Coming home from work that morning after a busy night shift, I decided to tune in to one of the few international news outlets that still cover the news back home. Far from me the luxury I had some months ago, before the local private radio stations got shut down and some burnt, by I don’t know who.
After falling into the trap of channeling the most confusing and often awkward information to my friends in this foreign land where I live, after the night of the 13th of May, I decided to reset my balance, gather some strength, and to never believe any of the “Alerte! Alerte!” messages we get every day from various social media platforms. I used to laugh at the virtual wars between pro and anti whatever they call it, and get amazed by the many people who chose anonymity to fight anyone who happens to have a different opinion. Their “war” was so real that nothing, really nothing, could chill them out.
In my wonderland I reflected on how many of my friends had fled and joined me; something that, these days, only seems to happen in a world where ISIS operates… and Burundi.
I thought about how my family fled one Wednesday afternoon; how a few days later my mother got bored here and decided to go back, with my sister.
I remembered my friend’s wedding, that I was supposed to go to, but which never happened; it got cancelled when the bombshells started making their way into town. The beautiful bride was sad, and the families went back to their villages, disappointed.
After a sigh and a return to my senses, I heard, over the radio, with the most beautifully snob French accent from downtown Paris, a seductive female voice making its way to my ears, breaking up the news of… death. I would have loved to wake up to that voice whispering to that breakfast is ready, but no. She had no chills telling me that a suburb in my hometown was on lockdown for two days by… you know who.
She could not pronounce Mutakura or Jabe properly to save her life. But she was only doing her job.
The death toll that day: five bodies, with their arms bound behind their backs, found in the middle of the street, in broad daylight.
I immediately imagined the scenes of despair and desolation when they were discovered. Maybe someone knew them’ maybe their moms had not seen them for a while before they were found in that state; maybe they were killed and left right in front of their homes. In my mind I could see the flies feasting over them. Some kids had probably seen them, just like most of my age mates did, 22 years or so years ago.
The voice on the radio had moved to happier news, in another country. I switched the radio off. I had been trying to keep a record of the number of dead bodies found in my hometown, but at some point I lost track. I started to feel like I was losing my humanity. I felt disgusted with the person I was becoming.
Two years ago today I graduated from medical school. So for the past two years I have been hanging out with death every once in a while. In fact, death has been a close friend of mine since that morning, in 1993, when I saw a dead body in front of our gate, back home in Burundi. I will never forget it.
My father died. My uncles died. All my grandparents, dead.
I always meet my lost cousins at burials. I’ve escorted friends and acquaintances to their final resting places and patients too.
I cried on the day we buried my first patient. I cried with her family as I understood what it’s really like to lose someone. But later I became “umutimbayi”, like they say. I now joke with colleagues about how long a patient has to live, wondering how he made it through the morning, how exhausting the night shift was because he decided to stay alive, and how hard he held on before he finally let go.
I have never thought about myself dead. Yet, these young bodies had, like me, a history, goals to achieve, and dreams of a better life. None of them deserved to be left and found on a street, no matter what side they were “fighting” for. Death is not okay. Never! Even if a person is your worst enemy, never think that a dead person in Kibago is worth anything less than your closest friend!
I fear we’re losing our senses. We lost it the day we started to lose count of our dead. We cannot just chill because we’re alive and not care that someone else didn’t get to see the sun rise. Death is like being swallowed into a deep dark ocean and never coming back. Sweat and cries.
Now that I write about it, I can see it more vividly in my mind.
But nobody cares. You only care when you see a gun or knife in front of you. Imagine looking into the eyes of the person who kills you, before their hands execute you; hearing them laugh before you face the dark… or see “the light”, whatever you believe in. Think about all the people who went through that and try to feel the way they did. What a way to go? If that doesn’t tell you that death is not okay…
I hope they look down or up on us from wherever they are, and feel pity. We are not worthy of their courage as they lived their last minute. One thousand words could never express what it feels like. Nobody can.
To all the martyrs of the last seven months; to whoever executed or endorses their killings. Look at yourselves now. Was any of that worth it?
By Achille Manirakiza. He lives and works in Kigali, Rwanda. You can follow him on Twitter at @akillesm
(Image source: livescience.com)