Monday, January 2, 2012

Her Garden

This weekend, I went with my friend Josiane to visit her home in the Eastern Province. I work with Josiane at EDD and she has told me so much about her family and the land she owns in the village she grew up in. Josiane has a vibrant personality and not a day goes by where I don’t hear her laughter or see her smile. I love being around her because her happiness is contagious. Perhaps that is why it’s so difficult for me to remember that she and her family suffered many losses during the genocide.

One of the first things we did after arriving at her mother’s house was go for a walk to see her land a few kilometers away. As we walked together up the dirt road, she stopped to show me invisible landmarks from a Rwanda I will never know. A field where corn now stands used to be the house of family friends. All of them were killed and their house was burned to the ground. Two women walking down the road that Josiane greeted were the wives of men who killed her father. She told me, “I know that the genocide is over, but I still fear them.” We passed by a small path that would be a shortcut to get to her land, but we did not take it. Many had died along that road trying to escape the Hutu killers. We skirted a small house at the end of the road that belonged to a family who was known for poaching in Akagera National Park. When they heard the President’s plane had been shot down in April 1994, they were quick to use their hunting weapons and begin the slaughter of their neighbors.

 I knew we reached our destination when I spotted a perfectly square area of turned over earth. It was on this land 18 years ago that the house of her father, her grandfather, and uncle once stood. Today, there is nothing to mark their existence besides a crumbling stone wall, formerly a piece of her house. Her cows and goats roam freely across the hillside. It is Josiane’s dream to turn her land into a beautiful garden and eventually a hotel. The garden will become a memorial to her family members who died during the genocide. A monument will be created out of the last few stones of the wall. On the side of a small hill in the Eastern Province of Rwanda, a dream is beginning to take shape.

The land!

Josiane and the stone wall: all that is left of her house

When I asked Josiane if she wanted a picture with her future garden, her face lit up. She dropped to her knees and grabbed fistfuls of dirt. “This is my land.” She told me. That day, she had listed off all of the things that the genocide had taken from her. But her land was not on that list. The land of her father remains, 18 years later, and it has a story of promise and hope.  Out of the blood that was shed on the earth in April of 1994 will grow a beautiful garden for all to enjoy, and understand the story behind it.

Her cows

The family and I

Josiane and I


Aunt Lina said...

Elena... I was looking at the picture of Josiane's family. I love the bright bold colors the women are wearing. I know they probably make their own dress. Is this fabric made locally? I admire Josiane's cows, garden and hope for the future. It's all impressive.

Elena said...

Thanks Aunt Lina! And yes! The bright fabric is made in Rwanda and all around Africa. I'll try and take a picture of some fabric stalls next time I'm at the market. It's overwhelming looking at all the patterns!