On May 28, Dimitrie Sissi Mukanyiligira, a genocide survivor, launched her book “Do not Accept to Die”. The book is based on a true story of her survival of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and how according to her, ‘she embraced life’.
In an exclusive interview with The New Times’ Jade Natacha Iriza, Mukanyiligira shares about her journey as a newly published author, how the book came about and her healing journey along the way.
Tell us a bit about ‘Do not accept to die’
‘Do not Accept to Die’ is a genocide memoir. The first part of the book talks about my life before the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the second is about my experience during the genocide and how I survived it, and the last is about my life as a survivor after the genocide.
The book has stories of my childhood from where I was born and grew up, in Kibagabaga. It shows the love I shared with my siblings and family. My experiences from primary school to secondary school as a young lady from adolescence. And then it shows how everything and every single dream died with the Genocide.
I go on to show how it was during the Genocide, how people were killed around me, how I survived death on different occasions, how I met with RPF Inkotanyi, how it was in Rwanda after the Genocide, and how we tried to rebuild ourselves .
Basically, all the struggles of finding a job, going back to school, building a new house, coming together as survivors by forming associations so we can help each other, burying our people who were killed while preserving all the memories, healing our wounds, taking part in rebuilding Rwanda, getting married, raising children and so on.
The whole story of the book is a message of resilience, love, hope and joy that we as survivors have to share. This life is a gift for everyone, but for us it is a second chance. So we don’t have time to waste or complain. I talk about how we need to be resilient and strong to carry on and continue living.
It’s usually very hard for victims to open up when they have experienced or survived such traumatic events and it is understandable. What gave you the strength to share your story?
Every time someone died beside you, they would tell you, “if you survive, uzabe umugabo (be a man)”. This was my motivation to carry on. I did it to be thankful that I survived and to relieve myself.
When I think of my brothers and sisters who didn’t survive but could be married and parents now, it gives me the courage and motivation to share my story. It is like everything I do, I do it for myself and for them as well.
Also, you want to set high standards and be a role model for your children and young people in general. To transmit the courage and resilience so they know that whatever happens, they shouldn’t give up.
You named your book “Do not Accept to Die” and you often say; “embrace life”…what do you mean?
Life is a precious gift from God. I’m also a believer so I think we all need to set a purpose for our life. You have been given life, what are you doing with it? ‘Do not accept to die’ is a way of living, keeping light in your life. It is an individual commitment to not give up.
As survivors we need courage to not give up, but then by embracing life, I mean living it fully. We have a lot to share and a lot to tell but we don’t have a long time.
Many survivors have already died in the past 28 years. So for us who are still here, what are we transmitting to the world? What are we giving to the young generation? Our message should not only be a message of sadness or horrific experience we’ve been through but also of Hope.
You embraced life. Now who are you Dimitrie? Do you have any more dreams?
I’m a mother of five children, and I’m also married to the love of my life. I work with the World Bank and I’m also Vice President of GAERG, the Association of Former Student Survivors of the Genocide.
As for dreams, I keep dreaming. Even the book is a dream come true. I have been trying to write for the last 25 years but I’m so happy I did it now. I also want to go back to school for my PhD. At my age, people don’t understand why but as I told you I do it for me and for those who didn’t survive, so I cannot afford to do things halfway.
What are you up to next?
First of all I want to have my book translated into French and Kinyarwanda so that many people can easily access it.
My next project is to write at least one survivor’s story from all 30 districts of Rwanda. We hear the Genocide was not conducted the same way from all the parts of the country so I think it will be important to record different stories of the genocide. To help the young Rwandans to learn more and better about their country’s history and why they shouldn’t allow it again.
A copy of ‘Do Not Accept To Die’ cost Rwf18,000. It can be found at Caritas Library, Charisma library, Kigali Genocide Memorial at Gisozi and at Kigali International Airport.