A Tale of Two Neighbors
By Stephanie Fagan
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
Charles Dickens’ famed novel, A Tale of Two Cities, captivates the notion that moments of happiness can end in sorrow, while periods of despair can be overcome by flashes of hope. In Rwanda, citizens work to reconcile the pain and hatred that fractured their country in 1994. Post-conflict situations are often plagued by hardship, but every so often, one hears a story of collaboration and forgiveness that renews their faith in peacebuilding. Such is the case with the unlikely friendship of Ndayishimiye Jean and Nteziryayo Jean Marie Vianney.
This past year, 21year-old Ndayishimiye bought a piece of land in Musaza Sector, Kirehe District. The problem was that Nteziryayo, a 27 year-old father of two, had also acquired part of the same plot. The transaction sparked a border dispute and a dangerous rivalry between the two neighbors.
“I used to go to my land ready to fight and Nteziryayo was always armed with a machete”, said Ndayishimiye.
Considering Ndayishimiye and Nteziryayo’s different backgrounds – Nteziryayo grew up outside of the country as a refugee and returned to Rwanda after 1994, while Ndayishimiye was born and raised in the area – there were larger social issues at play, spurring their aggression.
Ndayishimiye is a member of a listening club of Radio Izuba, a community radio station based in Eastern Province of Rwanda. The station airs Turumwe (“We Are One”), a weekly program produced by SFCG to build bridges between individuals and communities on issues challenging unity and reconciliation. Inspired by Turumwe, Ndayishimiye approached Nteziryayo to discuss how they could peacefully resolve their dispute. He also urged Nteziryayo to follow the Turumwe radio program.
“I listened to the radio program and realized that our conflict was useless and I accepted to reconcile with him…I did not experience the genocide since I was living out of the country when it happened. For me, reconciliation did not mean anything. But today, I do understand the significance of being together as one. Reconciliation is really needed in order to live peacefully with neighbors.”
Nteziryayo and Ndayishimiye made the choice to live and collaborate peacefully, rather than hold onto ethnic prejudices. Soon after, the two men jointly purchased an additional plot of land, which they now work on together.
Ndayishimiye and Nteziryayo’s tale is one of cooperation and understanding. The two men set aside their differences and suppressed the desire to resort to violence. Post-conflict Rwanda is still grappling with the horrors of its past, but Ndayishimiye and Nteziryayo remind us that in times of darkness people on all sides are searching for a brighter future.
Stephanie Fagan is a graduating senior at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, where she studies international affairs with a concentration in contemporary cultures and societies. She believes that understanding nuanced cultural differences is essential to the peace building process. Stephanie is the new media intern at Search for Common Ground.