Kelsie Harriman: The Unfinished Story

There are stories from Rwanda I have not been telling you.

There are stories from Rwanda the world has not been telling you, either.

Since relaying the saga of the missing key,wherein I was apparently locked out my house and left to wallow in tears, dust, and self-pity on my front porch, I’ve over and over again been asked the same question: was I ever able to get back into the house? The flood of inquiries has made me realized that I published an unfinished story.

The short answer? Yes, I was able to get back into my house.

The long answer? Only moments after finishing keying the final words of the story of the missing key, I phoned my friend’s sister to relay my plight. She answered immediately, offered her sympathy, then asked me to hand the phone to a passing moto driver so that she could give him directions. Within half an hour, the moto driver dropped me off at the home of the family whom she was visiting. I was warmly welcomed.

Soon after arriving, the sister and her boyfriend took me out to watch a men’s basketball game at a local sports club. They made a point to find me a seat in the overcrowded arena, bought me a chips and soda, introduced me to all of their friends, and politely answered the plethora of questions I had about the sport of basketball and Rwandan culture. After the game, the sister took me back to her home, fed me, stayed up to chat until two in the morning, and then gave a pair of her own pair of pajamas to sleep in.

I’ve only ever before experienced hospitality like that from my immediate family, and I did not know how to respond to the same kind of generosity from a girl I had met only four days previously. I resorted to saying a genuine “thank you” during every pause in conversation until she stopped me and said, “Quit thanking me. What I have, I will share. That is just how things work in Rwanda.”

This is the unfinished story: unrivaled generosity, superfluous hospitality, and undue kindness, even from those who owe you nothing. A tale of locked doors that open easily the next morning, either because the strange man on the moto came just like he promised, or because the door was perhaps never really locked, and only jammed, in the first place. Now, I am left asking myself why I chose tell the second half of my tale – the one washed in bright colors of love and of friendship – only after being pestered about my narrative’s incompleteness.

There is a certain responsibility that comes with storytelling. Writers are the eyes and the ears of the world. If they produce only unfinished stories, their readers will soon come to believe that these partial narratives are the whole truth.

And mine is not the only unfinished story in Rwanda. Yesterday, I visited the Kigali Genocide memorial, wherein 250,000 of the one million corpses produced in 1994 are entombed. After two hours of graphic words and gruesome pictures, I wanted nothing but to get out. I actually really needed to see all of memorial’s im
ages of bloated bodies and ransacked homes, though. Sometimes, we must stop sugar-coating evil with self-serving, fabricated optimism IMG_4384.JPGand accept despair and of evil for what they really are. The Kigali Genocide Memorial understands this.

But the Kigali Genocide Memorial, just like the story of the missing key, is only telling half of the story. We must never diminish the truth of the horrors the Memorial

presents, but horror is not the only narrative. Even in genocide, there are stories of hope. Behind every man with a machete, there is another who chooses to endanger himself in order to protect his neighbor.  Behind every locked door, there is an angel who takes you in and treats you as a member of her own family.

That is just how things work in Rwanda.



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