Tag Archives: Rwanda

Rwanda and Uganda – My Favorite Things By: Maribeth Shanley

               So many people have asked me what were my favorite parts of my trip to Rwanda and Uganda that I decided to make them the theme of my May blog. 

                The entire trip was my favorite, but, okay, okay, I’ll be more specific as I break it down into two parts. 

                Part One – Significance of Family 

               I enjoyed meeting Edwin’s friends, most of whom were family members.  I especially enjoyed experiencing the African “family” theme that resounded on a continuous basis.  In a few words, the family is the core of every African’s existence.  Children grow up with relatives, for example,  as they identify their cousins as their best childhood friends. 

                 In the U.S. we claim the importance of family, however, for many of us in the U.S., that’s an overstated theme. 

                 While we are children, we yearn for the day we grow up and can move away from our family and hometown.   Instead of concentrating on our childhood, we long for adulthood, freedom, and independence.  Americans are the ultimate cowboys and cowgirls.  We’re fiercely independent to the detriment of our core family.  Not so in either Rwanda or Uganda.  The family is central.

                  A few days after arriving in Rwanda, Edwin and I made a day of driving to Uganda to visit with his mother’s side of the family.  We stayed three nights with Edwin’s favorite uncle, Emmanuel.  A flamboyant man, I found him to be proud, caring and full of mischief.  Shortly after arriving at his farm, Emmanuel informed Edwin that another uncle and aunt were about to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.  In fact, an elaborately planned event would take place on the second day of our visit. 

                  Before leaving my home in South Carolina, I thought about packing a dress but decided I would probably never wear it while away.  I did pack a pair of black leggings and a nice tunic.  I was glad I did; and, I was also happy I thought to pack it for the trip to Uganda.  The celebration was amazing.  I felt a sentimental joy in being included. 

               Bob and I will celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary two years from September of this year.  I feel the fiftieth-anniversary folks belong to a special club, regardless of where we live.  For me, it’s amazing to recognize that I’m married to my first husband and that, after all these years, we still love each other to the moon.  It was evident that Uncle Geofrey and Aunt Jemima also share a special love.  It was wonderful watching Geofrey’s attentive gentility as he guided his wife, decked out in a long, elaborate gown, tackle the bumpy ground on their way from the event entrance to the stage where they both sat.  They were, after all, the king and queen of the day.

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                While visiting with the couple for a few hours the day after the celebration, Jemima and I exchanged thoughts on how much work is involved in keeping a relationship going for that long. However, we also agreed that we wouldn’t have it any other way.           

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                Too, the day after their celebration, I was able to meet Edwin’s godfather, Christopher, and his family as well as two of Edwin’s best childhood friends who also happen to be his cousins.  I had forgotten all about Uganda’s eight years of tyranny under the rule of the monster, Idi Amin. 

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               Christopher told us a chilling story about how he and his family became the targets of Amin.  In fact, as an act of retribution toward Christopher’s brother who fought with the rebels in their effort to  overthrow the brutal dictator, Amin focused on Christopher.  Amin’s people couldn’t find the brother so, because Christopher was conveniently available, and physically resembled his brother, he and his family became targets for Amin’s revenge. 

               On one particular day, Christopher discovered from a friend and informant that he and his family were destined to be slaughtered that evening.  Fearing becoming trapped, they left their home and wandered out into the bush where they hid the night.  Christopher’s and Anna’s (his wife) had a baby with them.  Their first child, a daughter, was just a few months old at the time.  Christopher related how Anna had to hold her hand over the baby’s mouth as they heard the soldiers who were searching for them in the same vicinity.   

            As Edwin and I sat with Christopher and Edwin’s two cousins, I listened to the four men talk in their native language.  Although I couldn’t understand any of their conversations, I intuited from their body language how much they all love Edwin in addition to feeling protective of him.  I also recognized that Christopher was sizing me up.  He wanted to make sure I was the best writer for Edwin’s autobiography.  In fact, when Edwin said, “Maribeth, feel free to jump in and ask any questions you would like answered,” my heart skipped a few beats as I thought, “Oh, geez, what am I going to say that won’t sound stupid or lame?”  I wanted to crawl under my chair.  Instead, I asked an open-ended question about Edwin’s childhood.  “What was Edwin like as a child?”  To my surprise and pleasure, the question opened up a lively discussion as I learned about Edwin’s mom and how Christopher became his godfather.  I also learned of the Amin threat which made the hair on my neck crawl with fear.               Christopher now had a second daughter, Angel, a precocious little girl who sat glued to Christopher’s lap for most of our visit. 

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                I was thrilled when, in my presence, Christopher commented to Edwin that he was fortunate to have me writing his autobiography.  My sensitivity toward people and the pain they experience touched his heart and soul.  In fact, Edwin later told me Christopher said, “The next time Maribeth visits, she’s staying with me.”

                The following week, Edwin and I were scheduled to meet with one of his father’s relatives and friends.  We had to cancel seeing the one relative in the Kigali, Rwanda area.  Our schedules simply couldn’t mesh.  However, we did travel about an hour from Kigali to visit with his father’s best friend, Patrick Byabagamba.   He’s known as the family’s historian.  He has a wealth of knowledge with a bear-trap mind for details.   His face, manners and gentility endeared him to me.  I hope to see him again one day.

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              Last, but not least was meeting Edwin’s youngest brother, Enoch. What a sweet young man and not at all bad looking. Enoch works with Edwin on his Rwanda Eco Tours venture. In fact, he’s Edwin’s right hand man. For me, he’s my go to guy when Edwin, who is extremely busy, can’t be reached.

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Part Two – The Amazing Animals of Africa              

                My second favorite part of my trip were the animals we were able to see.  Actually, seeing the animals was not at all my second favorite part.  It’s right up there and equal to my first favorite part. 

               My entire adulthood I have dreamed of going to Africa and seeing all the exotic animals  untethered and in the “WILD!”  Animals doing what they are designed to do; live normal lives without fear of entrapment and being slaughtered.  Rwanda does not allow trophy hunting.  They honor and value their wild animals and for me, seeing them was an absolute dream come true.  Thank you Rwanda.  Thank you. President Kagame, for your intelligence and compassion to know the value of these special creatures.  I only wish more African countries did as well and that they too banned hunting these animals for nothing more than a trophy, a purpose I can’t fathom a reason for wanting to hang a beautiful animal’s head on a wall or wear it as a coat, or walk on it as a rug.  The animals of Africa are living monuments to be cherished and shot through the lens of a camera and not by the end of a rifle.

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                On our way back to Edwin’s home, we spent the evening at Akargera National Park.  The 463.32 square-mile Park is fenced off to keep the animals from wandering into a local village where, before being fenced off, the wild animals would wreak havoc. 

                We were fortunate to see one or more of the majority of most the animals that inhabit this massive park including a 30-foot tall giraffe, several antelopes, baboons, hippos, a crocodile swimming with the hippos, zebras, more giraffes, and many unusual and beautiful birds.  We also saw a small monkey who sat on a clay mound looking as if he was waiting for a cab or uber to come pick him up.

