Winnie and Her Daughter Athanse

Kibuye, Rwanda

12_Winnie and Athanse_Diptych.jpg
 

For now I’ve accepted that we can live together with Hutus. Maybe it was not them to blame, maybe it was bad leadership, but when I think of going back to my village, my home where I was born, I can’t imagine going there. I have never gone back there. And whenever I think of that place, is when I hate Hutus.

The world should know that we suffered, that the Tutsi women suffered. You see my children, I now have children, but I’m lame, I’m handicapped, I can’t raise them. If I had raised them without genocide I would have been able to look after them. Now I can’t. I keep asking myself, whose responsibility are they?

During the genocide my fiancé was killed. The man that killed my fiancé is actually the one who came to say he was going to protect me. He kept me in his house. I thought he wanted to save me, and I stayed at his house for two nights. On the third night one of his relatives came and demanded that he give me to him so he can take care of me. And that’s how he took me to his house and started raping me from then on, for three nights. He locked me in the house. He went to kill, and when he came back he brought meat and ordered me to cook. Sometimes he would give the key to some other militiamen. I would be in the house locked up; when the door opens I think it is him, only to see it is another militiaman. He rapes me, he finishes, he locks me in, he leaves, then he gives the key to another. … One day after I had got tired of that experience I risked my life and broke the window, a small window in the bedroom, and jumped out of the house. I went and hid in the jungle near Lake Kivu, but my plan was to commit suicide. I wanted to find a place where I could just disappear in the water instead of going through that torture.

After being in the jungle for three days, they came looking for me. Unfortunately, my first captor, the man who raped me, was in the group that came looking for us in the jungle, and he took me back to his house. On the way other militias wanted me, but he said, “No don’t kill this one. She had disappeared from me, but I’ll keep her. She’ll be my ‘wife.’” He was very, very hostile, and I was subjected to punishments. He came with a group of men. They raped me one after the other until my legs were apart. I couldn’t put my legs together again. They said I was about to die, so they left me there. One of those nights when many men raped me, the final one was very drunk and had smoked opium. He forced himself on me but I was really tired and weak. I told him I can’t do anything, “just kill me now instead of you coming on top of me.” So when I tried to resist he overpowered me and screwed four nails in my body; when the pain was too much, I gave in. He removed the nails and raped me with vigor. He broke one of my nerves. This is something I live with until now.

When I realized I was pregnant I was very depressed. I was in a refugee camp in Congo for several months, about two if I remember well. After two months I decided to come back to Rwanda. I was not going to have a kid of a man I don’t know, in a place that I don’t know. So I thought maybe in my village I might have some surviving relatives. I came to see if they could be of some help, to help me give birth or advise me how to deal with a child. When I got there I found out that my entire family had been killed, apart from two of my sisters. But fortunately I had an uncle who had gone into exile in Congo long before, in 1959, a brother to my father. So when he returned to Rwanda he came to our place, but found his brother dead. My father had been burned.

When I returned from exile I got married with the blessing of my uncle. The man I married had no shirt, he had no trousers, he was a peasant. I had nothing, I was a peasant, but we decided that we were going to start a life together. Why? Because he accepted me as I am. I went through a hard time giving birth because of my health, I had complications. There are some nerves, some veins that are broken because of the rapes I went through. But I gave birth to a good girl. I liked her and my husband liked her as well. Actually he took her as his own and gave her his family name. He kept loving my daughter and still does. Of course neighbors remind him; as you know, men talk. They tell him that this girl is not his, she’s of a militia: “she’s a girl of the militia.” And he sometimes comes home disappointed. But we haven’t told our daughter, we have not told her. Even when my daughter asks me some funny questions I tell her this is her father. I love her so much, because she is a result of problem.

-Winnie, mother of Athanse, 2006

Next Story >