Tag Archives: Kwizera Means Hope

Kwizera Inspirations: Volcanoes (Take Two)

I’ve had a lot going on with my day job, which isn’t going to let up until June (but there is an end!), and I have some freelance projects due. So, when something has to give, it’s the blog. I will have some posts throughout May, but I may not get to leave comments for you in return. I will be back eventually – I promise.

Back in 2009 I did a series of posts discussing the real-life places, people, and events that inspired scenes and characters in my YA manuscript, “Kwizera Means Hope”. Since I’m still feeling nostalgic, here’s one of them:

Volcanoes

One of the Virunga volcanoes loomed on the western horizon as I trudged up the hill from the tea plantations in the valley to the tarmac road in the weak early morning light.

The Virunga volcanoes lie at the conjunction of three central and eastern African countries:  Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).  They are home to mountain gorillas, made famous by Dyan Fossey and the movie, Gorillas in the Mist.

The volcanoes are sometimes visible from Byumba, the town in Northern Rwanda where “Kwizera” is set.  It depends on the clouds and the sun. Strangely – unless you’re familiar with meteorology, I guess – you cannot see the volcanoes on bright, sunny days.  Only right after it has rained.

Obviously, the closer you are to the volcanoes – in Ruhengeri or Gisenyi, perhaps – the more likely you are to see them.

Unfortunately, those strange meteorological conditions mean that I don’t have a good enough picture from my days there to show you.

What kinds of things inspired the setting of one of your novels?

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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.

…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)

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Kwizera Inspirations: Jean-Marie

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.

         Footsteps crunched the gravel.  A thin man in uniform strode toward us, tall as a eucalyptus tree.

…     The newcomer came to the edge of the fire, removed his hat, and inclined his upper torso in a slight bow.  “Muraho?”

         We answered and each shook his hand in the traditional way.  His touch sent a shock up the inside of my forearm.  The surprise of it was like a cup of cold water dumped over my head.  Who is he?

         His height could have blocked the sun had he been standing behind us.  Black eyes squinted in a long, lean face and my underarms got damp.

         Louise introduced him as Jean-Marie Nyagunga.  “I’m in charge of the border at Gatuna,” he explained in a warm voice that made my insides melt.

Jean-Marie, the love interest for KWIZERA’s main character, Cecile, was a very young lieutenant at the Katuna (the G and the K were often interchanged) border crossing between Uganda and Rwanda.  I saw him several times a week for the first four months or so of my stay in Africa.

One day, during my first month or so, I arrived at the border on my way to Kabale, Uganda, with my driver, John, a Ugandan English-speaking older man, perhaps in his fifties.  While walking away from our pick-up truck, John and Jean-Marie spoke in Kinyarwanda for a few minutes and laughed heartily.

I asked John what they were talking about.

“He asked me how many cows I would take for you, to marry you,” John answered.

“He can’t do that,” I said, my voice rising.  I turned to Jean-Marie and spoke in French.

“You can’t ask him that, he’s not my father.”

“Where is your father?” he asked.

“In the States.”

“Then what can I do?”

“You’ll have to write to him in the US.”  I smiled and waved goodbye as we had now reached the immigration office.

My father never did receive a letter from Jean-Marie, but Dad got a kick out of that story.

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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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Repost about the oldest profession

Below is from a post I wrote about a year ago. I chose to repost it now because I’m in the middle of revising the new and improved, rewritten Kwizera, which now includes a character who made a choice that may seem quite foreign to many of us, and is related to what I wrote a year ago.

And since I’m in revision-mode, I’ve made changes to the post inspired by my new character, Odette.

Prostitution and AIDS

Well-dressed young women hanging out at bars and nightclubs frequented by foreigners. An English mechanic’s housekeeper-cum-girlfriend. What do they have in common? The foreign men who pay them for sex.

Oh, and did I mention that the mechanic had a wife and children back home in England? I don’t mean to pick on the English. I saw the same thing happen with Belgian men, and heard about plenty of other expatriates enjoying the company of pretty Rwandan girls, then paying for their clothes or food for their families.

So prostitution has been around forever, right? Yes, but now AIDS has entered the picture.

These girls know they could die of AIDS by the time they turn twenty-five. And they don’t care. For a few years they are taken care of, well-fed, well-dressed, and they don’t have to work in the fields. They would rather die young than work as farmers.

Add to this what many of these girls suffered or witnessed or survived during the war and genocide, and you have a mind-set of “Life is short”. Why not enjoy life while they can? Why work themselves to the bone at subsistence agriculture to live in mud huts on a hill and to marry a man with no further ambition than to feed his children?

The girls who choose prostitution also choose a life in the city of parties, dancing, restaurants, nice clothes and the dream of a better life. They hope that one of their foreign clients might fall in love with them, marry them and take them to Europe or North America where everyone is rich and always has enough to eat.

What did I learn by witnessing young girls trash every value they had ever learned from parents who are now dead or missing? What did I learn by administering a program that, among other things, poured money into a government agency designed to educate the Rwandan population about abstinence, protection and a disease without a cure?

I learned that the fight against HIV and AIDS in Africa is the longest uphill battle you could ever imagine.

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New year…

New year, new work, new goals.

I thought I would take this opportunity to update you, my adoring and avid public.

The Transparents – I am considering rewriting this for YA.  I have realized that there is too much internal dialogue and thought process, and not enough action, for MG.  I could still change my mind and make this work as MG, which would be lots of fun.

The Tzohar Legacy – I have editing notes to apply when I have time.

Kwizera Means Hope – I received some wonderful feedback from two editors late last year, which has led to much soul-searching.  I am in the process of rethinking the plot in preparation for rewriting the manuscript.  The story of Rwanda’s people rebuilding their lives after the genocide deserves to be told, and it is my responsibility to find the right way to do that.

Sophie and the Medallion of Time – I finished the first draft just before the start of the new year. It is sitting and steeping to allow me to get some distance from it before I revise.

I have several blog posts in the works, as well.  I have gathered some online resources for revising and synopsis-writing that I will share in the next few weeks.  I plan to update you on my older son’s journey to becoming a proficient reader.  I still have plenty to share about my time in Rwanda, and I will eventually share some of my experiences in France, in preparation to query Sophie.

Onward and upward.  Join me by following your dream in 2010 (and posting about your journey in the comments section).

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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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