Sunday, December 08, 2019

Rwanda: From Red Earth, by Denise Uwimana

I was looking for a different book in our library when I spotted this on the shelf. I hadn't heard of this book before, so it was a fortuitous discovery.

The book is not a novel but a memoir. Denise Uwimana was born in Burundi to Rwandan parents, and grew up in the Congo. Her Tutsi parents had fled Rwanda at the time of independence in 1962, when the new government was in Hutu hands, and there was considerable unrest. However Denise returned to Rwanda at the invitation of her aunt. There she found both a job and a husband. Life was good at first, but it did not last long. Even as three sons were born to them, violence was increasing, culminating in the genocide of Tutsi at the hands of their Hutu neighbours - many of whom had been friends - in 1994. Over the space of a hundred days, more than a million Tutsi were murdered.

The book would be remarkable as an account of that genocide. More remarkable is that Denise and her sons survived, by many small occurrences that can only seem miraculous.

Even more remarkable is the account of Denise's work after the genocide. Denise is the founder of Iriba Shalom International, an organization that provides material and spiritual help to genocide survivors and their children. Their are many Tutsi widoes, since the genocide targeted men and male children. But their are also Hutu women whose husbands were in prison for their part in the genocide. The work of Denise's foundation, and indeed the government, includes recovery and reconciliation between survivors on both sides. For instance, Tutsi widows were given a cow. When that cow had a calf, the woman would give the calf to a Hutu woman. The Hutu widow would give the next calf to a Tutsi woman, and so on.

Denise was driven by her Christian faith, and the book is published by a Christian publishing house. But there are no easy platitudes here. Forgiveness did not always come easily, but it did come. It is a powerful story, and one that I was unfamiliar with as I knew of the genocide of the early 1990's, but not the path that the country had followed since.

Even more remarkably, Denise wrote the book in English, her sixth language.

She now lives in Germany with her second husband, Dr. Wolfgang Reinhardt, but continues to work for healing in Rwanda.

From Red Earth was published by Plough Publishing House, Walden, New York in 2019