After surviving the Rwandan genocide, Samantha sets out to avenge her family.
This book follows the adolescent Samantha Nyamwasa as she travels through a war-torn Rwanda during the genocide of Tutsis in 1994. Samantha survives rape, genital mutilation, and the murder of her family. Despite all her ordeals, she stays strong and is determined to reach her goal, to murder Colonel Patrick Bagosora and avenge her family.
When I close my eyes, I can still envision those distant days in March ‘94, albeit my memory has faded over the years.
“Samantha, come and play soccer with us.” My brother always joked. Sometimes I obliged, and he always laughed in glee at my clumsiness with the soccer ball, as he was running laps around me. This took place in the soil field next to the river where the children of our village met.
“Yuhi, stop being mean to me!” I remember shouting at my brother. I remember the look of the old worn-out ball, the earthy mud fields and warm rivers, but I cannot remember the face of my brother, just glimpses of a happier time. When I think of my dear brother, I only remember his happy smile, his cute innocence and thundering laughter whenever he scored a goal. It was always a debate between us whenever someone scored a goal, as we didn’t have proper goal posts to determine who was the real winner. We used our worn-out shoes as goal posts and played barefoot instead. This was crucial not to break our old and much-loved shoes any further. They were the only ones that we’ve got, and we needed the shoes for when we helped our parents ploughing the farmlands, to avoid stepping on rocks, or walking on venomous animals. Our school’s sports field was clear of sharp rocks, so why would we wear out our shoes when playing barefoot worked just as well?
I remember coming home after a day in school, which was followed by fishing in the muddy warm river with my dad. We ate umitsuma, a mixed of cassava and corn for lunch and dinner. This was our daily staple. We rarely ate meat, except when one of us were lucky enough to catch a fish or a bird. Our days were joyful; we were poor but at least our poverty brought us together. It was not at all like the cool and modern suburbia I am now living in, after I escaped to Australia as a Rwandan genocide survivor.
Occasionally, my father would gently whisper to us about the current news from the rest of Rwanda. Our family didn’t have a TV. We did not even have a radio, but we did know how to read, so we followed the headlines in the newspapers that they sold in a nearby town. Sometimes me or my brother would run to the neighbouring town and pick up old newspapers and books from the rubbish bins. It was too wasteful to buy today’s newspaper when old newspapers gave us the same opportunity to read and learn about the world in different languages. On a good day, I found old newspapers or books in Kinyarwanda, French, or English. I loved learning different languages of the world, and I often would imagine myself travelling to these places that they spoke about in books. My brother Yuhi found my fascination with languages to be silly. “How often do you ever speak to someone who doesn’t know Kinyarwanda? The white man never comes here anyway.”
“Don’t be ignorant, Yuhi. Samantha’s desire to amass knowledge will make our village proud one day. We are the Nyamwasa family, and we have always valued knowledge.” My father, Mutara Nyamwasa, replied kindly.
“I guess books are good for her since she won’t be a professional footballer when she grows up,” Yuhi smirked and ran off to play some more football, as usual.
When Yuhi had ran away, I spoke to my dad about something that I read in the newspaper. “Father. The newspaper said that President Juvénal Habyarimana is facing difficulties with the peace treaty. Why is that? Why can’t people live in peace?”
Mutara gave me a worried expression and explained, “That is because the devil and evil spirits influence people to want discord. It’s the way of the world. You can only make things better by helping the good spirits around you.”
“But will we be safe?” I asked innocently.
“Man cannot know his fate. Only our God Jesus Christ knows. To speculate on these matters is a waste of energy. We must pray that God will save us and things will work out.” My father said with a kind but worried voice.
Looking back at our talk, I believe that our father had a lack of foreboding suspicion of what was about to happen. While a part of me is blaming him for not taking precautions, another part of me understands him. We cannot let fear govern our lives. My father’s lack of preparation is also understandable, as our part of the country was never involved in the civil war that ravaged the northern parts of Rwanda between 1990 to 1993. Yet, after the short-lived peace, the worst was about to come.
Looking back, I also recall a conversation I had with my mother, Junema, a short while before everything fell apart.
“Why can’t I have another sibling, mother? Ours is the smallest family in the village.” I pleaded.
“I am not sure, my dear child. We have been praying to Jesus Christ every night for another child, but we have not been blessed.” My mother replied solemnly. I joined my mother in praying for another sibling that night, but nothing happened. In retrospect, I have realised that my mother and I were genetically predisposed to the same condition, with one dissimilarity. She had two children before she got old enough for the condition to appear.