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              When it was nearly time to leave the park, Edwin lamented that we had not seen elephants.  He knew these beautiful creatures were among my favorite.  I was concerned that Edwin felt bad about not seeing the elephants.  I said, “Edwin, don’t worry.  I’ll be back and will see elephants.  Besides, they are here living their lives.  They’re not here for our entertainment. I’m good.”  We were all resigned that the elephants were hiding when our guide spotted a humongous male elephant walking out of the bush into a clearing.  I got out of the car but climbed back in when I realized how massive the bull was.  So, at a safe distance, we stayed a while longer watching him tare down a tree and devour all the vegetation.  The crunching sound of the vegetation and then some of the tree itself was incredible!  Seeing the elephant meant that we had seen all the animals except the rhinos and lions.  We were happy and content.  I was thrilled and can’t wait to see them all again.

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                Several days later, I had an incredible experience and the thrill of a lifetime!  

                With a group of eight individuals and guided by a wonderfully energetic, fun man, Francios Bigirimana, who spent fifteen years of his life working side by side with one of my heroes, Dian Fossey, I trekked up the mountainside to visit with a troop of mountain gorillas.  What an amazing experience!  After taking several photos, I stood still just watching their behavior when I recognized that they were aware that they are related to us.  In fact, I walked over to where Francios stood and said, “Am I right?  I think these guys know they are our cousins.”  He said they did indeed as he also took my camera relieving me of the burden of taking photos so I could be with the gorillas.  I think my thoughtfulness gave Francios pleasure.  Having the ability to observe the gorillas gave me pleasure.  I loved being in the presence of my not too distant cousins with whom we share 98.8% DNA!  I hope to return one day with my husband and my sister, Gail,  to visit again with these incredible beings.  Below is the troop’s silverback.  What a clown he was.  He loves posing for photos.  Beautiful cousin!

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            One last thing deserves mentioning because it left a lasting impression on me and my soul.  I stayed in the front-room bedroom of Edwin’s home.  It faced a hill that led down, then back up another hill to the city of Kigali.  Unlike the U.S., Rwanda does not discriminate or disparage other people who are different.  Instead, they embrace difference.  

               The evenings in Rwanda are cool enough to leave the windows open.  It was wonderful to wake to all the beautiful birds the country has to offer.  In addition to the birds, however, I would wake each morning around 4:50 a.m.  That’s when the Imam of a local mosque would climb the stairs of the tall tower called a minaret to announce the call to prayer.  His announcement was not spoken.  It was sung.  I absolutely loved waking to his song.  His voice was low and gravely, but romantic as well.  The first morning I listened I couldn’t help but choke up a bit as I thanked the country for it’s acceptance and tolerance of one of the four most important and historic religions of our world, Islam.   It filled my ears with pleasure and my heart with joy.   I will never forget my 4:50 a.m. beautiful ritual.

               In summary, I’ve never cared about traveling anywhere else in the world except Africa.  I’ve wanted to experience the continent for as long as I can remember.  My trip was a dream come true.

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Francios Bigirimana

                Note:  There is a section on my website, www.maribethshanley.com, where I posted daily blogs and included lots of photos if you care to see and read more about my wonderful month in beautiful Rwanda and Uganda.  I can’t wait to return.  It’s where I left part of my heart.

 

 

 

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My Biggest and Most Lasting Impression of Rwanda – By Maribeth Shanley

During most of the month of February, I spent my time visiting with Edwin Sabuhoro for whom I will help him write his autobiography.

Out of respect for the people of Rwanda, everyone who comes to Rwanda has an obligation of knowing the country’s terrible history.  It is the history that haunts the hearts and souls of today’s Rwandan men and women.  Once you know the history, and even more, embrace that history can you begin to know the people you now share your intimate world with?  You are now ready to embrace the hearts and souls of these incredibly loving, generous and deeply wealthy humans.  You feel your entire being melding with their history and the people who still live in the spirit of their original ancestors.

After my first meeting with Edwin, I did some research on the history.  I knew of the 1994 Genocide but didn’t know that it was the last of four.  Nor did I understand the connection of the brutality to colonialism.  My single question was,  how does a country come back after such a horrific act that was perpetrated by its citizens?

As a result, I traveled to Rwanda not just to learn Edwin’s history, but to learn the country’s history and how it was connected to everything.

I learned much while in Rwanda and Uganda.  Now, what stands out most in my mind,  is how a country of people can live through the twisted European view of how the world should work as they imposed their point of view on the peoples of Rwanda through a thoughtless, yet clinical form of brainwashing.

The Belgian colonialists turned a once harmonious country into a deeply disturbed one as two groups of people, the Tutsi and the Hutu were turned upside down and inside out causing a horrific chasm which manifested itself in attempted genocide.  Yet, regardless of these revealed horrors, through a return to the pre-colonial traditional justice, Rwanda has returned to its true nature.  In fact, the country is listed as one of the top twenty safest countries on earth; a list that does not include the U.S.

The history of which I speak is wrapped in a commonality of the innocence of heart and spirit, but which was invaded and brainwashed into believing they were something far different from who they were.  This invasion took place in the late 19th Century; and, as it is with most modern-day invasions the footprint of that invasion had Western European imprints all over it.   In particular, the footprints were those of  Germany and Belgium.

Western Europeans come from a fictional then learned and honed tradition of incredible vanity and imagination.  It is a history whose core is so warped that it lacks the power to embrace and learn from other cultures that are still innocent and pure; other cultures passed down via the spoken word told through stories.

It is a familiar fate that has plagued the entire world causing distortion and doubt of one’s past.

Colonialism, the European Plague

In the beginning, Rwandans were one.  They spoke the same language, honored the same gods and dreamed the same dreams.  Although they came from different origins, their hearts were one.

The Twa are the original inhabitants of Rwanda.  They are small in stature and are known as pygmies.  They lived in harmony with the forest and all it had to offer.  Both the Hutu and Tutsi migrated from northern regions.  The major difference was their economy.  The Tutsi were well-organized herd’s people who possessed sophisticated combat skills.  On the other hand, and although the Hutu were larger in numbers, they were less organized, lacked the same skills of combat and came from a history of farming.

The rest of this story is long and detailed.  Thus, I will try to shrink it in a shorter version which will give you all the important pieces to link together.   Dominating the story were lies, distortion, chaos, and ugly pain.  It’s a recent history we are all familiar with.  It involves tremendous brainwashing, and the result is a terrible reality called Genocide.

You probably anticipate the outcome of this terrible reality.  You also intuitively understand the nature and birth of this dreadful outcome.  However, suffice it to say, it begins with the Germans.  Then, after WWI, with the Belgians.  The two parties involved were the majority ethnic group, the Hutu and the smaller group, the Tutsi.

In the late 1800 ’s the European countries were divvying up the Continent of Africa that were inhabited by other ethnic groups.  In particular, the division of the continent of Africa took place mainly between Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and France.

