Thought it would be nice to share this story of survival, resilience, family and hope.
Written by Amarna in 2008 as part of her GCSE's.
Inspired by her sister Kyanne.
“They’re coming! They’re coming!” Mother dropped the pan of pees where she was stood. She pulled me up out of my seat by my arm, swung me around and looked me in my eyes; “Run Anais! You know what to do”. My world froze, with my eyes wide I didn’t even blink. I could feel my heart in my throat I was unable to swallow or breathe. My mum grabbed me by my shoulders and shook me firmly.
“Anais you must listen! Go now! Remember what I told you”. I became alert, still unable to make any sound I nodded at her. I knew what I had to do, and quick.
I picked up Tatiana and ran for the pantry as I locked the door Tatiana clasped her arms tightly around my neck and wept “mama!” I pulled her close to my chest “shhhhh, you have to stay with me now”. I turned and hurried out the side door and made sure it was safe to run.
I stepped out closed the door behind me holding my little sister in my arms. We made it to the dirt track my mum sent us to. I heard a scream. Immediately I ran for my Grandpa’s abandoned shed at the end of the dirt track. My mum told us my Grandpa used to own a piece of land down there before he died. She sent us there because she believed the Hutus might not look down there.
I finally got there. I put my little sister down and fell to my knees. I didn’t know what to think or what emotion to feel first. I had a deep feeling in my heart, that it was the last time I was ever going to see my mother again, but my brain wouldn’t let me believe that it was true. I was tired, shocked and clueless. My stomach was twisting with adrenalin as I realised the seriousness of the situation. No I must keep strong for Tatiana’s sake. A thick cape of disbelief engulfed me as I heard a shriek. The piercing shriek snapped my senses back to reality. I realised the importance of protecting my little sister and I. What if they came to the shed? Where do we go next? How would I defend both Tatiana and I? I quickly looked around thinking what to do next.
My Grandpa used to be a farmer he must have some tools that he left in the shed. I pulled myself up from my knees, and slowly walked to the shed door. The door had engraved writing on it. I couldn’t quite read it as it was worn with age. I reached for the rusty door handle. The ancient hinges creaked as I opened the door.
As I walked in Tatiana followed me with her hand holding onto the back of my skirt. I slowly peered around the shed, everything was covered in cobwebs. It was hard to distinguish what I was looking at. I walked over to the side reaching for the candle and matches. I heard a clanging of metal and quickly turned to see Tatiana playing with Grandpa’s tools. She passed me one of his old hammers I held it in my hand and noticed it had his initials engraved on the wooden handle. We went back outside as we had all we needed. I noticed a hole at the side of the shed it led to an underground hideout. This is the hole that my mum had spoken of and this was where we had to stay the night. I scurried near the hole and peered down into it. Tatiana put her hand on my shoulder and looked into the hole too. I heard footsteps from behind. I immediately took my little sisters hand, held her face and told her everything would be alright and with her hand in mine I led her down the hole.
A glow of orange lights and the sound of chanting seemed to be coming towards us down the dirt track. I slid in next to Tatiana, holding her body close to mine and whispered in her ear “you have to stay quiet and don’t move. We have to hide”. Tatiana nodded and turned to me. I held my hand over her mouth and kissed her forehead.
The Hutus were above us talking, laughing and singing. Tatiana began to weep. I held her tight to my chest, trying not to breathe too loud in case they heard me. We were trembling with anxiety. The Hutus were walking above us! If we were to cough, talk, or even think too loud we would be found.
Tatiana started to become scared, her body boiled and she was starting to cry again. I had to smother her, with my hand firmly over her lips. I was unable to speak to her, comfort her. I was not going to take any chances. I looked into her big, dark eyes. They were so beautiful. I loved her with all my heart. That’s when I made a promise to myself. I would never let any harm or danger come to my little sister. I would protect her from now on.
Tatiana was only 3 years old. How was I meant to look after her and myself too? After all I was only 12 years old myself.
The footsteps creaked on the floorboards above. I heard them going through my grandpa’s shed, after they had taken what they wanted they left. The loud chanting of the soldiers became drowned by the wind. They were gone. We were still alive.
I slowly removed my hand from my sister’s mouth, she wept. At that moment I felt a pain at the back of my eyes as a volcano of tears began to erupt. Wiping them immediately as they fell, I felt determined to stay strong for Tatiana. I had to keep her safe and keep focused if we were to survive. That is what my mother would have expected. I moved closer still to Tatiana wrapping my arms tightly around her. As we lay back in the cool dry soil Tatiana placed her head on my stomach. Watching it rise and fall in rhythm with my heavy breathing, she asked ”where’s mama?” I stroked her hair gently and told her that I didn’t know, to go to sleep and that as soon as we woke up we would find her. That night for the first time I sang her to sleep.
“Anais, Anais! Wake up!” I shot up out of my sleep. My heart was throbbing. “Anais we need to go” Tatiana took my hand and pulled me up out of the hole. The sun was low in the sky and the air was fresh, as always it was very hot and the sun was blinding. Tatiana proceeded to pull me up to my feet. “Anais we need to find mama”. I looked back down the dirt track and held out my hand for her to hold. She placed her small fragile hand in mine and we walked down the dirt path together, me and my little sister had never felt so as one, together, sisterly.
As we got the end of the dirt track I froze, unable to move, I felt my body start to heave. I fell to the floor screaming, yelling, begging the lord “why?’, I could not believe what I was seeing. My house had been torched, demolished. Only an empty shell stood before me. My family’s very existence like so many others had been erased. The place I had once called home, my sanctuary was no more. It had been destroyed. Mama? I slowly raised my head and stood to my feet, looking at what was left of my home. I could see it in her face, Tatiana looked worried. She glanced over to the house “is mama ok?” she quietly asked. I knelt down to her holding her by the shoulders. “I need you to be strong and stay here, if anyone comes that you don’t know, hide and don’t move no matter what happens”. She hugged me and hid under a bush in the back yard. I turned to the house.
