankind’s history can’t seem to shake. The sound of desperation at the sight of a failing savior. The sound of mothers begging for the sake of their babies. The resonance of a husband’s voice, as he trades his life for his wife’s. How can you not feel these chills going down my spine? To many these are stories about Burundi and Central African Republic. To many these are stories of last year and the year before that. To me, these are jabs to the heart. These are stories that sound very familiar.

Sunday, December 19th, 1999 “The last time Helena Nwitizina saw United Nations soldiers they were driving off to rescue white people. She was not among those who begged the Belgian peacekeepers to administer a quick death rather than abandon them to the men with machetes. But the 30-year-old petrol pump attendant was no less terrified. A few hours later Nwitizina was one of the few people to crawl out of the first big massacre of the genocide in Rwanda. ‘We could not believe that the United Nations was just going to let us die. We were always hearing on the radio how they were there to help us. But when the killers were looking us in the eye and saying we were going to die what did the UN do? It saved white people,’ she said.” 3

These are tales that make me wonder whether the world has yet heard my people’s crying. Moments that make me wonder if nobody has cared to listen closely, to the pleas of those we lost. To me they always say, although we were killed for no reason, don’t let our deaths be for no reason. Stories like these always challenge me. Through them, I hear my motherland asking me, what are you doing to ensure “Never Again”. Dear Rwanda, twenty-two years down the road, twenty-two years since the sun broke its chains and finally shattered the weighing darkness of those 100 nights. Twenty-two short years since your broken heart and bones started mending themselves, and twenty-two brief years since our deep wounds started healing and scarring into cautionary marks.

The lie told by time, of the expanding distance between us and those inhumane days, is always blown to bits by the realization that we can’t forget your excruciating pain nor the torment of that silence. It is shaken by the reality of a world that seems as prone to darkness as it was twenty-two years ago.

The walls of my heart crumble in every time my mind wanders to the time brotherhood lost meaning, friendships were voided and humanity’s complex weave was undone effortlessly. That is why I look around and ask myself, whose memory will we be fighting to keep ablaze, twenty-two years from now? Whose pain will we eternally regret twenty-two years from today? With whom will we be chanting, “Never Again”? Have we learnt enough to not turn back around that corner? What have we, as citizens of the world, done to assure that?

March 26, 2004 Gen. Romeo Dallaire “I still believe that if an organisation decided to wipe out the 320 mountain gorillas there would still be more of a reaction by the international community to curtail or to stop that, than there would still be today in attempting to protect thousands of human beings being slaughtered, in the same country.”4

I don’t know. One thing I know, however, is that, for you Dear Rwanda, I will be a peace farmer. I will take your story around, and tell it to every willing ear. I will trott the earth with the tale of your rise from the ashes held high, like the burning torch of hope that it is. I will share your undying love for the the fruits of your womb and the story of the resilient spirit residing within your struck body. I will do it all, hoping that some day we will all be able to stand firm and truly say, “Never Again”.

©Jibenti 2016

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