The big land grab began with the Belgian colonists who were an egregious lot ruled by a narcissistic Head of State, King Leopold II.  Having access to the ocean was critical for Leopold’s Belgium because Leopold worshiped greed demonstrated through physical objects, especially shiny objects like gold, diamond, as well as other resources such as rubber.  Leopold hired the journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley to travel to the then Kingdom of Kongo in order to establish Belgian rule over the country, its wealth of resources and its people.

Leopold was a nation builder who had free reign given to him by the Belgium Civil Government.   Following in the likeness of their ruler; the Belgium colonists were equally narcissistic.  They believed their race to be a superior one.

Once the acquisition of land grab was complete, the colonial nations of Europe, at the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 gave legal authorization to Leopold’s claim by committing the Congo Free State to improving the lives of the native inhabitants.  During the same conference, Rwanda began its colonial history as it, then Ruanda-Burundi was handed over to Germany.  To the north of both states was Uganda which was given to the United Kingdom.

Never intending to honor his commitment to improving the lives of his new people, Leopold completely ignored that commitment.  Instead, he used the Congo, with its access to the Atlantic Ocean, to further enhance his wealth as he influenced the creation and utilization of the Publique Force, a military comprised of Belgian regular soldiers and mercenaries from other countries with a mandate to keep the natives in check.

During the occupation of the Congo, an ethnically mixed African force called Askari was established under the Publique Force.  The Congo was filled with rubber trees, so rubber became the major export product.  The military forces’ major purpose was to enforce rubber quotas as well as other forms of forced labor.  The system was a brutal use of power by a colonial government ruling from afar.  Stories of brutality were common as flogging of Congolese men and flogging and rape of women as well as the burning of villages became the accepted norm.

The grotesque ivory trade, i.e., the brutally hacking off the tusks of elephants left to die a painful death as their carcasses rotted in the sun was begun at Leopold’s behest.  By the early 1890’s the slave trade also took hold in the Free State.

As the Congolese people were experiencing the cruelty of their rulers, in Ruanda-Burundi, nothing was happening.  The tiny state was a land-locked one.  Thus the united people never realized their land was no longer theirs, as they continued living as they always had in peace and harmony.

Instead, Germany was more interested in the massive State of Tanzania to the east which they also acquired from the Berlin Conference.  Tanzania had a vast coastal area bordering the Indian Ocean.  A fortunate fact for the people of Ruanda-Burundi.

It wasn’t until 1894, that the first German entered the kingdom.  Count von Götzen, visited the court of the sitting Mwami, Rwabugir, informing the surprised Mwami that his land had been under German rule for the last nine years.  Had it not been for the untimely death of Rwabugir the following year, Germany would more than likely have taken a hands-off approach.  However, with the death of the Mwami, a battle over Rwabugir’s successor influenced the Germans to move in.

Germany was well aware of the peaceful existence of the three ethnic groups in Rwanda (modern-day spelling).   German Catholic missionaries previously visited the small country and one explorer wrote of the curious, cohesive behavior and traditions of the native inhabitants.   After all, a peaceful environment was a new phenomenon for Europeans who had spent their entire existence waring with each other.  Thus, between 1894 and WWI, Germany ruled from afar by assigning German agents to the courts of local leaders.

During the First World War, Germany invaded its neighbor Belgium.  In retaliation, Belgium fought back by invading Ruanda-Burundi.

Following WWI, the fate of the people of Ruanda-Burundi was sealed when in 1924, the League of Nations granted Belgium a mandate to rule over Ruanda-Burundi.  The mandate would dramatically change life for the native Ruandans.

Belgium completely ignored all that Germany allowed as it linked the region with Belgian Congo.  However, Belgian form of rule in Ruanda-Burundi was designed differently from that of the Congo.

Where the Germans appreciated the cultural closeness and the notion of a cohesive, and harmonious state, the Belgians couldn’t grasp the concept at all.  Thus, began a great divide as friction took hold of the state.

Believing the Tutsi to be a superior “race” from the Hutu, the Belgians treated the Tutsi group far different than they did the Hutu.  They liked everything about the Tutsis who were tall and elegant physically and scorned the Hutu who were shorter.  They even brought in scientists who were influenced to demonstrate a physical difference between the two groups, all for one reason.  They wished to divide the two groups as they pitted them against each other.

The Belgians also appreciated the Tutsi economic culture.  On the other hand, they looked down their noses on the Hutu.  Instead of running the government of Ruanda-Burundi themselves, the Belgians assigned the Tutsi as administers of the government of the tiny state.  Differences began to establish themselves as they subtly created an invisible divide between the Tutsi and Hutu. The Belgians intentionally pitted the Hutu against the Tutsi.  However, the Tutsie never changed their behavior from feeling as one.   Conversely,  feeling the emotional and mental abuse by the Belgians, the Hutu began to change as extreme jealousy and hatred for their once brothers and sisters began to fester.

There were still inter-marriage as the two groups lived as neighbors and friends.  However, the psychological warfare the Belgians waged on the Hutu created a terrible cultural divide on a larger scale.  The end result was the establishment of a foundation that created a divided nation at odds with itself.

In 1935, the difference in this ethnically driven class system was solidified and made even more obvious when identification cards distinguishing the two groups were issued. This terrible distinction and, more importantly, the obvious favoritism of one group over another set the tone for the future…a future which would give rise to brutal violence conducted by the Hutu against the Tutsi.

Too, where prior to the ID cards and colonialism in general, Hutus had access to the Tutsi status, the ID cards made it almost impossible for a Hutu to become a Tutsi.  As such, colonialism proved itself to be the cruel feudal form of a rule, as it locked and loaded one group’s burgeoning hatred for another.  Suffice it to say that NEVER in the history of the Hutu/Tutsi interaction was racially-based massacre an outcome.  However, the first occasion resulting in a manifestation of that hatred established itself as the rush toward independence from colonialism began to take shape during the late 1950’s.

When Rwanda struggled for independence from Belgium, ironically, the Belgians, fearing a revolution, switched the status of the two groups.   The Belgians took the administration of the government away from the Tutsi and handed it over to the Hutu.  Like a powder keg, the growing hatred for Tutsi became the norm in Ruanda.

In 1957, the Ruandan Hutu leaders published a Hutu Manifesto, thus preparing its supporters for a future of politically charged conflicts based solely on ethnic grounds.

In 1959, the first of four outbreaks of mass violence was subsequently sparked when a group of Tutsi political activists beat up a Hutu rival named Dominique Mbonyumutwa.   Although Mr. Mbonyumutwa survived the beating, rumors of his death spread like wildfire through the Hutu population resulting in a nationwide campaign of Hutu violence against the Tutsi.  This first massacre lasting several months became known as ‘the wind of destruction.’ At the same time, many Tutsi, including the 25-year-old hereditary ruler, the Mwami, fled Ruanda.  The absence of a monarchy would prove detrimental to Tutsi future and Ruanda in general.

