The Whole World Sat by and Did Nothing

I’ve spent the past few months researching the history of Rwanda for Edwin Sabuhoro’s autobiography, which he has asked me to help him write.

I knew very little about Rwanda; however, I did recall the horrific Genocide of 1994.  That was only because one Saturday afternoon, several years ago, I happened on the movie Hotel Rwanda.

As I watched this profoundly disturbing film, I wondered why I had never known anything about the Genocide, also referred to as 100 Days of Slaughter.  I pay pretty close attention to the news, yet, I was stunned and shocked by what the film revealed.  I recall feeling ashamed that I knew nothing of such a stunning and unimaginable historical event.  Yet, after doing my research and writing a short history of Rwanda which will be woven into Edwin’s story, I fully understood my ignorance.

As the genocide took place, it simply wasn’t covered by news agencies.  Many countries, the U.S. included, assumed it was nothing more than your typical civil war in the ever troubled countries within the African Continent.  That was the farthest from the truth.

In order to understand Edwin’s story, I knew I needed to become familiar with and understand the history of his country in order to do his autobiography justice.  I had no idea what I was getting into because the history is scattered everywhere.  There are books written about Rwanda but most of them have to do with the genocide and Rwanda’s history as it relates to why the genocide occurred.  Pre-genocide history has been difficult to find.  So, I hunkered down and began surfing the internet in search of the history.  What I found is a history that seems indicative of most of the African continent.  One which began in a period of history called, Pre-Colonialization.

As I read the history, I was imbued with a sense of ‘innocence lost,’ and the knowledge that it was the West that imposed its history on most of the countries in Africa; and, it was the West that gave birth to much of the trouble within the African Continent.  That is especially true for Rwanda.

During our first meeting, Edwin and I created an outline for the book.  As we discussed the outline, it became obvious that I needed to fully understand the history because Edwin’s point of view, in fact his whole being and everything that has happened to him over his 39 years on this earth are intricately intertwined with his country’s history.  That fact seems to be a theme for other Rwandans as well.

This past weekend my husband and I visited Wilmington, N.C.  As we drove the route out of the small city, I spotted an art gallery and stopped to go inside.

I had an interesting conversation with the new owner.  She began picking my brain for ideas on what to bring into her gallery.  I mentioned my love for African art.  I told her that, when I was a senior at the University of Illinois, I decided that I would look for a relatively easy course to take during my final semester.  My eye was on the end of the semester, so, when I was looking for that easy course, I stumbled on an African art history course.  I signed up only to discover within the first week that not only was it a very difficult course, but I had enrolled in an advanced art history class.  By then, however, I had fallen in love with the art, and the cultures of mainly the Western portion of the continent which the course concentrated on.  So, I told the gallery owner that I would be interested in seeing some authentic African artwork.  She cocked her head and exclaimed, “Why thank you for telling me that.  In fact, I have been talking to an artist from Rwanda whose work is wonderful.”

We talked in depth about this artist’s experience, especially since he grew up during the years before and after the genocide.  She was amazed that, given what he saw and experienced, he was such a beautiful and gentle individual.  I told her about Edwin and how, after just a short period I had the distinct feeling that I was in the presence of someone who may just evolve into a very important individual on the level of Nelson Mandela.  That short conversation filled me with the certainty that my intuitive sense of ‘innocence lost’ is not just a feeling but something far more substantial with regard to the country and its people.  I was thrilled when I left the gallery because the owner promised to send me pictures of the artist’s work.  Ironically, his first name is Innocent.

Lake Kivu


Filed under Maribeth Shanley, writing

7 responses to “The Whole World Sat by and Did Nothing

  1. Thanks for this, Maribeth. I agree that it’s shocking how little attention was paid. And just imagine how many other things have gone on that we also know little about!

    • You’re right, Carole. I do recall how Darfur was given more attention as a result of how Rwanda was ignored. Yet…how many other horrendous tragedies are being ignored, or, in the case of Rwanda, completely misunderstood as they are being ignored?

  2. We lived in England at the time and Rwanda was all over the news. Shortly afterward we moved to the US and were amazed at how little international news was offered. I never quite realised what that meant in terms of missed history.

  3. Sadly, the U.S. has little “interests” in Africa, not like we do in the Middle East.

    Also, like our Happy Meals, we tend to super-size everything. Acts of terrorism occur everyday throughout the word with little media notice (I was surprised the Paris attacks received as much attention as they did, but that was perhaps because little else was happening at home); but when they happen here they’re in the news for days and weeks.

  4. Wonderful post, Maribeth. I’m eager to hear what develops from your research with Edwin’s book.

  5. I loved the movie, abhorred what happened, cried and carried on about the injustice of it all. I look forward to reading Edwin’s story when it’s published. I’m writing a friend’s memoir. It’s not an easy project because I want to speak with her voice, not mine. Maybe we share and compare our experiences.

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