Wesley Ruzibiza, a choreographer at the National University of Rwanda, is one of two Rwandan actors who joined Cambodian artists from Amrita Performing Arts to perform the play Breaking the Silence during a recent tour through the African country.
The play deals with reconciliation between victims and perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Ruzibiza corresponded from Ethiopia with reporter Roth Meas to share his ideas on the cultural exchange and the play’s role in inspiring reconciliation in two countries with similarly painful histories.
Can you describe to me what you heard about your own story, the Rwandan genocide, while growing up?
I came to hear the story of the Rwandan genocide in late 1998.
Certainly, I knew, living by that time outside Rwanda, that there had been a terrible war that had taken one million lives.
But I never knew how terrible genocide was, and – speaking frankly here – I was shocked and scared to death.
What were the challenges in working with Cambodian artists to produce Breaking the Silence in your country?
The main challenge I had with the Cambodians in producing this play was the language but, honestly speaking, we transcended that by just listening to one another’s stories and relating to them.
The other challenge was that of emotions: how to deal with a real, painful story on stage and be able to act and make people understand the Cambodian history.
The director of the play, Anna Maria, was able to work it out with different techniques that made the performance true and at the same time created a safe stage for the artists.
What were your expectations for this performance? Did your people understand what the Cambodian artists wanted to tell them?
At the beginning of this artistic adventure, I had only one expectation of the performance: to make people understand this story and to make the Cambodian story clear for the Rwandans to relate to it.
At the end, I had more expectation of telling the story, sharing the pain and bringing the Rwandan audiences to share their experiences.
That was indeed what happened.
The Rwandans related to the Cambodian story and knew the Cambodians had come all that way to share their history and comfort the Rwandans in their pain, and especially letting them know that they are not alone.
They discovered that a genocide happened in Cambodia, in a different way and time, but indeed it did happen and Cambodians suffered the same as Rwandans.
In your opinion, what should be the best way to reconcile among your people?
The best way to reconcile my people is through true forgiveness and the reconstruction of human life through true justice for the survivors.
This will bring respect to the memories of the people whose lives were taken.
And through speaking aloud about genocide so that it will never again happen to anyone in the world.
What are your plans for the future?
I deeply hope that one day we will perform in Cambodia!
To contact the reporter on this story: Roth Meas at [email protected]