During the elections of 1960, the Hutu politicians scored an overwhelming victory as one of the authors of the Hutu Manifesto, Gregoire Kayibanda, led a provisional government during the interim period between colonialism and independence.

Independence came in 1962.  Despite that the UN pressured the two territories, Ruanda and Urundi to federate as one nation, the territories decided to separate.  Although ethnic violence continued in Ruanda between 1959 and 1961, in 1962, the U.N. declared the territory a republic.   The ‘republic’ declaration was due to the absence of the young Mwami as the monarchy was declared defunct and the republic declaration was made official.  After the declaration, the government changed the spelling from Ruanda to the modern-day spelling…Rwanda.

Immediately following independence, Rwanda held its first presidential election.  Gregoire Kayibanda was declared the President of the Republic of Rwanda.  Since his party’s name translated to ‘the Party for Hutu Emancipation,’ it became blatantly obvious what the central focus of his presidency would be.   Within the pages of that manifesto, the name ‘cockroach’ had been coined and that name became synonymous with the minority Tutsi population.  As a result, the killing of the cockroaches became an all-too dominant theme of Rwandan life.  This growing hatred gave rise to the Hutu government’s determination to maintain control as it freely whipped up the frenzy of hatred at any time it perceived a crisis.  That crisis reared its head in 1963.

In December 1963, several hundred exiled Tutsi guerrillas entered Rwanda from Burundi and advanced within twelve miles of the capital of Kigali but were eliminated by the Rwandan army.  Yet, the event gave the government just the ammunition it hungered for as it declared a state of emergency and gave the order to ‘clear the bush’ of subversive elements, a covert term for kill the cockroaches.

Over the course of a few days, 14,000 Tutsi were massacred in the southern province of Gikongoro and became known as the worst, systematic massacre since the Holocaust.  Yet the actual worst of the four massacres was yet to come.

The third wave of killings took place in 1973.  It began in one part of Rwanda and was spreading to other sections of the country when the killings abruptly stopped.  Descriptions of the sequence of events for this third wave were all too like the previous occurrences.

Rumors emerged among the Rwandans that a massacre was about to happen.  Prior to all such massacres, there seemed to be an inevitability that established itself.   Over the course of time, the massacres gave way to an official name, muyaga, which, translated, meant wind.  Like a terrible wind, the event would begin with a fury, then, just as suddenly as a wind, would end abruptly.  No one would know when the events would come, but, like the wind, the rumors were carried by the winds into every nook and cranny of the country.

Looting by Hutus of Tutsi property would be the first indication that the event had begun.  Next, Tutsi houses would be set on fire.  Then the actual killing would take place with the killers, Hutu and those being killed, Tutsi.  The killings would last as long as the wind blew.  It stopped when the command was given.  In the hinterland, that command to stop began with the beating of drums, followed by calls from hilltops, “Ihumere…ihumere…ihumere…” or,  “It is time for peace.” At the announcement, the violence would abruptly cease.  Killers would return home and Tutsis who were still alive would return to where their houses stood.

If there can be logic in insanity, the massacres of Rwanda are an example of logical insanity.  The reasoning went like this.

The looting would begin at the behest of the Hutu leaders who would give the command to proceed with the terror.  Next, the looting would escalate to the burning of the houses being looted.  Both the looting and the burning would lead to concern about what would happen when the violence ended, which it always did.  The big question…would there be retribution on the part of the effected Tutsi?  Would the rightful owners of the looted goods demand their property be returned?  Since that was a real possibility, then the rightful owners must be eliminated.  Thus, the killings would take place.  Yet, it wasn’t enough to kill only the male rightful owner of the goods.  The family members, who could lay claim to the goods, also needed to be eliminated.   Thus, the insanity would be coherent.

The latest massacre of 1973 coincided with the unrest that was taking place among the Hutu supporters of Gregoire Kayibanda’s regime.  Fighting within the Hutu leadership had erupted.  To gather support for his regime, the president rallied the Hutu population to get ready for the muyaga aimed at their common enemy…the Tutsi.  As the underlying flame of hatred for Tutsi was stoked, the plan was embraced by the president’s supporters as well as his opposition, who viewed the violence as a justification for a planned coup.  The underhanded power grab cost thousands of Tutsi lives during this muyaga as it had during the two preceding massacres.  During this same period, thousands more Tutsis fled the country.

The planned coup d’état took place that same year.  Gregoire Kayibanda was removed from power by a group of army officers who subsequently propped up one of their own, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana.  Habyarimana remained in power for the next twenty-one years, running a conventional military dictatorship which was initially welcomed by several European countries including, and in particular, France.  However, Habyarimana’s Hutu ethnic policy, which was essentially an extension of the former policy was becoming increasingly problematic.  Just across Rwanda’s borders a vast number of Tutsi exiles were becoming increasingly unwelcomed by their host countries yet attempts to send the refugees’ home became futile as Rwanda rejected them.

In 1986 Habyarimana declared as a policy that no refugee would be granted the right to repatriate.  Thus, during the following year, the exiles formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) as it committed itself to an armed struggle against the sitting regime.  The nucleus of the RPF were Tutsi officers serving in the Ugandan army.  One of those officers, Paul Kagame, would later become president.

On a predetermined date, October 1, 1990, the officers deserted from the Ugandan army taking their equipment with them.  The newly formed RPF subsequently moved south and crossed the border into Rwanda.  The invasion sparked an all-out civil war between the Rwandan army and the RPF.  Paradoxically, the invasion also ignited one of the twentieth century’s most horrific genocide.

Initially, Habyarimana was able to resist the RPF invasion as French President Mitterrand deployed paratroopers to assist Habyarimana’s efforts of crushing the invasion.  This initial resistance became a precursor to the horrific genocide as Habyarimana’s government encouraged a new wave of Tutsi persecution.

In December 1990, the country’s most virulent racist newspaper published the Hutu Ten Commandments, which was nothing less than a litany of hatred aimed at the Tutsi population.  The commandments attributed treachery and dishonesty not only to all Tutsi, but it also condemned any Hutu who befriended a Tutsi.  In fact, the eighth commandment which became the tenor of hatred stated that ‘Hutus must stop having mercy on the Tutsis.’  This commandment gave rise to a new breed of ethnic battle cry called Hutu Power.

Sanctioned by the Habyarimana regime, in 1991 the government recruited Hutu youth militias who became known as the Interahamwe orthose who attack together.’   The stage was set for what happened next.

The Genocide of 1994

Immediately following the recruitment of a youth militia, their violent members, all young men, roared through the streets on motorbikes.  Sanctioned by the government they felt powerful as their hatred was fed by drunken rallies held under portraits of President Habyarimana.

In seclusion, they assembled together as they perfected the skills of manipulating machetes.  During this period, they set fire to houses owned by Tutsis as well as those owned by Hutus believed to be sympathizers.  They also utilized the government resources as they drew up lists garnered from the Identification Card information.  They knew who Tutsi were and who the Hutu sympathizers were as well.  Worse, they also knew where they lived!  During this period, the mood of ethnic violence festered and was directly fueled by the government.  An example of this heightened frenzy transpired in March of 1992 when Government-owned Radio Rwanda spread a deliberate, false rumor that a Tutsi plot to massacre Hutus had been uncovered.

