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Home » War and What Comes After: Clemantine Wamariya at TEDWomen 2017 (Transcript)

War and What Comes After: Clemantine Wamariya at TEDWomen 2017 (Transcript)

Clemantine Wamariya – Author

Words matter. They can heal and they can kill … yet, they have a limit.

When I was in eighth grade, my teacher gave me a vocabulary sheet with the word “genocide.” I hated it. The word genocide is clinical … overgeneral … bloodless … dehumanizing. No word can describe what this does to a nation. You need to know, in this kind of war, husbands kills wives, wives kill husbands, neighbors and friends kill each other. Someone in power says, “Those over there …they don’t belong. They’re not human.” And people believe it. I don’t want words to describe this kind of behavior. I want words to stop it.

But where are the words to stop this? And how do we find the words? But I believe, truly, we have to keep trying.  I was born in Kigali, Rwanda. I felt loved by my entire family and my neighbors. I was constantly being teased by everybody, especially my two older siblings. When I lost my front tooth, my brother looked at me and said, “Oh, it has happened to you, too? It will never grow back.”

I enjoyed playing everywhere, especially my mother’s garden and my neighbor’s. I loved my kindergarten. We sang songs, we played everywhere and ate lunch. I had a childhood that I would wish for anyone.

But when I was six, the adults in my family began to speak in whispers and shushed me any time that I asked a question. One night, my mom and dad came. They had this strange look when they woke us. They sent my older sister Claire and I to our grandparent’s, hoping whatever was happening would blow away. Soon we had to escape from there, too.

We hid, we crawled, we sometimes ran. Sometimes I heard laughter and then screaming and crying and then noise that I had never heard. You see, I did not know what those noises were. They were neither human — and also at the same time, they were human. I saw people who were not breathing. I thought they were asleep. I still didn’t understand what death was, or killing in itself. When we would stop to rest for a little bit or search for food, I would close my eyes, hoping when I opened them, I would be awake.

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