Three years ago in May, I met an angel. She was a woman from Rwanda, and we were waiting for the same plane in Arusha, going to Nairobi. She had no idea why I was leaving Tanzania with my 5 month old baby girl and not even a carry on suitcase. She sat beside me in the boarding area at the small airport in Arusha and warmed me to her with her smile and her genuine interest in me. We sat next to each other and on the plane and I learned about her, a lawyer from Rwanda, with two small boys. Her husband was on the same plane, he was off to another country for work and she was headed home. They both worked hard and didn’t see each other very often. But somehow with each breath I felt how she was so thankful for her life, and not sorry about any of her struggles. I told her a little bit about my daughter's family and lied and said that we were just “there for a short visit.” I didn’t say that we had fled in the middle of the night, that the man I loved with all of my heart was so damaged and blind that instead of being the one person who was supposed to protect us he became the person I had to protect myself and our daughter from. I will always remember her words as she looked down at my baby with that knowing look of how incredible this little girl was and said “there must have been love there once, look at this beautiful girl.” I had not told her that we were leaving her father and may never see him again.
She stayed with me for the long 8 hour layover in Nairobi, her layover was 10 hours. She held Nunu for me sometimes, and let me walk around or go to the bathroom. At one point she asked me if I had any sisters or a mother at home. I told her that my sister and mother were waiting for me. That’s when she told me I was lucky, she had lost her three sisters and her mother in the genocide. I will never forget that. I didn’t get her contact information and can’t even remember her first name. I gave her my email address but never heard from her. I know she was my angel that day. She had been through so much and was so strong.
She was not a victim, she was a warrior.
I think about my daughter's father and feel sorry that he has been for many years, lost in victimhood. He is drowning in his own sad stories and never takes the hand outstretched towards him that truly wants to help. I think of his humanness and forgive him for his irresponsible actions. And then I thank him and myself and angels like the woman from Rwanda, my sister who helped me out of the country by calling the US Embassy to ensure our safety and my mother for buying our ticket home. I thank them all and myself because I know the value of this beautiful life and every day I thank God for all of its beauty.
One day, because of my experiences, I may be able to be that listening ear, that voice of reason, and that person who can on some level relate to a woman who has trusted when it wasn’t safe to trust and let her know that it’s not up to her to save another, that she can save herself.
Remembering the Rwandan Genocide today, thankful for all of the strong women and men dedicated to helping the world heal…