By 1992, however, Habyarimana had begun losing his popularity among his extremist supporters.  His failure to completely suppress the RPF guerrillas came under scrutiny by international powers that were pressuring him to come to terms with the rebels.  As a result, he began negotiations with the RPF.  This infuriated the Hutu Power criminals as news spread that the government had declared a ceasefire with the Tutsis.  In August 1992, this ceasefire news provoked a new wave of attacks on Tutsis.  Over the next year, the peace process continued as it further alienated the Habyarimana regime from its former supporters.

In August 1993, following talks at the Arusha Accords in Tanzania, Habyarimana signed a peace treaty with the RPF, officially declaring peace.  However, the treaty went even further than simply declaring an end to the war.  Habyarimana negotiated the right of return for all Rwanda’s refugees, the merging of the RPF with the national army as well as establishing a transitional period leading up to elections and a democratic government.  During the transition, a provisional government would be established which would include representation of the RPF.  In addition, UN forces would be invited into Rwanda for purposes of securing the process.

As would be predicted, the peace terms outraged the Interahamwe and their political superiors.  On April 6, 1994, a rocket believed to have been fired by Hutu extremists hit the plane carrying Habyarimana and the head of state of neighboring Burundi, killing all on board.  Blamed on the Tutsis, the assassination of the President was just the desired justification for Hutu extremists as they conducted a killing orgy over the following weeks.   Fueling the orgy were state radio broadcasts which urged the people to “do their duty” with instructions to seek out Tutsis as well as Tutsi-sympathizers living among the Tutsi.  Eliminate the cockroaches was the message.

On April 29, the state radio announced that May 5th would be the cleanup day during which the capital, Kigali, would and must be cleansed of Tutsis.  One infamous broadcast even suggested that, in the interest of thoroughness, unborn children should be torn from the wombs of pregnant women.

In this environment of utter revulsion, the Interahamwe and a large portion of ordinary Hutus, who were given the ultimatum by their peers to kill or be killed, went to work with a fury never recorded in human history.  Between April and July, known also as the 100 days of slaughter, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were murdered in the cruelest and crudest of fashion.  The weapon of preference was the everyday, agriculture tool…the machete.  The UN forces, though present at the time, were powerless to intervene as the U.N. wasted precious time.  They sat idle, reluctant to declare the genocide for what it was, an ethnic cleansing.  Former U.S. President Clinton also reluctant to intervene describes his indecision as THE greatest regret of his presidency.  It was a terrible thing that the genocide could take place while the world stood by in silence.

Too, during the initial stages of the bloodbath, the Hutu Prime Minister, now by default, the Constitutional Head of State, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, and her husband were murdered by the Government’s own Presidential Guard whose duty it was to protect her and her family.  Once dead, the guard turned on the ten Belgian U.N. peacekeepers also charged with protecting the new president.  The guard ordered the Belgians to lay down their arms.  At first reluctant, they finally complied.  The guard then methodically castrated each of them, gagged them with their own genitalia, and then murdered all ten men.

The Rwandan carnage ended in July and only after the RPF, led by Kagame, took over the country.  Immediately following the takeover, an estimated two million Hutus fled across the border into Zaire, Burundi, and Tanzania.  The fleeing Hutus were running from the RPF.

Post Genocide

As can be imagined, immediately following the genocide, chaos broke out.  Since the murderers would not allow burials, bodies littered the country.   They were everywhere!  Thousands of bodies were dumped into the northern flowing Nyabarongo River, thus sending the Tutsi bodies out of the country forever.

With Rwanda now in control and under the watchful eyes of the RPF, thousands of Hutus, including members of the Interahamwe, fled across the borders.  The exodus quickly gained notoriety as it became known as the fastest exodus of modern times.  Yet, those fleeing Rwanda were not refugees seeking safety.  They were groups of Hutus instructed by their former leaders to take refuge on the border, as their intentions became crystal clear.  It was nothing less than the Hutu exiles’ desire to continue the war.  At the same time this exodus was taking place, some 700,000 refugees, most of whom were exiled Tutsis, began returning to their home country.

As the RPF captured the capital, Kigali, in June, the French military simultaneously set up a safe zone in the southwest of Rwanda.  The safe zone was dubbed ‘Operation Turquoise’ whereby a ‘safe zone’ was intended to stop the genocide…yet…ironically the RPF were prohibited from entering the safe zone.    Too, the genocide had already been curtailed by the RPF causing the exodus of the militants, members of the former government as well as ordinary Hutu civilians.  The French finally ended their intervention when France sent word to retreat which led to approximately 300,000 people fleeing the turquoise zone; many who feared retribution.  On July 18th the RPF forces moved in and captured the town of Gisenyi in the upper northwest corner of the republic, declaring a new government with Pasteur Bizimungu as president and Kagame in the newly created position of vice-president.  Gisenyi became the center of the provisional government causing 800,000 Rwandans to flee across the border into Goma, Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This exodus was also highly organized as administrative structures of the former Hutu government were simply transferred across the border.

By the end of August 1994, an estimated 2.1 million Rwandan refugees took up residence in some 35 camps.  Another nine camps were established in Burundi and an additional eight camps in Tanzania.  The refugees around Goma included an estimated 30-40,000 soldiers from the former Armed Forces of Rwanda.  They were fully armed and had an intact officer corps and transport unit.  The politicians of the former administration also relocated to Goma.

About 140,000 refugees voluntarily returned to Rwanda during the three months following the original exodus.  The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHRC), sent in to help was forced to halt its efforts to repatriate refugees, however, when both their staff and the refugees were threatened by the Interahamwe under orders of the exiled leadership, they left.  However, by September 1994 rumors of violence by the RPF inside Rwanda, combined with tightened control by Hutu leaders inside the camps brought the return to a halt by early 1995.

Aid to the camps was inadequate.  After pleas from the UN, the U.S. finally agreed to join the effort.  U.S. relief planes were sent in to drop food packages from the air to alleviate the suffering in the camps, but the opposite happened.  People were slaughtered in the rush to the packages, causing the U.S. to refuse to bring the aid closer to the ground.  As time went by disease besieged the refugees in the form of dysentery and cholera.   The result, over 50,000 died.  Soon rainfall amplified the disastrous conditions as many of the refugees contacted septic meningitis.

During the onslaught of disease, the French established a field hospital in the area of Lake Kivu.  To aid the ground forces, Israel intervened with the largest medical mission in its history.  As France provided the medical supplies, Israel provided an all-volunteer military force of surgeons comprised of specialists and sub-specialists.  In addition, the Netherlands sent in a small group of medics and nurses.  CARE Deutschland supplied ambulances and Merlin of Ireland sent in trucks and heavy equipment to distribute food and supplies.  Together CARE AND Merlin are credited with curbing the death toll in Lake Kivu, near Goma, Zaire.

