On Monday I meet Romeo Dallaire.
He is the retired Lieutenant General who in 1994 witnessed the killing of almost 800,000 people in Rwanda after receiving orders to stand back and do nothing. For many Canadians the story of this genocide, horrible as it was, seemed to have sunk away into vague memories. During the past months when I mentioned to friends and acquaintances this planned encounter, I saw the effort on their faces as they tried to recall who is Dallaire?
Twenty years is not that long ago, and we speak often enough about remembered experiences of events past those twenty years.
Retired Major Philip Lancaster was a military assistant to Romeo Dallaire during the genocide in Rwanda. In April of this year Lancaster wrote about how people just don’t think about the genocide anymore and very few remember Dallaire’s name. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/twenty-years-after-rwanda-the-world-has-learned-nothing/article17852085/. Although Lancaster mentions the many books written about the genocidal terror and killings, the learning from what happened, seemed absent. “Learning from it is absent” he states, as he pounds his fist in frustration.
I know only too well that the memories of what happened, will now and forever remain alive and wandering through the minds of all those witnesses – for the rest of their lives. As time passes, minutes turn into hours, turn into days, they will be there, ignited by a present that they cannot escape for it will be with them always. Survivors of brutality and terror, the ones still alive, still remembering, will forever be haunted by it’s visions.
I will see Romeo Dallaire on Monday – see him receive yet another reward – one of many and I can’t help but wonder what this means to him. One thing I will know: Romeo Dallaire will never forget Rwanda and will suffer from this genocide for the rest of his life.
Next week I speak to the Ontario Women’s Club in London and I will share with them my story of survival. I will never forget what happened in the South Pacific during WW II; for I will never forget Indonesia. Like Dallaire, I will carry that part of my past with me for the rest of my life.