Updated: Jul 25, 2021
On November 1st 2018 I married my Rwandan husband. Whilst the wedding was a beautifully cultural occasion set against the thousand hills that ran alongside Lake Kivu it came with heavy and mixed emotions. My family were able to fly over from the UK to celebrate our day but marrying in his own country Manzi's only blood relative in attendance was his cousin, Simon. In attendance were other ‘brothers’ bonded from their experience of becoming orphans. This was because in 1994 Manzi lost his entire family to the Rwandan genocide.
It seemed there was a huge relief felt on his behalf during the wedding. Manzi had finally found not just a wife but a family and a future where he was no longer alone in the world. He no longer had to focus just on his own survival, to isolate himself in order to preserve himself. Now he could trust that he could now meet his own potential as a person by having a wife by his side to hold, protect and encourage him. But this did not stop the memories from flashing back as he received greetings from his cousin. These memories were alive and real, and were felt by everybody in attendance. It brought out emotions and tears in my family I have ever seen before. Whilst the occasion was positive we did not dismiss the absence of his parents that should have been there to tell him how proud they were of him. Whilst I will never know his parents I am quite sure they would be proud of the man he has become given the life he had to face.
As the family fled their home on news of a Hutu attack, his father made an unknown decision to throw Manzi into a hole whilst the rest of his siblings and his parents fled and were killed. Manzi will never know why his father did this but it is because of this act that he has vouched to return back the faith and trust his father showed in him in that moment.
Manzi spent 2 weeks in this hole. Hutus suspected he was down there and threw rocks and sticks down with the belief they had killed him. They didn’t but he still bares the dents in his skull of these attacks. Manzi survived this ordeal thanks to an old lady nearby who put herself at risk and brought him food and water when it was safe to do so. We learnt last year she had just passed away. I have read these kind of stories and cannot believe how anybody could survive such fear. To wonder whether your scream will eventually echo that of your families that you heard days before. To not know what was happening, if they survived or not, if it was safe to leave and if so what would he find if he did get out.
As yet Manzi has not shared any of these thoughts with me. I see whenever he recalls them how painful they are. It has taken a number of painful recollections for me to gain even this information from him but when he does I see that scared little boy in him. To Manzi he saw no point in recalling anything of what happened but instead focused on making a success of his life, a life for some reason his father chose only him to have. But this was because he was alone and too scared to trust anybody to open to up too. It meant he kept himself isolated from close relationships so nobody could attempt to retrieve these images.
I don’t know why he gave me the honour but he has trusted me with his memories and his story and since then he has felt a weight lifted. He took me back to his home sector and shared some of his childhood memories, and showed me one of the hills that used to be filled with homes and families. Manzi could not bear to look at it, now empty of life.
Back in 1994 Manzi was eventually collected and taken to a camp for orphaned children where he stayed for 2 years. He continued his schooling and went on to gain a degree in business management. He now has a strong reputation across Rwanda for his hospitality management skills.
On the last day of my time in Rwanda we visited various genocide memorials around Kigali, something Manzi has never been able to do before. As we stood in the church at Ntarama surrounded by clothes and items of the people who came there for safety only to be massacred, we both sobbed. It broke my heart to imagine families came with hope as they brought personal items with them, truly believing they had come to safety and had a future somewhere. As we looked at the list of names of those known to have died in the area I could not help scan the list in the hope of finding Manzi’s family there. I wondered if he was doing the same. He told me that he does check lists in his old town to see any sign of them. I can only imagine people of Rwanda are continually seeking those answers, as to what happened to their families. It is one thing to lose your family, another to only have your imagination as to what had happened to them. Manzi was very quiet at the memorial but I was so proud of him as he had the courage to finally face the reality of his country’s history, to release just a small amount of the weight of his pain.
Our legal wedding ceremony was held in his home village. Manzi had finally been able to return home knowing he was no longer alone in the world. He no longer had to be reminded of the huge void in his life that was his family as he joined with myself and my family to help heal this void. We are not there to replace his family. I value their memory and hope somehow they can see that their little boy is now safe and no longer alone in the world. From all of the tragedy and pain he has finally found happiness.