As the world began to recognize the devastation, media coverage of the refugee crisis emerged eventually resulting in President Clinton’s declaration that Rwanda was in the middle of the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis in a generation.”  The result was a mobilization of a large relief effort.  But, because the effort was an afterthought, in a large sense, it became a day too late and a dollar short.

Attention quickly became focused on the refugees of Goma as 200 aid organizations rushed into the area to start emergency relief efforts on the level of that given to the Yugoslavian wars.  Until December 1994, the UNHCR received over $1 million monthly resulting in a rapid drop in mortality rates.  The American military was deployed to Uganda’s Entebbe Airport where an emergency operation was established.  From this location relief and personnel were transported to the crisis regions.  Many humanitarian organizations expressed concern that the military was involved; however, it quickly became evident that only the military could create a large, logistical support system capable of exporting with the necessary speed and efficiency needed to alleviate the massive humanitarian emergency.   If health threats weren’t enough for the refugees to deal with there were more hardships to deal with as well.

Many of the refugee camps fell under the governance of the former political leaders as they were inadvertently put in charge of the food supplies.  Under this authority, a ‘system’ was put in place whereby ‘elected popular leaders’ were able to step in as a front for the real leaders to secure control over the aid.  The system punished those identified as enemies by withholding that aid from them in favor of giving more food supplies to those identified as supporters.  The system then enabled the supporters to make money.  By reporting more refugees than the actual number of exiles, the supporters were able to sell the surplus.  They even created a food tax, forcing actual refugees to buy their food.  For example, this system led to 40% of the ‘enemy’ refugees in one camp receiving less food than the 13% of the ‘supporter’ refugees.  This in-camp corruption became a means of intimidation as refugees who either disagreed with the structure, complained to aid workers or who tried to return to Rwanda were subject to punishment up to and including murder.  However, as the acute level of the humanitarian crisis began to stabilize, aid workers began to raise concern over the presence of armed elements in the camps.  Members of the Interahamwe militia established outposts on the outskirts of the camps, as they reported directly to officials from the former government.  The humanitarian workers began to report the corruption on behalf of the suffering refugees who began to complain that the relief organizations were creating the corruption causing a crisis of conscience among the agencies, who answered the quagmire by abandoning the camps.   

As the RPF established the new government in July 1994, the military wing of the
RPF was renamed the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) as it became the national army.  As Kagame assumed the role of Vice President, Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu public servant under the Habyarimana, but who had fled to join the RPF was appointed the president.  Bizimungu and his cabinet had some control over domestic affairs, but Kagame remained commander-in-chief of the army, was, in fact, the actual ruler of the country.

As international aid was being concentrated in the refugee camps across the borders, Kagame went to work rebuilding the country.  He made tremendous efforts to portray the new government as an all-inclusive one vs. a Tutsi only government.  One of his first acts was to remove the ethnicity from ID cards to remove the distinctions between Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa.  Also, during this post-genocide period, new soldiers were recruited to the army.

Shortly after establishing the post-genocide government, it began prosecuting crimes committed during the genocide.  The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, under the mandate of the U.N., was set up in Arusha with intentions of prosecuting the most senior leaders responsible for the genocide.   In addition, the government determined to prosecute all suspected perpetrators, including ordinary citizens who were known to have taken part in the killings.

Between 1994 and 2000 120,000 suspects were arrested.  There were so many suspects intended to stand trial that the prisons were bursting at the seams.  By 2006 and twelve years after the genocide, only 10,000 of those arrested had been tried.  Recognizing the impossibility of continuing, the government introduced Gacaca, a village court system based on traditional, pre-colonial justice.  Gacaca is loosely translated as justice in the grass.  The system was adopted as a means of healing the people in order to move the progress of repairing the country forward.  The goal of the Gacaca system was meant to do the following:

  • Establish truth about what happened
  • Accelerate the legal proceedings against those accused of Genocide Crimes
  • Eradicate the culture of impunity
  • Reconcile Rwandans and reinforce their unity
  • Use the capacities of Rwandan society to deal with its problems through a justice based Rwandan Custom.

Today, Rwanda is again harmonious with no division between the different groups.  In fact, my assessment is that Rwanda is a model nation who could teach the rest of the world a lot about how to heal.

Footnote:  This morning I watched the Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, talk about his new book, In the Shadow of Statues, and his reasons for removing all New Orlean’s  Confederate statues.  To the question, why don’t more public figures address the same issue, Landrieu responded that it’s because humans have a hard time asking for forgiveness as well as granting forgiveness.  Landrieu’s answer reminded me of the most important lesson I carried in my heart home from my time in Rwanda.

While visiting the Kigali Genocide Museum, the sacred grounds with its church and school where over 1,000 adults and children were slaughtered, then the compound where Agathe Uwilingiyimana and her husband plus the ten Belgian soldiers murdered, I learned the following.

I learned how a tiny country situated in the heart of Africa, and under the guidance of a giant leader, Paul Kagame, became a beacon of light and hope for the entire world. Guided by their tradition prior to colonialism of sitting in the grass and discussing their future in the shadow of genocide, they were able to speak of sorrow, regret, then forgiveness and love. Thank you, Rwanda for giving the world hope that humans can become giants.

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INTO BEAUTIFUL AFRICA – By Maribeth Shanley

Edwin

I’m finally headed to Africa. I’ll travel to both Rwanda and Uganda with Edwin Sabuhoro, the young man I met after the July 2016 killing of Cecil the Lion. I leave Sunday, Feb. 10 and return home on Feb. 28th. My trip will be a jam-packed working trip with lots of people to meet, animals to see and information to gather.

In case you don’t recall my previous blog about Edwin, here’s the short version of who he is.
road-map-of-Rwanda
Edwin grew up in the relatively small country of Rwanda in Central Africa. He was just a baby when the fourth and worst genocide broke out. Being of Tutsi origin, Edwin, his family, and relatives were the targets of the Hutu Government which casually authorized the 1994 Genocide during which nearly one million Tutsis and Hutu sympathizers were bludgeoned to death leaving the land littered with bodies, parts of bodies and rivers of blood.

Edwin’s mother, siblings, and relatives fled Rwanda and traveled by foot to the safety of the refugee camps just inside the borders of  Uganda. At one point in their journey, the relatives feared that Edwin was slowing down the group. Edwin’s Mum carried him as she ran for her life. The consensus was that his Mum should throw Edwin into a river, so that the group could move faster. However, Edwin’s Mum would have none of it, as she trudged on carrying her sweet baby close to her bosom.

