Philomena and Her Daughter Juliette

Kigali, Rwanda

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When the genocide started I was 13, in the first grade of secondary school. We had a small bar and my father was having a drink with friends when all of a sudden there was a big blast. People were wondering, is it thunder, is it rain? A gun? We later heard the news that the president of Rwanda and the president of Burundi’s plane had crashed and both were dead. We kept the radio on, tuning into Radio Rwanda, and all we could hear was classical music, slow songs, as if it were a mourning period.

We stayed inside for some days until a militia came. They killed my father and I knew they were going to kill my brother. They had my mother and sister in the sitting room. They said, “We are going to have sex.” I said, “Can you please wait, after the war I will be your wife, take your time.” One of them said, “Who said you will still be alive when the war ends?” I kept pleading. I was a virgin. So he said, “If you are a coward, let me show you something about it.” They removed all of my mother’s clothes and raped her. I looked away, but he said, “No, look here and be prepared because I want you to see how it is done. And then after this we will come to you.” They closed the door and raped my mother, one man after another. Then they raped my elder sister. Then they raped me.

Later, they took me to one of their militia headquarters, where I stayed for two months. Our life, our routine was 80% sex and 20% cooking food. We stayed on the ground floor and the guns and weapons were upstairs. After a meeting, if one man felt like he wanted sex, he came to us. Whoever he was interested in that day, he would have. I stayed there even after the militia had gone. We didn’t know that they weren’t coming back. Later when we heard that there was no more fighting, we went outside and walked a bit. I said, “Let me go and try to get to my home.” My elder sister was there, my mother was in Gitarama, we didn’t see her for five months, but when she returned she said I looked like I was pregnant. My sister was also pregnant, but her child died. At that time, there was freedom to abort a child of a militia. But my mother said, “No, I am Christian, I can’t allow you to kill. Just bear with it. It will be your child and you will love it later.”  

Today, I have a big challenge: I am a mother but unwilling to be a mother. I don’t love this child. I didn’t make a choice to have this child. Whenever I look at this child, the memories of rape return. Whenever I look at her, I imagine the men holding one leg, the others holding another leg. I understand she is innocent and I try to love her, but I fail. I don’t love her like a mother ought to love her child. I don’t see a future for her. Forgive me, I have asked God to forgive me. Maybe, with time I will love this daughter of mine, but for now, no. Sometimes, I regret not aborting; other times because she is the only daughter I am going to have in my life, I don’t regret it. It is mixed feelings. For a long time, I really hated God. I asked myself, why did people die? Why did my family die? Why this extreme violence? Why am I HIV positive? Where was God?


-Philomena, mother of Juliette, 2006

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