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Forgive. Don’t forget

Posted in Life & Love

On a beautiful Spring Sunday morning about ten years ago, I opened the door of my San Diego suburban house and stepped out to retrieve the paper. My step-children were still asleep and my husband was gone for the week-end. A long and lazy Sunday stretched ahead of me. Right on my front step I was greeted by a turd of human feces. I stopped in my tracks and let the gaze wander farther, to the driveway covered with a giant toilet paper swastika and to more swastikas painted on the side wall.

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Cansilde Kamupundu and Juvenal Nzabamwita

The feeling of disbelief and fear that paralyzed me for a moment, I will never forget. Then I went into action mode: I took photographs, cleaned up what I could before the kids got up and called the police. About a week later, the same kind agent who had come to my house notified us they found the culprit, a neighborhood kid we chose not to prosecute, and who was sentenced to community service and a visit to the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Tellingly, neither of his parents came to apologize.

As a white woman in a white world, who might have been discriminated or patronized over the years but always had the means to fight back, I cannot even begin to comprehend what religious or racial discrimination feels like. The small glimpse I was given terrorized me, if even for just a moment: the absurdity and the gratuitous viciousness behind it so foreign to me. I was reminded of this incident when I heard, yesterday, of a white supremacist in Kansas who took it upon himself to shoot three people at a Jewish Center, on the eve of Passover.

Jean Pierre Karenzi and Viviane Nyiramana
Dominique Ndahimana and Consilde Munganynke

Incidentally, I had just finished reading about mourning week in Rwanda, a ceremony that is repeated every year since the end of the civil war in 1994 when, in the space of just over three months, about a million Tutsi were brutally killed by Hutus. The carnage is re-enacted on a stage in a large stadium, amongst the heartbreaking wails and cries of those who lived through twenty years ago. The ceremony always ends on a positive note, that stresses “we are all Rwandans now”. On the surface, it would appear that, in twenty years, more than an entente cordiale has been established between the perpetrators and the victims and, even economically, Rwanda is flourishing. Undoubtedly, some wounds will never heal but normalcy has in large part been regained because of the recognition of all involved that they had to find a way to live together.

More than two million trials have taken place in front of reconciliation tribunals and many of the killers have asked for forgiveness from their victims. That forgiveness is almost always granted, and that it runs deeper than just words of circumstance, is a testament to human resilience. I believe it’s also the work of strong and fierce women, who lost their husbands, fathers and children, who were raped and abused and, still, they forgive.

Godefroid Mudaheranwa and Evasta Mukanyadwi
Godefroid Mudaheranwa and Evasta Mukanyadwi

South African photographer Pieter Hugohas travelled to Rwanda and taken portraits of perpetrators and victims together, as part of a project sponsored by the non-profit organization Association Modeste et Innocent, that works to promote reconciliation.

The women in the photographs are all victims, who have opened their hearts, and sometimes their lives, to men who didn’t hesitate for a moment to slay their closest and dearest. And here they are, sorrows and closure and determination on their faces. But not hate. A necessary survival process perhaps, and one that most of us cannot come close to understanding or empathizing with. But what we can do is admire, support and draw from. And willingly forgive the next petty slight that comes our way.

Jean Pierre Karenzi and Viviane Nyiramana
Jean Pierre Karenzi and Viviane Nyiramana

All images courtesy of Pieter Hugo/NYT Magazine

PS A few months ago I wrote about one of my favourite photographers, Tyler Hicks, who is on staff at the New York Times.  I was happy to learn that, yesterday, his outstanding and brave work was recognized with a Pulitzer Prize, for the photos taken during the Nairobi mall massacre. Mr. Hicks, who lives in Nairobi, happened to be walking by, on the way to pick up some wedding presents, and didn’t hesitate to enter the mall, where he started to take incredibly detailed and close-up pictures. Well deserved congratulations to someone who thinks nothing of putting his life in danger over and over for the sake of reporting.

 

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16 Comments

  1. silvia
    silvia

    The one shot showing the woman with her hand on the perpetrator’s shoulder, the man’s back facing her speaks volumes. It says a lot about forgiving the unforgivable, a lot about humanity and compassion, a lot about greatness and the capability to look forward.
    Thanks c&s for sharing this.

    April 17, 2014
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    • If you click on the NYT link, you can see a few others.

      April 18, 2014
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  2. That was a horrible way to launch your Sunday morning but yes, there are people who suffer this indignity on a regular basis. Thank goodness you got to the bottom of it. Forgiveness can be the hardest thing. I’m from Northern Ireland which had a similar history…two tribes going to war. I couldn’t bear growing up in it but now with distance I am revisiting it in my writing.
    Nice post. Distance is a great healer.

    April 16, 2014
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    • Like all teenagers, I was impressionable and took up, at least in my heart, many causes that lied far away from me. The Irish one landed on my doorstep thanks to an Irish teacher, whose brother, it turned out, was in the IRA. She used to pass me a lot of written material which I would devour and I still remember very vividly Bobby Sand’s hunger strike. Your country has finally made sizable and permanent inroads but it can’t have been an easy place to grow up in.

      April 17, 2014
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      • I think the overriding impression I had growing up was utter tedium. The same news stories every day, the same annoying politicians, the same tired convictions. No wonder I couldn’t get away fast enough! Just like you, perhaps, I enjoy American politics because it’s different and novel and often equally silly but it doesn’t pain me so much. And of course people are not kneecapping each other in the street because they have the wrong surname…

        April 17, 2014
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  3. Beautiful story, as usual. Happy Easter. xx

    April 16, 2014
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    • Happy Easter to you and your (growing) family too! Hope all is well.

      April 16, 2014
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      • It is. I dropped my computer and destroyed it but a new one is on its way. Xx

        April 16, 2014
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  4. So well written as always. These are incredible women who forgive and men that own up.

    April 16, 2014
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    • Men who owe up – living with guilt must be like a life sentence. Owning up probably lessens the burden. Thank you

      April 16, 2014
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  5. Reblogged this on COURAGE TIMES THREE and commented:
    Rwanda was a horrific event which I thought would never occur in the world again after the Holocaust. Now, we have even seen it again and again in African or mid’east countries. Something I never ever thought the world would let happen again. Lord, please forgive those of us who does not help our neighbor when it is needed.

    April 15, 2014
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    • Such a true and heart wrenching story. This was beautifully written and I admire you for telling it so well. Rwanyda should NOT be forgotten and won’t be. There are all kinds of people in this crazy world we currently live in, sinister and nice and loving. Too many nuts like the pair in Kansas recently. We must rise above them also.
      Thank you. Harriette Smith

      April 16, 2014
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      • So pleased you feel like I do. We need more people like you in the world Harriette…

        April 16, 2014
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