When Edwin grew up, he earned his law degree. As a lawyer, part of his responsibilities was to represent people on a pro-bono basis. When Edwin was asked to represent a Hutu man, who bludgeoned an entire family to death, Edwin abandoned the law. He subsequently began working as a park ranger in Volcanoes National Park where the endangered mountain gorillas live. Edwin fell in love with the gorillas and other animals as he sought to protect them from poaching.
Baby Gorilla
At one point, the rangers caught wind of a baby gorilla which had been captured and was up for sale to the highest bidder. Edwin volunteered to pose as a buyer. Once the exchange was made, the poachers were captured, and the baby was returned to his home. Edwin described to me what he felt when he peered into the burlap bag carrying the captured gorilla. He was overwhelmed with compassion and wonder at the big brown eyes staring back at him.

Over the next few days, Edwin thought about the poachers. He could tell they were not wealthy. Instead, they were ordinary males who lived in a local village. Edwin couldn’t shake the gnawing in his gut as he felt guilty for helping to put these men in jail. So, he did something remarkable.

Instead of brushing off his empathy for the men, he became more curious about them and especially the reasons why they worked as poachers. So, he got in his car and drove to the village. There he sat down with one of the more elderly males and asked him, “Why do you poach?”

They were sitting outside at the time and there were many children playing close by. Thus, the man made a sweeping gesture with his arm as he said, “We do it to feed our children.” In other words, the reasons were economically based. The poachers had no other means of earning a living. Being a logical,  compassionate human, Edwin immediately understood.

When Edwin left the village, he couldn’t stop thinking of the man he met and the trapped lifestyle the villagers were living. So, he came up with a plan to help the village provide food for their people via different methods. Edwin had a savings account which he emptied, giving the money to the to the village males as he discussed his idea with them. They would use the money to rent farm land where they could grow their food. Within six months the village was producing enough food for the village with a surplus of food to sell.

Batwa
Note: The poachers and village population belonged to the third ethnic group in Rwanda, the Batwa. The Batwa are the original inhabitants of Rwanda. They are the indigenous population who, for generations, depended on the forest and its animals for sustenance
village

Two years later, Edwin helped the Batwa community establish a living history village to educate and entertain visitors to the park where the gorillas reside. The hamlet is called Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village. While in Rwanda, Edwin and I will spend one and one-half days in the Village talking to the people, including the ex-poachers who now pride themselves as the guardians of the gorillas.  Best of all, we’ll also visit the mountain gorillas.

Because of Edwin’s efforts to save the endangered mountain gorillas and change the lives of the Batwa who poached the gorillas, in 2015 he was nominated for the coveted award of CNN Hero of the Year.

I met Edwin back in 2016, shortly after the death of Cecil the Lion who was murdered by an American dentist, Walter Palmer. As were so many animal lovers, I was utterly shaken by the killing.

It was a deliberate kill, as Palmer’s guides dragged a carcass behind their jeep trying to coax Cecil from the protective boundaries of the park where he, his male friend, Jericho and Cecil’s family lived.

Walter Palmer was an avid Trophy Hunter. Trophy hunters deceive themselves into believing they are conservationists. How can a true conservationist kill a unique animal such as a lion?  They can’t morally and won’t. Palmer and all Trophy Hunters are nothing more than poachers. They poach for personal booty. Their plunder is the animal’s head, skin and other body parts all for two purposes: bragging rights and to hang as evidence the trophy head on a wall in their coveted trophy room.

I sent Edwin a friend request which he immediately accepted. Then, one evening, after learning, via Facebook that he lived “up the highway from me,” I sent an instant message to him. We began talking that evening. I was excited to have found such a remarkable human as he explained to me that he was a CNN 2015 hero of the year nominee and that he was currently earning his Doctorate in Conservation and Tourism at Clemson University. I don’t recall what it was I said, but I evidently mentioned that I was a writer. I was typing away when my eye caught a sentence in his last message. He wrote, “You’re a writer? I’m looking for someone to write my autobiography.” I stopped cold as my eyeballs leapt out of my head, hit the screen of my computer, then bounced back into my sockets. My heart stopped as I said out loud, “Oh my God!” And so, our story began.

While I’m away, I plan to blog every day. My next-door neighbor suggested I do that, so she could keep up with me. I thought that was a great idea as well, because, in addition to my written notes and those I record via two hand held recorders, my blog could add to my notes especially since they will be written in real time, capturing my emotions which I know will be abundant.

If you care to follow me while I’m away, I’ll post a link on my website, http://www.maribethshanley.com. My first post, I will publish before I leave on the 10th, will be the itinerary Edwin has prepared for my eighteen-day visit.

I hope you to join me on my journey into beautiful Africa!

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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

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Happiness is a Conscious Choice

My new novel, A View to the Unknown, should  be out sometime this month.  It’s actually the sequel to Crack in the World, but, because it stands on its own, a person need not read the first to read the sequel.  I’m not sure which book I enjoyed writing most.  Crack in the World was very therapeutic as was the first part of A View to the Unknown because Emily was still healing from her past.  It was also revealing.

As the author has, Emily discovered she not only had  conscious scars, but also had unconscious scars which she didn’t understand, couldn’t wrap her mind around nor, more importantly, had any idea how to get at, let alone heal.  Due to her behavior, she knew she had the scars, because they manifested in unrealistic expectations as well as irrational and dysfunctional behavior.

I’ve always known I was short tempered, had extremely high expectations for myself and had very little patience.  Yet, until about seven years ago, I simply accepted them as flaws that just went with the person.  Seven years ago, however I had an epiphany when I realized they weren’t at all flaws; at least they weren’t flaws I should accept.  At that moment, I determined there must be something internally causing my dysfunctional behavior and I wanted to get at it so I could change.

I do recognize that my high expectations have been the driving force behind my success.  In my former career, I moved up the ranks farther and faster than expected.  Also, over the years, I realized that, if I put my mind to do something, I always succeeded.  Thus, drive, belief in self and being extremely resilient and resourceful became positive results of my expectations.  Unfortunately, however, unrealistic expectations also led to many disappointments as well as depression.  As Bob would always tell me, “Maribeth, you are your own worst enemy.  You expect way too much from yourself and fill your plate so much that you put unneeded stress on yourself.”  Of course he was right.  Yet, although, over the last several years, I’ve come to recognize the piling on I do, I also recognize  my biggest challenge…telling people NO.  I’m still working on that one.

Between 2004 and 2008 I was the happiest I had ever been.  I owned Iron Cowgirls, had three dedicated employees who believed in Iron Cowgirls and especially the philosophy.  They worked their butts off; and, me, being the generous person I am, I rewarded them handily.  We were having the time of our lives, coming up with new designs as we  decorated the tops and had orders flying out the door.  We even had over fifty Harley Davidson stores ordering our tops on a fairly regular basis.

I’m someone who believes in physical signs and consciously watch for them to tell me I’m on the right course.  The coyote, in particular, has always been one of my spirit guides; and, I was seeing coyotes every time I needed a sign.  It was amazing!  During the Iron Cowgirls’ days I was in what males call ‘the zone’ and I felt my life was magical.

Then I crashed; and that crash coincided with the 2008 economic crash.

