A Conversation With the Dead

Keeping Up With the Promise of Renewal

Photos by Trocaire

It’s not being slaughtered by machete that only really hurts. It hurts to think about who you’re leaving behind. The dead worried about their loved ones. They wanted to be there when their children grow up, go to school, get jobs, and make a living. They wanted to see them succeed. They always wanted to be there when it happens — or, at least, be sure it happens.

When they left—so fast and unprepared—they had no clue as to what would happen to those who might stay. Even at that very last moment, they were still worried about their children’s future. And that hurts; it hurts so much.

“The person who killed me had a cold face. I had nicknamed him ‘cold-face’ already. He had no pity. He didn’t speak. He just did his job: killing me. And he did it well — in fact, so well.”

My cousin-sister Ange Gatare was 17, ten years ago, when she spoke with her dad who was butchered 21 years ago, during the Genocide against the Tutsi. A teacher by profession, he was killed by a neighbour, right in front of some of the students he taught.

By the time Ange was in college, she lived at an aunt’s house where she had everything she needed to survive. But she could not escape the vivid memories of April-July 1994, when she was 6 years-old. They haunted her; and us, her friends and relatives — especially during the April week of commemoration.

Like many young other Rwandans who were caught in the traumas of genocide, she could converse with her mother, old friends, aunts, and schoolmates — those who were killed in ‘94. It happened at night, most of the times. I was always keen to listen, as she shared her traumatic experiences weeks later.

“I spoke with mum, Alice and Claude a few days ago,” she would tell me, a couple of times in the years prior to 2005. “They seemed to be fine; happy.”

It was indeed disturbing; to just sit and listen to her as she spoke. But it was always the best thing to do, I am certain.

Throughout the years, Ange experienced horrific moments of disorder but it wasn’t until late-March 2005 that she engaged in a conversation that changed her life: she spoke with her dad.

She told me of their exchange three months later.

“Mum, your brother and I are doing just fine. You do not need to worry. Be strong, he said,” she told me. “We left so fast, and I never thought I would see you again.”

He went on, she said, “You have grown up now, and you look just like in the old dream your mum and I had before leaving.”

“I want you to promise me something,” he added. “Promise me you will be strong and work hard — twice as good.”

“He looked healthy and assured, but he looked somehow anxious when she pronounced the last sentence,” she said. And, determined, “I said ‘I promise.’”

Now a primary school teacher, Ange lives happily and she got married in September last year. It is that very conversation with her father, Leonard, who died during the Genocide, that — among other things — changed her life. Forever.

Since March 2005, she has overcome the many challenges she faced, through a promise she made to her beloved parents and sibling. For her, living through the promise — and knowing that those whom she lost in 1994 are at ease wherever they are — has helped her follow her passion, dreams, and fulfill her potential.

It is that simple conversation with a ghost that helped Ange renew her commitments, and define who she is today: a mother-to-be, with a loving husband, and a happy invisible father whom she was close to 21 years ago.

Ange has overcome the horrific trauma and she will never speak to her father, mother, friends and relatives who died; again. They are gone for good. But their souls remain, living through her successes.

This story is adapted from a friend’s testimony I heard ten years ago.

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