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Rwanda A White Vampire
Joel Preston Smith
In 1996, while I was working with a medical team treating refugees from the Rwandan civil war, I made a habit of torturing a four-year-old Hutu child every day for nearly a week straight. Under ordinary circumstances, I think I’m a pretty decent person. But hers was a special case. I made it my mission to terrify this child at every available opportunity so devoted was I to making her miserable, that every day, before first light, I’d thought of a dozen ways to make her cry.
      Of course, this wasn’t the main reason I was in Africa. I was working as a photojournalist, covering medical relief efforts centered around Kibagora Hospital on the shore of Lake Kivu in western Rwanda. Given that I was mainly working as a journalist, tormenting the child was more like a hobby or, in a sense, a pastime.
      The hospital, built by Methodist missionaries in 1964, treated about 300 patients a day. The majority were Hutu refugees who had originally fled Rwanda in 1994, at the height of a genocidal campaign that claimed (estimates vary) the lives of as many as 800,000 Tutsi (along with a lesser number of politically moderate Hutu). At Kibagora Hospital, patients who even appeared to be Tutsi were dragged from their beds and strangled, clubbed, or hacked to death with machetes. In a grade school less than half a mile away, Hutu teachers had killed their Tutsi pupils. It was the latest bloodletting in a long chain of civil wars between the Tutsi, who make up about 14 percent of the population of the country, and the Hutu, who comprise 85 percent. (The Twa, or pygmies, make up most of the remainder).
      The child and her mother were among the Hutu who’d fled to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), fearing reprisals after the Tutsi (aided by the U.S.) began to gain military control of the country. And, along with roughly a million of their countrymen, the girl and her mother were forced back across the Rwandan border near the city of Bukavu, on the southern tip of Lake Kivu. The girl’s father had been killed, but when, or at whose hands, I never knew.
      What was clear was that the mother, whose eyes seemed permanently fixed on some invisible point before her vacant eyes, still had fared the march better than the child. At some point as the
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