The past isn’t dead. In fact,it isn’t even past.

“You need to help those people from my country because you are in a much better condition than all of them are”, said Alice Musabende, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. She spoke of the holocaust, of her neighbors who were killed, of her friends who were raped, of those millions of innocents who had to face horrifying atrocities. I had heard of all these things before, read about them and also seen movies based on that holocaust. But Alice’s words were different. They were different because Alice, 14 yrs old at the time, lost her entire family- grandparents, parents, 12-year-old sister, and 9-year-old brother – in the violence. It was hard to believe that I was actually listening to a girl who lost everything and was orphaned at such a young age. And the reason for this wasn’t an accident or some other unfortunate twist of fate, but was a planned assassination of innocent people which she had witnessed. “I had gone to my aunt’s place a day before the violence. And then I never saw my family again. I miss my brother the most. I don’t even remember how he looked, but I remember losing him. I think of him often”, said Alice. As she said this, I realized that all that was said until then wasn’t said by a 26 yr old Alice. We all were listening to that teenage girl, who missed her family, who was confused as to what exactly was happening, who failed to understand why grown ups were killing each other, who didn’t even know then what genocide meant. Such memories are always arrested in that specific time period. Hence every time Alice thinks about this, it is the 14 yr old, who has to face that trauma again and again. Technically Alice sure is a survivor of the genocide, since she is amongst us now. But is she really living? A life with such a huge traumatic past, will she ever be able to recover from that? These questions troubled me no end, and as most would do, I tried not to think of them. While I was thinking of this, Alice mentioned that she went on to get a degree in journalism from a Rwandan university and is now pursuing graduate studies in Ottawa, Canada. However before this information could promise some hope in my mind, Alice mentioned that not even 5% of the other survivors were even half as lucky as her to have gotten a healthy and educated life. A lot of them managed to survive the genocide but were killed by diseases like AIDS, cholera and dysentery. The after effects of that genocide continue to haunt Rwanda. “The past isn’t dead. In fact, it isn’t even past”, someone on the stage quoted William Faulkner. And we all witnessed a living manifestation of the past. But as Alice concluded her talk, she did not mention this past, she talked of future. She urged everyone sitting there to intervene to change the conditions in Darfur region of Sudan, where the first 21st century genocide has begun.
Alice couldn’t help her tears through out this talk. And those tears represented much more than grief. They said everything – sorrow, joy, courage, relief, hope, strength and above all the truth of her life.
(I heard Alice’s talk when she spoke at St. Mary’s Basilica, Minneapolis)

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2 Responses to The past isn’t dead. In fact,it isn’t even past.

  1. Ajay says:

    Brilliantly written. I can feel it without having heard the talk…

  2. Neeraj says:

    To think that the nations of the world did nothing but watch when unspeakable acts of horror, perpetrated by very ordinary citizens and master-minded by a desperate government and a hateful small minority of people who were catapulted into power, were underway…
    To think that the small UN intervention force could do nothing other than watch while the powers that be, weighed their self-interest against their duty with self-interest finally winning.
    ‘It isn’t even the past’… I am ever hopeful that it won’t be the future but optimism in such respects is greatly measured when one sees what people have done in the past in one’s homeland, a relatively progressive nation.
    Real well written. Telling a story that needs to be told…

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