Monday, July 02, 2007

Blogging from the Gathering: Cecile Nyramana

Cecile's Nyrimana's address was beautiful and powerful.

There was some concern when she arrived on campus that a combination of long-distance travel and family concerns may have left her exhausted and depressed. But when she met Ellen, a woman who acted as her translator and companion when she visited Northern YM in 2005 and who is playing a similar role this year, Cecile perked right up and seemed at home.

Her talk was preceded by drumming by about a dozen Friends. That, too, was remarkable and beautiful. The drummers covered a range of ages, from high school to 60-something adults, and they created a gentle, complex, and persistent beat. One drummer had a metal drum, resembling a hand-held steel drum, that sounded subtle musical notes underneath the drumming. We took a little risk, I think, in having something so unusual as the preplenary welcoming activity, but it worked.

Cecile spoke in English this year, it being her third language (the others being French and her native Rwandan language whose name I can't recall). She had a straightforward speaking style. She began with a historical and geographic background of Rwanda, then discussed the facts around the 1994 genocide, and then what she and others in Rwanda YM are doing to reconcile Tutsi and Hutu survivors. Cecile is Tutsi, and her husband is Hutu; she survived because he had found another Hutu family who permitted her to hide underneath a bed for several months -- when she was pregnant with her first child.

What struck me was how Cecile related her story of taking an Alternatives to Violence (AVP) workshop with Hutu women and how this developed into several program or reconciliation sponsored by Rwanda YM. (She directs the women's section of the YM and is now its assistant clerk.) She told this story in such a plain, straightforward way, free of rhetorical ornament save for repeating the question, "But who is my neighbor?"

Her talk was relatively short and ended about 45 minutes before we had to be dismissed. It was followed by about 10 minutes of silence. Of course, a couple of Friends felt compelled to stand up and ask in one way or another, "What can we do?" to which no answer was given. Then the plenary was dismissed, and Cecile took some questions from those who remained. Once again, at least one Friend seemed to be unable to connect with what she said except on a political level, but nearly all of the other Friends asked genuine, human questions, and it appeared as if the experience was good for her as well as the others.

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