I slowly walked up to the ruins, trying to find any clues as to what had occurred the night before. I walked into the kitchen. The pan was still on the floor. I stood still whilst looking at the pan. Then something made me jump. Tatiana had shouted my name from outside.
I immediately ran out. I didn’t know what to think. Did the Hutus find her? I raced out of the side door expecting the worst but to my surprise, standing there was Dube our neighbour, clutching my little sister in his arms. “We need to leave, it’s not safe. Get whatever you need and be quick”. I didn’t take any time to think what I wanted to get. I nodded at him and ran straight into my room, searching for my most treasured possession.
I found it inside my metal money tin, which had survived the flames. It was only small but nothing that anyone has given me means more than that and nothing ever will. It was a picture of my family all together. I looked at my mum in the picture; she was so beautiful and young. You could never imagine tears of pain to devour such a creation but that was the harsh reality. When my dad’s life was taken so was the life of the household. The walls went from pure white to grey; smiles evolved into frowns, singing into silence. I approached Dube, he beckoned me forward, “Hurry” he said as he walked off still holding Tatiana. I recognised the route he was taking me on, it was the path to our neighbouring village.
We began to approach the village. Dube came to a halt and held out his hand with his back towards me. I became afraid, concerned about what he had heard or seen. “Get down, stay quiet and don’t move”. He slowly walked into the mist. Dube was never good with communicating. I pulled Tatiana close to me, making sure I comforted her the whole time.
I remember the last time I walked down that path, I was running an errand with my father just before he went away. We sang the whole length of the track from top to bottom as loud as we could.
Suddenly the sound of footsteps approaching brought me back to the present. A faint outline of bodies came into view. I didn’t feel alarmed this time because amongst them stood older ones and small children clutching their few possessions. Out of the crowd stepped Dube, “We are all together now” he said with a faint smile. “Come now we need to make our way to the town of Butezi, that’s where the U.N. has deployed busses to take us safely across the border”.
We travelled for days and nights along dirt tracks and over what felt like mountains. We had never been so far from home. We were all hungry and dehydrated. The young ones started to become weak and lifeless.
After travelling so far we finally got to the town of Butezi, there were loads of travellers, they all wanted to escape from the pain, fear and murder. The U.N. wore a brown uniform with light blue helmets. They seemed like they were unable to smile. They provided us with everything we needed; they gave us food, water, shelter and a place to sleep.
Tatiana and I shared a bed as she said she was too scared to sleep alone. This was the first time in a while we had a comfortable place to sleep. I lay on my back looking up at the little hole in the huge tent. Tatiana rolled over wrapping her arms around me. We had made it, we were safe!
“Anais, Tatiana, the bus is here you have to wake up!” My eyes felt heavy and strained as I slowly opened them. Everything was blurred. I had to blink a couple of times to focus on what I was looking at. It was Dube and Dianne, one of the old women who had travelled alongside us. Dianne took Tatiana, she was still half asleep.
We ran out to the bus. Lots of people were crowding round the buses, everyone was pushing and yelling. Dube grabbed my hand and led me onto the bus. Where was Tatiana? I looked out of the window. I saw Dianne and Tatiana amongst the crowd, they were trying to get to the bus. I banged on the window screaming.
The doors closed and the bus started to slowly move forward. Tatiana couldn’t even hear me. I don’t think she knew what was going on. My eyes started to sting, I closed them tight and hung my head down. She was disappearing out of my life and there was nothing I could do about it. I fell to the floor looking out, Dube clamped me down rocking me back and forth. I stopped screaming out and closing my eyes stopped the tears from leaking. I thought back to when we were walking to our house: skipping down the dirt track to the sound of her sweet laughter. My vision turned to dark and my hearing was no more, my world would never feel the same again.
Mrs Moss rested her hand upon my shoulder. “Have you finished your autobiography yet Anais?” I raised my head.“Yes Mrs Moss”. She smiled “Good because it’s time to go home”. As I walk down the streets of London, I can’t stop thinking of my life back in Rwanda. I miss awaking to my mum and I miss playing out the back with my sister.
I turn into Gables Close. This is where I live now with my new family. Life is so different here in London.
As I walk into my house I’m greeted by Mr and Mrs Clarke. “Hello sweetie, how was school?” Mrs Clarke looks at me with a bright expression on her face.
“OK, I guess”. I don’t really talk to the about my past. Mr Clarke walks me into the kitchen saying “Something came for you not long after you left”. There in front of me is an envelope with my name on it. I have never had a letter sent to me before. I sit at the table with anxiety in my eyes. I open it. It reads
“Dear Anais, I have been trying to find out and put together my past in Rwanda. All I know is that you are still alive and living in London. I’m living with a family in France. Even though I was young I still have memories of you and mum, I won’t ever loose them.
I wish to see you again, my foster mother said once I’m older I can come to England and visit you in your new home.
It was my 8th birthday last month so it shouldn’t be too long till I am old enough. I hope you have been able to start a new life and you are happy. Keep in touch.
My tears dot the letter. I wipe my face with the hanky Mrs Clarke hands me. I pick up the envelope and out if it drops a white piece of paper. I slowly reach for it and turn it around. It’s a picture of Tatiana and she has a big smile on her face. She looks so happy, she looks beautiful, and she looks just like Mama.