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Your location>Home>Publications>PeaceWays>Fall 2008

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Recovery in Mutaho, Burundi:
HROC Testimonies from Mutaho

By Adrien Niyongabo

Jérome Birorewuname

There’s a gift I received in the HROC workshop. Two times I was taken, and people tried to kill me. I still have scars on my forehead, neck, and leg, shaped by a machete.

There was an old man there who had tried to kill me. He was a neighbor like my father as he had been feeding me with his kids as if we were just like family. But surprisingly he was the one who brought the machete and cut my neck. They [the Hutu attackers] thought that I had died but I had not. I was with other people [Tutsi] who were even stronger than me, but they died immediately.

When I was in the HROC workshop, there is a session where you share about your sufferings and that man shared about his sufferings. He added that during the massacres in our community he was not there, but in Cibitoke. I got angry because I knew he’s the one who took me to the killers. They had tied my arms in the back, and he was the one who was pulling me there. On our way to that place, he was telling me terrible things that I still remember. So because of anger, I walked out. I called one of the facilitators and I asked for a private time to meet with that person.

Before the training, each time we would see each other at the bar, he would run away immediately. This happened more than three times. So in the HROC training I had a chance to ask him, “Please, why do you run each time you see me when you are at the bar?” He said, “You know, Jerome, every time I have been with you I was shameful. I didn’t have anything to say because I could not deny all the bad things I did to you so I just tried to hide it. You know I am the one who took your rabbits, I am the one who took your chickens, I am the one who took your hoes, and everything you had in your house, I took them. So I will ask you to write down all the things that you lost, and I will pay them one after another.”

I responded, “I have been living with soldiers. I could have asked them to come and kill you or I could have told them to come and kick you out of the community. You know that there are many who are living in Tanzania in the refugee camp because of what they did. But I never wished you to be there because I know that they are also suffering. I’m not going to kill you or ask you to pay. So please, don’t run anymore when you see me. Maybe while you’re running you might just fall into a hole and you will hurt yourself and maybe die. Please believe that I really have forgiven you, and I don’t have any bad wishes for you.”

So he was very, very happy. He could not understand it because he knew what he did to me, and he was surprised to hear that I would not take him to jail or whatever but I have forgiven him.
But I survived two times. I have not yet met with the ones who tried to kill me for the second time, but I am planning to ask the HROC facilitator to invite them and meet with them in a workshop so we can deal with our problem.

Where does that forgiveness come from? – Frankly, it didn’t take effort to forgive them so much as it took time. I have never been in prison. I am now 42 years old, but I would say that prison is not a good place to be. There are those who have been taken to prison, and now they are back home. I wonder if the relationship has been improved, I mean between the victim and the perpetrator. But I would say it would have worsened. And it would not prevent the perpetrator from planning other harmful things. But as I just let things go, I think it made a big impact on the person. Not as a person myself, but believe that through my behavior there is another power that works through me to come and transform the person.

In a way I do not understand why and how I did it, but I do know that I didn’t pay anything, and yet I believe that that will be a lasting relationship with my killer.

Bike story: Very recently, I was just coming back from church, and by chance I recognized one of the people who had fled to Tanzania. He was surprised to see me, and he said, “Are you still alive?” because he had been involved in the killings. “Are you surprised to see me alive?” I asked. “I really could never expect you to be alive.” But that time, he had a lot of luggage and he was trying to find a bicycle taxi so he could go home and find someone to help him carry the load.

The bicycle taxi men were trying to charge him 3,000 Burundian Francs (about $2.50), when it should be only 500 ($.42). And he was just arriving so he had no money. I told him, “Don’t worry, I have a bicycle. Take it, and you can just bring it back to me when you’re done with it. He looked me in the eyes and asked “Are you really giving me your bicycle?” “Yes,” I said, “And if anything bad happens to you, I would rather prefer it happening to my bicycle and you staying safe.”

Later a friend from the internally displaced persons camp came to me and asked why I had given my bicycle to a Hutu who had just arrived from Tanzania. And I said, “There is this meat, indindura--cow intestine--the meat that changes things. Normally it’s given to women--they say if she has been giving birth to girls, and then eats indindura, she will give birth to boys. So if we agree that indindura is a delicious meat, we need to eat it, and if you eat it, it changes you, and after being changed, you can give it to others. You see these people that come from Tanzania--we are the ones to show them that we have changed. If we just give them a warm welcome and show them that they have been away from the community for fifteen years, so they don’t know where to go, everything has changed here. So unless we show them the way, they will never believe that Burundi has changed. So that’s why we need to show them we have eaten indindura, so everyone can understand.”

