Today was my first full day of work. I took the bus into mumugyi (town) and flagged down a moto-taxi for the second leg of my journey to the Survivor Corps office in Nyamirambo. Before getting on the moto-taxi, I called Albert so that he could give the driver directions to the office. Addresses don’t exist and many of the streets are unnamed in Kigali, so people use landmarks to give directions.
Twenty minutes later, I arrived at the Survivor Corps offices – a small building shared with an organization called Never Again Rwanda – and Albert and I got started. We discussed all of SC’s accomplishments since it opened its Kigali doors in January. Albert, with the help of the DC team and the office in Kampala, organized advocacy training, obtained four partner organizations, helped peer support trainings, put together a conference on mobilizing for disability rights, hosted the Survivor Corps board and set up a meeting for them with President Kagame. Not bad for half a year.
We then dug into a USAID grant that Albert has been working on. After an hour or so, Albert went into town and he assigned Sarah, the administrative assistant for Never Again, to take me to the restaurant up the street to grab a bite to eat. Shyly, she led me up the dirt path towards Peace Restaurant and answered most of my questions with one word.
“Are you in school?” “Yes.”
“What are you studying?” “Management.”
“How old are you?” “22.”
Her English was great, but she was kind enough to tolerate my French. Halfway through the walk I asked whom she lives with.
“My mother and my brothers – one older, one younger. My dad died in 1994.”
“I’m very sorry.”
We walked the rest of the way in silence.
When we arrived at Peace Restaurant, Sarah negotiated a price for my lunch (there was no menu, and the only preference I was able to express was that I didn’t want red meat). As I gorged on fries, beans, pasta, plantains, and rice, she slowly sipped a Fanta. She politely refused my offer to share; saying she would eat this evening when she arrived at school, and then have a snack when she got home at 10 pm.
I attempted some more questions in French, and she began inquiring about my life in the States – what I studied, where I lived, what I wanted to do. I finished telling her about my family – my parents in Philadelphia and my brother studying in Ecuador for the summer – when she suddenly said, “You are very lucky you have all your family. I miss my father very much.” Her voice trailed off and she looked down. Again, silence. Moments later, she lifted her head, “I want to travel to the US and many different places. I want to tell my story. I need to tell my story.”
Walking back from lunch, our conversation again returned to everyday life – sports, music, her boyfriend that she plans to marry in five years – but I couldn’t get her words out of my head. “I want to tell my story. I need to tell my story.”
Like the streets that are not easily found, Rwandans are not quick to tell you about their tragedy. But they too can be understood through their landmarks, and it is by sharing their stories – these moments that identify who they are and where they’ve been – that survivors like Sarah will persevere.
Posted By Lisa Rogoff
Posted Jun 4th, 2009