I woke up in the town of Huye today. The sun was streaming in before 6am and I headed out for a jog. The neighborhood was new to me, a lovely series of streets made of cobblestones and lined with brick, with the occasional drop-off or hole in the ground. It is not far from the bustling ‘downtown’ which includes a bus station, many shops, banks and restaurants.
Although Huye is the second largest city of Rwanda, it feels much smaller than Kigali. There are no high rise buildings and there is one main road, mainly covered in a red dirt. It is difficult to get lost here so I was looking forward to running around and exploring while I got some exercise before work. I have had some great interactions and observations in my African jogs and this morning was no exception.
As I turn a corner, I notice my heart seems to skip a beat when I come upon a group of prisoners dressed in orange and pink. The pink represents those people who committed crimes during the genocide and who have not yet asked for forgiveness. Once they admit to their crime and apologize to the families in a public gacaca trial (http://thinkafricapress.com/rwanda/legacy-gacaca-courts-genocide) they change into the orange uniform and move into a rehabilitation program, before they are released back to their home village. When I run by this group I am filled with a mix of horror and compassion. Only yesterday did I meet with a beautiful, inspiration maverick leader who is putting together what she calls Book of Letters. The book includes letters that survivors have written to their lost loved ones, and also from the individuals who are in prison for genocide crimes who were asked to write to their victims. The letter begins with “Dear person whom I killed.”
After I pass by the prisoners on the sidewalk and make eye contact with some, I immediately come across a group of nuns who are walking together with eyes mostly down but sneaking peaks of this ‘mizungu’ (white person) racing to get someplace, dressed only in a tank top and shorts, with wires coming out of her ears. The sight of the sisters in their habits just after the male prisoners in their garb was such a contrast and it put my nervous system in overdrive. Our team is in the midst of teaching skills to cope with stress, anxiety and all sorts of trauma, and the model includes an approach called Tracking. This is a perfect time to practice what I am learning and teaching.
Just in time, as I am beginning to fall into imagining what sort of role these people might have played in the genocide (a slippery place for my mind to go), a girl of maybe 25 shows up in my path. She is dressed in a long traditional wrap skirt and rubber thongs. As she starts to jog perfectly in stride with me up a steep hill, I immediately feel re-grounded. I think I am dreaming for a moment and then our faces meet, less than three feet from one another, and we both smile from ear-to-ear. We continue running together up the hill and then she motions that she is finished and we hold hands for a split second. The moment was so profound for me, representing exchange, mutual understanding and even healing. I continued running and when I am at the top and the sun is becoming brighter just over the horizon, I cannot help but turn back to see if she is still there. We both raise our hands in a great big wave at the exact same moment. Not a word was spoken.