Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

12 January, 2007

God Sleeps in Rwanda

God Sleeps in Rwanda is the second documentary I've seen in this still nascent year about the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide with Rwanda: A Killer's Homecoming being the first.

Rwanda must be an absolutely gorgeous country. I say this because of the opening shot of God Sleeps in Rwanda which is an aerial view of the countryside. It is stunning. The view then shifts down into a town and then to a road showing several women dressed in brightly-colored clothes walking towards the camera with urns atop their heads. We then meet the first of five women to be profiled, Severa Mukakinani.

Severa has a 9 year old daughter, Akimana. Over a shot of them sorting beans, we hear Severa say that she wished Akimana had died like her other seven children.

A brief overview of the genocide follows and I learned that the genocide left the Rwandan population with 70% of it being women. Narrator Rosario Dawson notes that this was a great burden for the women of Rwanda but also an extraordinary opportunity. The focus then shifts back to Severa as she explains how she lost her entire family in the genocide. She watched as her husband and three sons were killed before her. Severa also tells how she was gang raped by more men than she could count which led to her becoming pregnant with Akimana.

While she wanted to abort the pregnancy at first, Severa found that she just couldn't go through with it. She had seen the death of too many innocents already and so she decided to keep the child.

Rape was a tool used in the genocide and it is estimated that a quarter of a million women were raped during that time. As a tool of war, it was coordinated by Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the country's Minister of Women and Family Affairs at the time.

Nyiramasuhuko is standing trial for war crimes and is the first women to be charged with genocide. It is also the first time that anyone is charged with rape as a crime against humanity.

We are then introduced to another survivor and rape victim, Chantal Kantarama.

While Chantal was lucky to have escaped the ordeal without having contracted AIDS, her friend, Fifi Mukangoga, who was also raped, was not so lucky. She talks about her close friendship with Fifi and how they fled the genocide together.

After it was over, Chantel met the man who would be her husband. They now have three children. While Fifi died of AIDS, Chantel was able to build a new life.

As with Severa, Chantal found hope and meaning in her children.

Odette Mukakabera survived the genocide along with her husband and four children. But she found out afterwards that her husband was HIV+ and had infected her. He died in 1999. A former school teacher, Odette became an officer in the Rwanda's National Police Force.

Prior to the genocide, a women in such a position was unthinkable. Also unthinkable was Odette's decision to go public with the fact that she has AIDS. This is apparently taboo in most of Africa. Unfortunately, one of Chantel's children also contracted AIDS but she is unable to afford any medication for him. In addition to being a police officer, she is also a law student and hopes to one day be a lawyer so she can help those also infected with the disease.

Next we meet a pensive Delphine Umutesi. She lost her mother at the age of 10 and watched as her father was butchered. Being the eldest of five children, Delphine was forced to assume the role of mother to her siblings at the tender age of 12. She benefited from new laws in Rwanda including one which allowed women to inherit property and their own children.

Delphine tells of the old attitudes in Rwanda towards women which was that they should remain in the home while the husband supported the family. But the genocide changed that and forced women to do everything themselves. Although she obviously has more than enough responsibility with taking care of her brothers and sisters, Delphine dreams of getting married and having children of her own. She says that several men have proposed to her, which makes me wonder exactly what the cultural norms are in Rwanda for proposing.

The last woman to be profiled was Joseline Mujawamariya. She is her town's top development official with has six underlings. We see her and several others building a road from her village to Rwanda's capital, Kigali. Joseline's position in her village is quite an accomplishment considering her lack of formal education but, given the circumstances, anything was possible. But it was her own drive to do well and contribute to her community that put her where she is. Joseline speaks of men and women working together and of shedding the old ways which disallowed women from participating in the political process.

God Sleeps in Rwanda was quite a breath of fresh air when I watched it. The documentary provided some positive glimpses of Rwanda and offered hope. For these reasons it was an official selection of the United Nations Association Film Festival's "Statement of Courage and Hope". It was an official selection at many other film festivals as well and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005.

As I mentioned above, there were changes in the inheritance laws and it seems these were instituted shortly after we left Odette and Theophile in Rwanda: A Killer's Homecoming. The changes should be no surprise considering the disproportionate number of women in the population. What a shame that it took a genocide for women to be able to gain these rights and for them to assume positions of authority as they are now.

One thing I noticed was how important children were to the women in the video. They survived a genocide and, in some instances, rape as well yet they were not left cold and heartless. These women still looked towards a brighter future while at the same time dealing with the past. Not only does their compassion show through but this emphasis on children also shows how a caring/nurturing side can co-exist with a side that is more about authority and leaderships. By this I mean that, here in America, we have this notion that women in positions of authority eschew a family life to pursue their career, that the two cannot co-exist. Yet here they seem to. Different societies, to be sure, but perhaps the notion is purely American.

Since the video is a short, only a few minutes could be devoted to profiling each woman. Yet I thought the filmmakers did a great job of presenting the women in a complex way. The women were given the chance to give a brief history of their lives, to explain what their lives are like now, and to talk about the changes in Rwandan society as well. One thing that was noticeably absent from the video was religion. I expected one of the women to talk about having been granted strength from God or something similar but that never happened. I have no clue as to their religious affiliations or lack thereof and the omission of religion here could very have been the prerogative of the filmmakers. Perhaps they wanted to emphasize the strength and accomplishments of their subjects without distraction.

Religious or not, these are some truly remarkable women.
|| Palmer, 9:21 PM


I recall at least one of the women mentioning finding hope in god (maybe the youngest woman). They really are remarkable women.

The D
Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:43 PM  
I don't recall that but I'll take your word on this.
Blogger Palmer, at 10:39 AM  
No, D, no one, woman nor man said that. And which god are you referring to btw? Some pagan african god, or the christian god that you, no doubt, dedicate your biggott faith to.
Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:28 AM  
Anon - D is an atheist so she dedicates no faith to a supernatural deity, biggott or not.

At least she knows how to spell.
Blogger LavaLady, at 9:40 AM  
actually i remember one of the women saying she goes to church and that it helps her cope. i think it was Delphine.
Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:56 PM  

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