That is what I did it to that person. When he went to his community, I’m sure he told them who gave him the bicycle, and he told them how he had been welcomed in the IDP camp. And that will improve the way the village people treat us-- once we go there, they will treat us as human beings, as friends. That’s how we can make the change, that’s how we can make forgiveness take place, so that’s why I say forgiveness is important.

Big stipend? Yes. Once time when I was coming from the workshop, going home, they said, “Where are you coming from?” I said, “I’m coming from the workshop.” They said, “Oh yeah, you must have received a big stipend for three days?” [It is the custom for many non-profit organizations to give sitting allowances to those who attend workshops, but HROC does not do this.] I said, “Big stipend?” He said, “Yes, of course if you are there for three days.” I told him, “Yes, I got a lot out of the workshop.” I gave him this example, “You know ugali [maize meal, mush]?” “Yes, of course, I am Burundian, I know ugali.” “Imagine that you have a lot of ugali in front of you, but your heart is bleeding, will the ugali take away the hurt and bitterness from the wound in your heart?” He said, “No.” “That’s why I say it’s a lot of money, because I come home with peace.” Even if they had given us those big, big stipends, there would be no meaning to it for me because my heart was still bleeding, but now I have my heart. So peace is more meaningful than money.

Sylvia Ndirariha

The HROC workshop is the only workshop I have ever attended. The pleasing thing was that the man who wanted to kill me in the war was in the workshop. In the part of the workshop where we talk about our suffering, I felt compelled to speak about what happened to me.

I had two brother-in-laws, one had been killed and the other had been hidden somewhere, I didn’t know where. My husband was in Bujumbura so I was at home with my five kids. We had locked the door, and the man came and broke the door down with a machete and came into our bedroom. He stood in front of me and asked, “Where are your brother-in-laws?” And I said, “One has been already killed and I don’t know where the other is.” “You need to show us where he has been hidden.”

When I said I didn’t know, they took me outside. There was a group of five or six of them and one had a metal bar. And he hit me with the bar three times and I lost consciousness. I fell down and this is while I was carrying one of my children on my back. I don’t know how long I was unconscious before I came to and got up. When I went back to inside the man came with his machete. I was thinking he was going to use it against me, but he did not. Instead he dropped it and said, “Where is he?” And I again told him I did not know.

Back in the workshop, I knew him, and I have never spoken to him since he did this. I would just walk away from him anytime I saw him. I considered him a killer since he was going to kill me. But in the workshop I had opened myself and I told him about how I had been feeling and what I thought of him. So we had this time to be together, and he also apologized for what he did, asking for forgiveness. I felt able to forgive him, and I have done so. Now when we meet, we are friends. Sometimes when I go to the village to cultivate my plot, I ask him for water, and other times he comes to my home in the internally displaced persons’ camp. So I would say our relationship has been revived, and now we are more understanding of one another. And so I was happy for attending the workshop and happy to have the chance to speak with the man who attacked me.

Now I think this in my heart. I saw many, many bad things. And they have suppressed things and changed my way of thinking, I was going to run out but from the workshop I attended, I feel different. I have many reasons for why I was able to forgive and part of it was from the other thing that happened during that same time when the man came with the machete. While I was in my bedroom, three of my children were hiding in the ceiling. And the other people who were with the man had spears and were stabbing them into the ceiling to see if anyone was there. [Ceilings in Burundi are frequently made of papyrus reeds.] I don’t know how they managed to miss my kids with every attempt – the three of them were just laying there in the ceiling. I think about how thankful I am that God saved them – they would have been killed if they had been discovered, but God saved them. And from that I think, “Why not I forgive the one who wanted to kill me?”

And it’s something that’s so needed in our community, it is no longer time for hating one another. It is time to seek for love and reconciliation so I’m proud of being among those who are working for that. I feel joy in my heart for having done such a thing. I am a poor women so I don’t have money for it, but if I did, I would buy cups of tea, and he and I would drink from the same cup, just to be together, to feel connected, and to show that I have love for him.

Do your kids show signs of trauma from their experience of lying on the ceiling? Yes, they show signs of trauma. I had two boys and three girls. One of them died--he was shot in Gitega. The other boy came back for the memorial of his brother and said that he would never again come back here because he was afraid. Of the three girls, one of them is grown up now and has attended a HROC workshop. She is now working on her trauma and she seems to be improving.

But the other two are still traumatized. I cannot really ask them to go back to their community. If they are asked to go there to harvest cassava or something for cooking, most of the days they will say, “No, mom, I can’t go there, they will kill us.” I tell them that the killing is over, but they do not believe it. So it’s only when we’re together that they can go. If they accept to go, they are so fearful that they don’t want to stay there for very long. So I would like them to attend HROC workshops as their sister did.
Now that I have talked to the man who wanted to kill me, and they have heard about it, they have asked me how I came to this and I explained how I had been helped.