Tag Archives: Byumba

Inshuti wanjye (my friend)

I have written before about my amazing friend, Marie-Josée, the nurse and widow, who worked with me in Rwanda and supported her children, sisters and nephews.  I don’t know how Marie-Josée and I became such good friends, but it started with a sick visit.

One of our Rwandan colleagues was sick in bed during my first two months in Byumba.  I learned that the local custom is to visit a sick person to offer company and conversation.  I joined some Ugandan colleagues during the visit – the people with whom I shared living space.

The Rwandan members of our team didn’t live with us, so I had not yet had a chance to get to know them.  Marie-Josée stood out to me that evening. Tall, thin, dark-skinned, she was the only French speaker of the group.  Many of our Rwandan colleagues had lived in Uganda, and so spoke English.  But Marie-Josée had lived in French-speaking Burundi.

We began to meet regularly, when our schedules allowed.  Marie-Josée worked in our trauma hospital as a nurse, assisting our Zairian doctor in surgery.  She spent her weekends in the capital, Kigali, with her family.

She supported a widowed younger sister, in her early twenties, with a toddler son, who took care of the house and kids while Marie-Josée worked with us in the north; a teenage sister who required secondary school fees and stayed with the family during school breaks; plus her own sons, Fabrice, Yves and Hervé.  During my time there, two married siblings died and Marie-Josée took in several nieces and nephews.

Despite all the weight on her frail-looking shoulders, she always wore a smile.  And despite the vast differences between us, we became as close as sisters.  Marie-Josée listened to my stories of family, about my crushes and adventures, and was always my biggest supporter. 

Maybe she’s the reason I feel so strongly about writing “Kwizera Means Hope”, and getting it right.  It isn’t her story, and yet it is.  Just like my character, Cecile, my friend Marie-Josée survived personal and national tragedy, yet her inner strength and goodness continue to shine.

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Kwizera Inspirations: Landmine

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”.

We went out to the living room and watched Teddy run to the door.  How odd.  Teddy usually walked with a long, ambling stride.

He burst through the door.  “There’s been a land mine accident near a school in Kigogo!”

My heart stopped.  My sisters go to school in Kigogo.

“Oh my goodness,” Louise said, squeezing nearly white lips between her fingers.

“Two children were hurt,” he said.

I took a few steps back.  “No, no, no.”  Bile rose in my throat.

Such a landmine accident occurred in Byumba Prefecture in my second month there.  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 surrounded by nurses and 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.  I got to play tour guide.

Side note:  The photo of me in the sidebar was taken at a Byumba orphanage by the English photographer who accompanied the head of the foundation.  Too bad it was taken with my camera and not his.

Dr. Noli is from Kisangani in what used to be called Zaire.  In fact, the war that caused the country’s name to change to Democratic Republic of the Congo occurred while Dr. Noli and I worked together in Rwanda.  He probably deserves a posting of his own, so you may read more about him later.

The driver who inspired the character of Teddy may have to get his own posting, too.  You will just have to keep checking this site for more.

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. 

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Kwizera Inspirations: Telephone

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”.

A far off tinkling floated in.  “What’s that?” I asked.

“A telephone,” Louise answered.  “Installed last week.  It took a couple of months.”  She looked up from her carrots.  “Mm.  Months.  Then we had to find five men to dig the trench for the telephone lines.  Then it took another five or six weeks.”

Goodness!  These people even have a telephone?  I wondered how many telephones existed in all of Byumba Town, in all of Byumba Prefecture.

On March 2, 1995, I had just returned to Byumba from our office in Kabale, Uganda (an hour north of the border), with our secretary, one of our nurses, a drum of diesel and a milk canister.  The latter two had been tied in the bed of my pick-up.

Unfortunately, the milk canister wasn’t tied tightly enough, and all the milk poured out into the bed as we bumped along dirt roads.  We also lost several liters of diesel and the drum acquired a hole.

While unloading the pick-up at our house in Byumba, hands covered in fuel and sour milk, the Rwandatel man showed up and asked me to supply five men to dig a trench for installing our phone.  We arranged for him to come back the next day when we could have five men from the surrounding area in need of work to help us.

The phone was finally installed and working on March 16th.

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