By Shannon Smith for the Lincoln Journal Star–Thursday, March 31, 2011
In some parts of the film “ICYIZERE: hope,” the camera shakes a little. It’s not because of Bourne-style cinematography or a faulty tripod. It’s because the man holding the camera is weeping.
Patrick Mureithi knew his experience in Rwanda would be difficult. He knew the sadness, the desperation, the horror of what had occurred there in 1994. He knew how the mass genocide there pulled his native country, Kenya, into the conflict by flooding it and other nearby countries with refugees. But nothing could quite prepare him for the emotional burden of the stories he would experience, or for the overwhelming resiliency and inspiration of the Rwandan people.
“It was extremely emotional, but I knew why I was there, and that they were honoring me by telling their stories, and so I carried on and did the work I was supposed to do,” Mureithi said.
For three years, from 2007-2010, Mureithi produced, filmed and edited his documentary, “ICYIZERE: hope.” It features reconciliation project workshops in Rwanda where 10 survivors of genocide and 10 perpetrators work together to move past the psychological trauma and conflict that tore the country in half just 17 years ago.
The documentary will be shown next week at Nebraska Wesleyan University, with filmmaker Mureithi answering questions and lecturing about the project. Wesleyan English professor Gerise Herndon, who has consulted for the first gender studies program in Rwanda at the Kigali Institute and met Mureithi at one of her research presentations, arranged for the visit.
Herndon said she was struck by the strength she saw in the Rwandan people but also by the realization that the people who had committed horrible acts of violence were ordinary citizens, neighbors even, and how the trauma, violence and loss permeates all levels of Rwanda culture and community.
“In this environment, where trauma and memory are part of the national discourse, you think of what humans are capable of, and you realize your similarity to other human beings,” Herndon said. “You wonder what you’d be capable of, and of course we’d all like to believe that we would be heroic and that we would be different, but I’m not so sure how likely that is.”
The ability to translate Rwandan issues into a larger understanding of trauma on a global scale is precisely the type of cultural healing Mureithi wants his film to inspire. It’s something he sees every time it’s screened and audience members identify with it.
“This is not just a Rwandan story, it’s a human story,” Mureithi said. “I think that’s the power of us, the power of humanity. … This is a film that shows people who are brave enough to go through their pain, and by going through their pain they become more complete human beings.”
Herndon said the documentary is a good fit for Lincoln because of Lincoln’s status as a major refugee resettlement community.
“We have neighbors from all over the world living here who have also experienced trauma, violence, war, in some cases genocide,” Herndon said. “I think members of our community would do well to see what Rwanda has to teach the rest of us.”
Herndon said the lessons from Rwanda extend beyond refugees, including the polarized issue of immigration.
“There is a tendency to see people who we imagine are not originally from Nebraska as the other, to see them as different, to exclude them and possibly to fear them,” Herndon said. “We can learn something about the dangers of seeing another human being as the other.”
Reach Shannon Smith at email@example.com.