Illuminée Nganemariya came to Norwich two years after surviving the Rwanda Genocide of 1994. The author of Miracle in Kigali talks survival instincts and writing as therapy
It is very difficult for anyone who wasn’t in Rwanda in 1994 to fully understand the sheer horror of the Genocide. It had an unbelievable impact on me and 1994 is still very much with me. I moved here in 1996 and am so grateful that I was allowed to stay, but life has continued to have its ups and downs in Norwich. There have been happy times, but it continues to be a challenge.
I was a young widow and wanted to try and get away from the memories of the Genocide, which were always with me in Rwanda. So I came here with Roger (my son) as a nanny, to look after my cousin’s children while she was doing a course at UEA.
Miracle in Kigali has been very important to me, as telling my story has been very therapeutic. We decided to update the book, which was originally published in 2007, because much had happened, notably Roger’s acting career, but also my Mum passed away in March 2017 and focussing on the book really helped me. Miracle in Kigali has been well received in Norfolk and I get many kind and supportive comments about my story.
At the start of 2020, Roger had various acting jobs lined up, but Covid-19 put everything on hold – and it is still on hold. He is continuing to develop ideas for his own projects and manages to find local employment to keep him busy. I look after the home but had my own ideas for a new cookery book, which is on hold.
Lockdown was a very strange experience, but we survived by focussing on the rules. I am a trained chef; my priority was to cook good meals. Lockdown 2 has been much easier to cope with, following Lockdown 1. I’ve enjoyed going for walks, particularly UEA Broad and the Sainsbury Centre Sculpture Park.
I am a survivor. Covid-19 is a challenge, which we all have to take seriously. Because I survived the Rwandan Genocide doesn’t mean I can survive the pandemic, but I am doing my best to put a shield around my family.
It was a real honour to be hailed as a Norfolk hero in the 2020 brochure for Black History Month. Thank you very much to Danny Keen and the Black History Month committee.
It is so important to mark Black History Month. The tragic deaths in America and the UK are a wake-up call. Black history is all our history. Education is vital. We support my partner, Paul, with his Norwich: A Black History tours, and we did a lot of events last year to mark the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide.
I love the Norfolk countryside and wildlife, going for walks, seeing the cattle and sheep. I love visiting the Broads, especially Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden. I love going to the coast. I always like visiting Great Yarmouth because I went to college there. I also like Cromer and Holkham. In Norwich, I love walking at UEA and Whitlingham Broad.