Flee To Freedom

My dad was in the army when the Hungarian Uprising started, in October 1956. He wanted a better, freer life for his family , away from the conflict, so he took my brother, myself & my mum, in the bitter cold, to Austria, with nothing but a small suitcase! There, we stayed in an old army camp for a few weeks before England allowed us in! 

My dad never went back to his motherland while he lived, which deeply saddened him, as he was basically a deserter! His last wish was to have his ashes buried with his mum! Which my brothers did!

The Power Of Love

Since the Genocide of 1994, when they got up every morning and look at their image in the mirror they could see their faces and bodies had been transformed for life. I worked on the post-genocide in Rwanda between 2000-2002. 

I returned in 2005. After performing a job in the field of justice, I started to make a documentary film about the possibilities and limits of coexistence and reconciliation after the Genocide. 

During the filming, I got to meet two female survivors: Daphrose and Odette. Both had lost most of their relatives. Daphrose had lost 26 members of her family. Odette’s mouth was shattered due to a bullet that hit in that part of her face. Daphrose’s face and body were scarred by the machetes used by those who tried to kill her. 

During our interviews, they shared the memories and experiences they had lived during the Genocide and its main personal consequences: despair at the large number of casualties; changes in their lives; attempts to rebuild their lives; coexistence with their visible and invisible wounds that the mirror reflects every day. 

However, speaking of coexistence, reconciliation and forgiveness, they stated antagonistic points of view. Daphrose did not want to keep any resentment. She wanted to forget. What prevailed in her speech was her desire to forget, to forgive and to live in peace. Odette by contrast could neither forgive nor reconcile, she had no desire to know the perpetrators. 

It was difficult to understand how two people with similar experiences felt so differently about the same issues. I had spent several days thinking about this question when one of the contributors to the documentary, Jean Marie, said “Daphrose met a man two years ago and we can say that she is in love”. 

After a number of talks with both, we observed and confirmed that Daphrose found it easier to face future with some hope and willingness. She wanted to forget the past and any memory that could take her back to thinking about the Genocide. 

Unlike Daphrose, Odette had not found anyone. She just had the feeling that her life had been stolen, that it had stopped the moment that bullet entered her mouth. 

Obviously, any victim has the right to feel and to freely express their grief, at least as part of their privacy. However, this became a lesson to many projects, to coexistence and reconciliation plans. The power of love proved to be so strong that a person could change from bitterness to hope. Paradoxically, love is contrary to the hatred generated to perpetrate genocide. 

My Story On The Nigerian Civil War

The war between Nigeria and Biafra had been ongoing from 1967 and slowly advancing South-East towards my home town. By late 1968, the sounds of war could be heard. In early 1969, all schools had to close for safety while I was half-way through my secondary education. 

A battalion of Biafran soldiers were stationed at a secondary school barely two miles away from my hometown.

Suddenly, on a fateful day in 1969, sounds of heavy artillery gunfire went out continuously all day. Unknown to my young teenage mind, the Nigerian soldiers were now very close to the region around my hometown exchanging gunfire with the Biafran soldiers. Refugees were streaming from all directions through my hometown towards another town away from the war front. 

We were a young family of 8, with the youngest being 2 years old and me the oldest at 15. My dad was a Police Officer on the Nigerian side while my mum was alone with us the children. As the fierce battle raged on, flashes of gunfire could be seen streaming over the skyline. 

It was getting dark and we were all too scared to join the mass of refugees fleeing the war. My mum decided we all stay at home instead of running away and being scattered. She felt that if we were to die, we should all die together.

As time wore on, the safety of our house was no longer guaranteed. We all went out stealthily under cover of darkness at about 11pm to hide under a large tree behind our home. 

Barely 15 minutes after we left, our house was surrounded by a large number of Biafran soldiers as they had sworn to kill us all in the event of being attacked by Nigerian soldiers since our father was on the Nigerian side. Fortunately for us, we had left home by divine arrangement!

We remained in hiding under the tree for about an hour and then left for the security of a relative’s house nearby until morning. By morning, news came through that our hometown had been liberated by the Nigerian soldiers. There was jubilation and dancing everywhere in the knowledge that we are now free from war.

For those of us who have experienced war first-hand, it is never a pleasant experience; it is horror mixed with fear and isolation! I hope and pray that future generations will make every effort to avoid war and seek peaceful resolution of differences and disagreements. War should never be an option to settle such differences.