Our 2007 Christmas season was overwhelming as we hurried to get orders out before their arrival date missed December 25th.  I even spent extra cash to speed many of the last orders to the woman or husband ordering the tops.  We made a promising profit that year.  Kellie, my second-hand person, and I had plans to take the brands, Iron Cowgirls and Girls Like Skulls Too to the Atlanta Merchandise Mart show in early spring of 2008, but that was thwarted when the sales dried up.

About the first of December, although sales were excellent, I could feel a gnawing in my gut.  Intuitively I knew the holiday sales weren’t as healthy as the previous Christmas.  Yet we were too busy to slow down and do a solid analysis.  That didn’t happen until January.  I was right.  Now, however, unlike the previous January, sales seemed to have dropped into a sink hole.  Sales dribbled in vs. the steady flow of the previous January.  I absolutely knew something was going on in the economy and it wasn’t too much longer that my gut wrenching came to fruition.

With the collapse of the housing market and the extra burden of an all-out Iraqi war, discretionary spending had come to a screeching halt!  Soon, many of the independent motorcycle store customers began folding up their tents.  Next, the HD stores quit ordering.  It was obviously over for Iron Cowgirls as I felt the magic leave my life.

I managed to sell Iron Cowgirls for a pittance and began trying to figure out what was next.  My spirit felt broken.   I was depressed and angry.  How the hell could this happen?

Literally, five years later, as I drove down a highway, I said out loud, “I’m tired of being depressed and angry.”  At that moment, it was difficult declaring that it was I who was causing all my misery; even more difficult was admitting that my depression resulted from self-pity.  Yet…admit I did.

At the time I was working, but it certainly wasn’t anything I wanted to do, nor something I could be proud of.  To this day, I avoid discussing those years of my life, at least the working part.  As I contemplated my real depression, the cause and what to do, I came to a critical conclusion.  I fully recognized my sadness and anger was coming from a place I thought I had been done with a long time ago.  Yet, I also recognized I really had not been done with anything because all my anger and sadness was coming from my subconscious and it was causing the depression and anger which manifested itself in dysfunctional behavior.  By the time I arrived home I had determined that, although I wasn’t sure how to get at my subconscious, I knew I had to redirect my intentions which would lead me to the solution.  In that moment I decided that, while I looked, I would go back to meditating.

Six years prior, I had stumbled on a wonderful audio meditation program called Holosync.  During that year I finished the first few lessons called Awakening.  I recalled how the meditation had helped me feel better as I religiously meditated to Holosync.  So, although I didn’t know how to get at the internal stuff, at least I could go back to what I knew helped; and so I began.  Within a few weeks I realized I had found my solution.  It was there in my night stand waiting for me to pick back up where I left off.

Holosync puts the brain into deep theta and delta meditation as the brain literally rearranges itself.  Neuroplasticity was proving itself in my own brain.  As I continued to meditate, I worked my way through the increasingly deeper audio lessons.

When I decided to go back to the meditation, I recall acquiescing to the notion that I may never achieve the level of happiness I craved.  Instead of fighting that, which is what I always had done, I decided to simply accept that where I was emotionally may be as good as it gets.   I was in for a magnificent surprise however.

One day, two years later as I was well into the next level of Holosync, and as I again drove down the highway, it suddenly occurred to me that I was happier than I ever expected possible.  The internal feeling wasn’t euphoric.  Instead it was a steady, quiet feeling.  A feeling of peace.  I realized it was the outcome I desired and desperately needed.   The meditation had taken all the internal depression and anger and washed it away as my subconscious gave me different, happier conclusions to my memories and thus better behavior.

That evening I discussed my revelation with Bob who told me that he had definitely noticed a dramatic change in my demeanor.  I was calmer he told me.  About a year later, my sister, Gail, who I had reconnected with, told me she recognized a dramatic change as well.  She sensed an internal peace that she never detected in the past.

As I began writing A View to the Unknown, I gave Emily the same meditation which gave her the same results.  We had both not only made peace with our past on a conscious level, but on a subconscious one as well.  We were both happy and content.  That happiness gave our minds the ability to look outside itself in order to explore all the possibilities a clear, calm mind has access to.

As Emily and I traveled through the rest of her life, there came a point at which her daughter-in-law, Trish, asked her if she had ever been able to forgive her father.  It was a question for both of us and I wasn’t sure how we were going to answer.  Yet, answer we did.

My mind released my thoughts as my fingers banged away at the keyboard giving Emily a voice to both our journeys.  This is that conversation.

“Emily, you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to. I’ll understand, but I’m just curious. During all these years, have you ever felt forgiveness for what your father did to you?”

Emily looked off into space as she considered the question. Then she answered as honestly as she possibly could.

“Trish, having something as terrible as molestation happen to me has given me the ability to think outside the box, and not only that, but the gift of recognizing there really are no boxes. It’s given me the freedom to create my life as I live it. For example, when things go bad, I know they’re temporary; therefore, I don’t get bogged down in them. They don’t control me. My resilience to bounce back assures that. I’m able to laugh at myself and things that happen to me. As a result I’ve pondered your question on many occasions, and I believe with all my heart that I have forgiven him. That forgiveness, however, was never a conscious decision. Instead, it happened as a result of my realization that what I endured at my father’s hands was nothing more than a temporary situation which caused me temporary discomfort and sadness. My focus has always been happiness. As a result I’ve been able to let go of anger, sadness and desires for revenge, as well as negative emotions like hatred. Those are all too time-consuming and are blocks to happiness. So, yes, I believe I forgave Dad a long time ago.”

It was done. At that time in space I too recognized that I had forgiven my father a long time ago. Like Emily, that forgiveness came without deep or deliberate thought. It just seemed to have evolved. Also, as with Emily, I recognized that happiness is a conscious decision; one that you determine to be your goal. Anger, revenge and hatred are all negative feelings that, if I had allowed them to consume me, would have caused nothing but unhappiness. I don’t have time to be unhappy. I have a lot of living left in me and a lot to accomplish. Ironically, the release that Holosync allowed me to experience and my own determination to find a way out of the place I was in is rewarding me in ways I never expected.

Edwin Sabuhoro

I have finished my journey through my past and am now experiencing only my future as I am about to help a beautiful man write his autobiography. Edwin Sabuhoro, the CNN hero I mentioned in a past blog has asked me to help him write his autobiography. Too, he’s invited me to visit his country, Rwanda. While there, we will climb Mt. Virunga and visit with the gorillas he has helped save. Iby'Iwacu Cultural VillageWe’ll also visit with the men and women of Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village  where the men who used to poach the gorillas now teach paying visitors about their culture and sell their art.  These same men and the village as a whole are now very protective of the gorillas who have experienced a 20%+ increase in population over the last several years.  Meeting these people will be important to my future as well because, once we are finished writing Edwin’s story, we will write the story of the gorillas and their ex-poachers.  This is the type of opportunity that presents itself when we refuse to restrict ourselves to living within boxes that are full of darkness.  I live in the sunlight and will reap the benefits of that sunlight just as I have throughout much of my journey.  It’s great to be alive…truly alive!

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