In my previous posting, I mentioned the guide, Danny, who took me to the Mountain Gorilla Reserve in Rwanda. There were just the two of us in his Land Rover on the three-hour trip each way, so we had plenty of time to get to know one another. On the return drive, I asked Danny about the 1994 genocide where more three quarters of a million people, mostly Tutsi, were slaughtered. The rivers literally ran red with blood. Danny is a Tutsi and he told me a story of great courage.
In 1994, he was in his early 20’s with a wife and a 2-year-old daughter. He lived in Kigali but the rest of his family lived in rural Rwanda. On the night the radio instructions to kill Tutsi’s was broadcast, Danny’s neighbor, a Hutu, came to his house and told him he wanted to hide Danny’s family to protect them. Danny’s family went with this man to his cornfield and they hid there for three months. Every few days, the neighbor brought them food and water, at great risk to his own safety. When they were finally able to go home safely, Danny learned that, other than a teenage cousin who was away in Uganda when the genocide began, his entire family and his wife’s family were dead—more than 20 men, women and children.
Following the genocide, Danny had worked hard to build a successful business and give his three children a good life. When I asked him what he had told his children about the genocide, I was surprised to learn he had not spoken to them about it at all. He said they learned the history in school, but that he was waiting for the time when his children were “ready” to hear the worst of his story and mature enough to consider the question he would put to them.
Danny remembered that hundreds of thousands of ordinary people were faced with a choice. One choice was to comply with instructions and do something terribly wrong—kill innocent people, including family members and neighbors. The other choice was to acknowledge the evil and refuse to participate. Danny said there were many people he considered good people who picked up their machetes and went out and murdered as instructed, because they feared for their own lives or the lives of their family if they did not follow the order. There were also people, like his Hutu neighbor, who refused to do what they knew was wrong and many of them were killed for helping the Tutsis or for resisting the genocide.
So the question Danny said he will put to his children is, “If faced with a decision such as this in life, which person will you be?” Danny believed most people think they would be on the side of good but, until this decision actually faces a person, one cannot know for sure!
I will remember our conversation for a lifetime and I tell it often. Danny’s story is the most heartrending example I know of how ordinary people can do extraordinary things—for good or evil!
For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.