Clemantine's Voyage: From Rwanda to America
Speaker: Clemantine Wamariya
In 1994, Clemantine Wamariya was six when along with her sister she escaped the Rwandan genocide, where an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed over the course of around 100 days. Clemantine and her sister managed to stay alive but lost track of their parents and other siblings along the way.
They spent several years in refugee camps in seven different African countries including South Africa and Zambia before finally receiving safe passage to Chicago in the early 2000s. Today, Clemantine lives in San Francisco and travels the world speaking about the impact the Rwandan war and genocide has had on her life and her views about war, peace, death, humanity, and hope.
This Friday, May 5, Clemantine spoke at the Sala Squarzina at the Teatro Argentina in Rome to a packed audience. I was particularly interested in her talk because I've just returned from a trip to Rwanda to visit an American friend who lives and works there. In Kigali the capital, I visited the Genocide Memorial Centre, a place concentrated on remembering the full and horrifying details of the past to ensure that we never forget and we never repeat what happened.
Given the event was advertised as "Clemantine: from Rwanda to America. My voyage. My story," I was expecting Clemantine to tell us about what happened to her when she was six and her experiences in refugee camps. I also thought she would discuss the transition to the United States and how she felt there as both a refugee and genocide survivor. Instead Clementine talked in general about the importance of peace and how we need to constantly think about unity because of what happened in Rwanda and what could happen in Europe today.
At Teatro Argentina, I left Clemantine's talk disappointed. I left without knowing and understanding her voyage or her story, and while her desire to promote human empathy and understanding is admirable, without the background of her own experience against which to frame her ideas, her words felt strangely empty.