Envoy pens thoughts on life, loss, longing

Out of Africa

Loss, exile, fear, war, longing for home, memories and redemption colour the soul of diplomat and poet Williams Nkurunziza’s sonnets. They chronicle the journey of his native Rwanda from its difficult days of ethnic strife to a modern nation in quest of prosperity in the last century.

Nkurunziza, the outgoing Rwandan high commissioner to India, has compiled the emotional roller-coaster of his life into an anthology of poetry Pangs of Life: Collections of Poems on Life, Loss, Identity, Fear, War and Exile.

His book, published by Jain University Press, was launched in the capital on Friday by minister of state for human resource development Shashi Tharoor.

Nkurunziza, a student of literature, says he finds poetry the perfect tool to communicate the powerful experiences in life. He began to write poetry 20 years ago to keep the “memory of those experiences alive”.

“Everyone is engaged in a perpetual private conversation with the self with regard to our own experiences. Some like to share experiences by word of mouth and others by letters. I found my channel in poetry,” says Nkurunziza, who was also the Rwandan ambassador to Britain.

The poet captures the heart-wrenching catastrophe of Rwandan genocide, violence and grief, along with flashes of joy, victories and the lush nature of Africa that breathes hope for the future.

Colonised by Germany in the 19th century, followed by Belgium in the 20th century, the country was rocked by a massacre between 1959 and 1962. The country saw another genocide in 1994 that killed an estimated million.

Mirror of life

“This book is a mirror of my life. We grew up stateless in exile. We experienced tremendous deprivation in terms of identity and material comfort. Times were very difficult. What we experienced was loss of loved ones,” says Nkurunziza.

“I was a Rwandan, but I was forced into exile at the age of two. I grew up in Uganda, Kenya and Namibia and then returned to Rwanda at the age of 15. I started my life in a refugee camp. I didn’t get out of the refugee camp until I was 15,” he says.

“Most of my poems are about war and exile.”

A poem, I Itch to Open Your Grave, captures the memory of the horror of genocide with sensitivity.

“When I am talking about a grave, I am talking about opening a grave. It could be my memory. A grave of a loved one is one of profound transformation in our lives as we find new homes, new spaces and build new communities,” he says.

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