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Jacqueline Novogratz

Jacqueline Novogratz

Posted: March 24, 2010 11:51 AM

Despite Living Through Genocide, One Can Still Seek Out The Goodness In People

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A friend from Rwanda visited me on Friday. I first met her in the country's capital, Kigali, in 1996, two years after the genocide. She was working at UNICEF then, and though we had just met, she helped me track down the people I had known when I and a small group of women created the nation's first microfinance bank in the mid-1980s. Some of my friends had been murdered. Others watched their families massacred. One was a major perpetrator. My friend even helped me gain access to the prisons in Rwanda to meet with two of the women. Through it, we became friends, and I wouldn't have been able to write The Blue Sweater in the way I did without her help.

My friend -- let me call her Marie -- is a remarkable woman, to say the least. During the genocide, she lost 100 of 103 family members. She herself survived because her Hutu husband was able to secure her an identification card that said she was Hutu. At the time, she had a five year old, and another child on the way. At one of the checkpoints, a soldier questioned the validity of her ID, saying she looked too much like a Tutsi to be Hutu. She protested, and he pushed, finally telling her to lift her skirt so that he could see her legs. When she did, he spat on the ground, saying, "Ah, you cannot be Tutsi because your legs are too ugly; they are not like the legs of Tutsi women."

"All my life," Marie told me, "I had asked God why he'd given me big legs, and now I understood the reason." She survived along with her child, and now she has three. Her dream is to build an organization that helps rehabilitate people who are still traumatized by the genocide and to help people find God. "If you can't forgive," she said, "you can't be free. Life is too short to be a prisoner in your own self."

To say that forgiveness is hard at that level sounds trite and absurd. But I have known Marie for a decade, and you can see her calm and her goodness in the light in her eyes. She is indeed free, though she has walked through the greatest darkness imaginable. She is, herself, a reminder of our yearning as human beings for goodness, our yearning for hope and for love. And of our potential for true greatness, not measured only by achievement but in how we live the minutes of our lives.