This is part of a series of posts discussing the real-life places, people and events that inspired scenes and characters in my young adult manuscript, KWIZERA MEANS HOPE.
…Teddy ran to the door. How odd. Teddy usually walked with a long, ambling stride.
He burst through the door. “There was a landmine accident near a school in Kigogo!”
My heart stopped. My sisters go to school in Kigogo.
“Oh my goodness,” Louise said, squeezing her lips between her fingers.
“Two children were hurt,” he said.
I took a few steps back. “No, no, no.” Bile rose in my throat.
“Some villagers found a landmine in a potato field early this morning. They built a pyramid of stones around it like the UN people taught them to and went off to inform the chief. The chief told the bourgmestre who told the Byumba prefect, who told the local military commander. All this took time. Two kids found the pyramid while the Big Men talked.”
Oh God, please not Thérèse and Lucie, I prayed. They knew not to go near such a pyramid, didn’t they?
Such a landmine accident occurred in Byumba Prefecture in my second month there (February 1995). Some villagers found a landmine in a field, built a pyramid of stones around it as they had been taught, and informed their local chief. The local chief reported the news to the next person up the chain, and so on, until the news reached the regional government in Byumba.
In the meantime, two little boys found the pyramid of stones and played with its deadly contents. The six-year-old needed surgery to remove shrapnel from his abdomen. I visited him in our trauma hospital, his father at his bedside. The look in the boy’s eyes haunts me to this day.
The eight-year-old had to have his leg amputated and I watched part of that surgery. Our very able, very calm-under-pressure trauma doctor and co-Team Leader, Dr. Noli, performed the surgery aided by nurses, and surrounded by visitors from a foundation located on the Isle of Jersey. They had donated a Land Rover to us and spent a few days visiting our program at the same time as the landmine accident.
Dr. Noli is fromKisangani in what used to be called Zaire. In fact, the war that caused the country’s name to change to the Democratic Republic of the Congo occurred while Dr. Noli and I worked together in Rwanda.
The landmine incident horrified and angered me. The Rwandans had done exactly what they were supposed to do, yet two little boys got hurt anyway. I suppose it didn’t occur to anyone to guard the pyramid. And why was the landmine there, in the middle of a field in a rural area of a developing country? It was leftover from the war that preceded the genocide.
Yet another reason I have to get this manuscript right, so it can see the light of day, so it can inform and inspire America’s youth.
(Originally posted on 1/3/10)