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A Poet Speaks Out About Growing up in Rwanda

May 12, 2009

Hashmat Abdul

Hashmat Abdul

Hashmat Abdul, born on the 24th July 1983, in Ruhengeri (now Musaze Province) in Rwanda, had a peaceful childhood till the age of 7, and then all changed forever.

“We were forced to move away as the country was torn into a civil war in 1990, and we took refuge in the neighboring country called Zaire (now known as D.R.Congo). In less than a month, it was hit by a coupe d’état, and we moved back to Rwanda to Kigali– which had become a bit more stable at that time in 1991. I tried to have a stable life with my family after we had lost everything. But hidden beneath, there was non-stop tension in the country. We never knew there was preparation of a War to come.

In the beginning of 1993, the situation in Rwanda became extremely delicate, and due to insecurity my parents moved us to Burundi for safety. We lived there for almost six months, and then there was another coupe d’état which lead to the death of the Burundian president. In the mist of the chaos we managed to return to Rwanda. In the beginning of 1994, we did not know what was to come.

On the night of 6th April 1994, the Rwandese president’s plane was shot down as it was landing on an airstrip. This was the trigger to start a genocide lasting for a period of 100 days. We stayed in our home for almost three days, where we witnessed numerous atrocities that a child at that age should never have to see. Finally, we were told that they offered protection and safety at the Hotel Mille Collin (also known as Hotel Rwanda) where my uncle had already taken refuge.

It was ‘a call of destiny.’ We were evacuated in the middle of the night when some fighting had ceased and had to run from the hotel parking area protecting ourselves from flying bullets above our heads. But we had made it, and we felt we were safe for the moment.

Two days while we were still hiding in the hotel, other people who had just come in, informed my family that our house had all been burnt to the ground. By luck, we had already left, thus loosing everything again once more. This is was the real ‘call of destiny.’

We watched as all foreign embassies came to collect their citizens and left us all behind. Still, I held on to the little hope I had left that we would be next. I was hoping and praying… all to the mercy of what was happening beyond the walls of the hotel.

We had run out of food and water, so we started drinking the swimming pool’s water and what the hotel could provide us for food, while others simply prayed.

But our prayers were answered, thanks to Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire, whom at the time was working  as the Force Commander of UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda). This man has a heart of gold. He posted some of his men to the entrance of the hotel to protect us. This kept us all alive. Now the author of the book, ‘Shaking hands with the Devil,’ he actually did shake hands with the devil– as he managed to speak to the leader who was organising the massive killings. Dallaire arranged for a convoy to Burundi  to escort the body of the murdered Burundi president. He created a passage way out for all of us who were left behind. He saved thousands of people including me and my family. I owe my life and the life of my family to this man. And if it wasn’t for him, today none of us would be alive to tell.

Once in Burundi, we moved back to Congo, and from there we lived for three peaceful years, finally in a stable country and a stable home. Eventually, we all needed a way of taking out what we had all endured and we each had our own way. All of us are different. My older sister started keeping a diary, and my brother put his thoughts into lyrics, and later became a well known hip hop artist in Uganda.

I, with my love for words and literature, expressed myself in poetry. If things ever felt easier to say differently, then I gave poetry the chance to express what I wanted to directly say.

This continued on for many years. My family said there is no place like home, and they eventually decided once things became more stable they would face reality and fear and move back to Rwanda. I did not go. For a few years, I lived and worked in Uganda, as I felt I still needed time to go back home to the country where I call home. Rwanda: the country were I was born– the country known as a 1000 hills, 1000 memories, 1000 tears– and now a country of hope and renaissance and 1000 smiles.

Now, present day, I have faced my past and moved back home to Rwanda. I am currently living and working in a tourism company, and I am proud of my country and all it has done to recover from it’s past, like ‘a rising Phoenix from it Ashes’…”

To read Hashmat’s eloquent poems, please click on this link.

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