THE GIRL WHO SMILED BEADS
A story of War and What Comes After
By Clementine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil
I checked out this book from the Jacksonville Library late Friday afternoon last week. Saturday morning when I woke up I was not feeling well, I decided to take it easy and I began reading the book. By 9pm on Saturday I finished reading this amazing, compelling, harrowing, sad, tragic story of Clemantine Wamariya as recounted by her and Elizabeth Weil in this recent publication.
Over the years I've read about the Rwanda Genocide in 1994 - and certainly in print and articles you get the "summary" information, you understand in almost clinical terms the magnitude of suffering, the tragedy of humanity when it turns on itself - how many people were estimated to be killed, by who, how, and why. As Clemantine so poignantly points out in the book, words like genocide can never, ever in any fashion being to describe or detail what the horror truly means.
I was gripped by the detail of their refugee journey and day and night battle and persistence to survive. There are images in this story I will never forget, details of their days in the worst of refugee camps, details of how a child of 6 and 7 tries to understand death, her description of dead bodies in a river, almost poetic. She witnessed the worst of humanity with the perspective of a child.
Clemantine and her older sister, Claire prevail in some of the worst conditions and situations imaginable. Along the way of this horrific nightmare they are enduring there are countless acts of kindness and compassion, angels on earth providing tiny glimmers of the human bond, connection, decency, courtesy, and validation of them as people and not refugees.
The story is also unusual because Clemantine and her sister Claire end up meeting their family after many years to not seeing them or having any contact, yes there is a surprise reunion on Oprah.
The second half of the story is about Clemantine and Claire making their way in America as refugees. And its equally as agonizing - her sister Claire has young children so she is focused on being a mother and supporting her family. Clemantine struggles significantly with knowing who she really is. So much of what she's had to endure is being a shell of person, being the person aid organizations what you to be when you to be, behaving as expected by donors and people who want to help them, so always being someone you are not, or being someone and behaving a certain way so you are rewarded with food, medicine, books, school, etc.
Trust and love and the human bond forged with family and friends, was nonexistent for most of her young life, especially during her formative years.
The story is emotional on so many levels. It's factual, I learned details about the genocide that I was not aware of. Also how Rwanda is fairing as a country today, there is a national healing so they can move ahead as a nation.
What I will always know about this book and Clemantine's story is that the human spirt, the capacity, the will, the endurance, it is remarkable. I can't begin to comprehend the fragile psychology of a person who has endured such a remarkable and harrowing life. Yet Clementine is putting one foot forward each day.
I will probably read this book again. I was reading fast, I wanted to know on each page, how they fared, did the make it and how. I also took time after reading the book to watch the video online of the Oprah Show when the family is reunited. There is also a TED TALK that Clementine did recently this year that is available. It speaks to much of what is in the book and to hear it in her words, her voice, with the passion and courage and frailty that comes across in her voice, it brought me to tears.