Consolee Nishimwe: Conversation Transcript
welcome back to another episode of the Baserange community conversations with the Dydine and Alex is here money again, waves from all over the world.
Who are we talking to today Dydine ?
So today we have an exciting guest. Her name is Consolee Nishimwe, she's from Rwanda, my birth country. She’s my soul sister and I can’t wait for you guys to experience her joy and her wisdom. She's the author of Tested to the Limit, a wonderful memoir. She will be sharing her story with us and her healing journey. She was a genocide survivor, so she has a lot of wisdom to share with us. So bare with us, as we bring her on and please give her a warm, warm welcome!
Well, it’s a joy to have you Consolee! Thank you so much for joining us today!
Thank you so much for having me. It's really a joy to be with you this morning!
Thank you for saying yes, and for, you know, allowing us to share your story here on Baserange Community Conversations. We have an audience from all over the world. Different countries and continents. So,It's always a joy to be here, to be part of this community.
I am so happy to be here really it's truly a pleasure.
Consolee the we format it, we generally ask you questions, you know just to kind of get to know you, and for the community to get to know you for about 30 minutes. And then the last 15 minutes, we'll ask audience questions if the audience has any questions. We'll allow them to add to anything that we may not have asked during that segment.
Oh, wonderful. Yeah.
Oh no, don’t be, you will be alright! Our community is welcoming and they always show support.
You are loved!
So, Consolee, I've known you now for six years. I met you the first time I came to the United States and you become my soul sister and my mentor, I would say. And one of the things I noticed about you the first time we metIis your endless joy, despite all the hardship you've been through.
Consolee: 4:04 That’s so sweet
You still have this smile on your face, you're always trying to make people feel good about themselves. And it's just like, how do you keep that, and what’s the source of your happiness? And how, how did you become the person you are today?
Thank you so much for your your kind words, You are the same, actually. I'm sure everybody has realized how joyful You are! so I'm really great full to have you in my life really you are like my young sister. And I love you so much! Thank you and I'm truly happy to be here. You know to meet everyone! Hi everyone, and thank you so much. It really means a lot and I'm truly grateful, you know, to be alive, every time I get up in the morning. I'm really grateful and I don't take life for granted anymore because of what I've been through, and at the young age.
So for me, I just made a conscious decision to wake up every day, just being grateful and just be happy. I'm sure it can be very hard for some people to be happy. And I understand that. And for me, thankfully I found something in me that keeps telling me that I should never give up, that I should enjoy every little thing in life, every small thing in life. I try myself to never really allow myself to never allow a lot of negative things in my head. But as you know me, I'm trying to enjoy small things and be grateful. I think maybe that's the reason why I find the joy, every day in my life and then wherever I meet people. I try to surround myself with positive people, like the both of you, and they uplift me so they give me something to be grateful for. Life is worth living despite what I'm enduring. And that's what I really wish for everybody, to just wake up and find something small to be grateful for and then you find something to live for.
Yeah, there’s strength in that. I mean, in going forward, going through what you have, surviving genocide. What gives you the strength? I mean, you just talked about what makes you happy and what you do to sustain that happiness. But taking that next step and actually sharing your story, whether it's writing the book, or giving talks all around the country. What, what gives you that strength to share your story, and why do you feel so compelled to do so?
Oh, thank you for asking that question. So, in the early times when I began telling my story. You know many people know when you tell the story of the genocide, it's not very easy. It took me a long time to get to a point where I felt really comfortable or even courageous to be able to tell them what I've been through. But when I had the courage to do it, I realized, even though it was hard so of course I have to open the door for that and allow myself to be vulnerable. And I didn't know how I was going to feel, but then I realized, “Wow. It was a load lifted off my shoulders. So, and then I realized how people can live with their pain and their suffering within themselves how it can damage you.
And I realized that it was important for me to tell the story so that somebody else, what they have been through or what ever they are going through their daily life they can learn from maybe how I coped and how I'm able to accept, even though it's very hard, what I've been through but at the same time I'm not giving up on life. And so for the rest of my life I'm trying my best to live a better life that I could for myself. And for me, I didn't want to just to keep that story for myself and I wanted everybody else to learn from my personal experience. We can learn from each other and I know, telling story, always when you hear somebody's story you learn, you learn some things. And I realized, using my story also be also a path to help somebody else, like the same way I learned from other people. So it was a healing journey at the same time for myself and also I know probably could have been helpful for somebody else.
So Consolee, what was the hardest experience that took you a long time to recover from and why?
In my story there are so many painful things I've been through, at the young age. And that's the reason why it actually took me a long time to even be able to share the story, but the hardest thing in in my story is sexual violence I experienced during the genocide. And for me, that was the hardest thing to even talk about. And many people know that when you've been sexually abused or even raped and all that, it's a pain that you cannot find the words to express how you feel. For me it took me a lot of energy to be able to talk about that, and it was really hard. But I'm so grateful that I had the courage to do that because opened the door of my healing journey.
Did you know that it was going to open doors for your healing journey or were you terrified?
I was horrified, I was terrified, I didn’t know how I was going to live afterwords. But of course, I had to trust, just open the door of trusting, even though I didn't know the outcome. And of course, that's really being vulnerable that's really vulnerability again. Even though you don't know the outcome you just open the door for that to see. I didn't know, but at the same time I trusted the process and said let me see what happens. And I know that there are so many people who live with this pain for the rest of their lives. It affects them throughout their lives and some people don't even understand why they are painful, because they don't know how to express that pain. They are carrying it within themselves.
So when I did it, it was really painful, of course going through that journey of talking about it, but at the same time. I started feeling relieved. And, of course, the shame, because I live with the consequences because of what happened to me. Even saying that I live with HIV, which is something also hard. The stigma, especially the stigma of being raped, also stigma of living with HIV was also hard. It was going to be a burden for me. Also I thought about that. And its very tough to this day. You know, I was very young, I'm not even that old yet. Imagine a young person to allow herself to be seen like that inside, it is not very easy, because you have to face a lot in this society. There are people still, looking differently at person living with HIV.
So of course there's been so many changes throughout the years. But there's still a long way to go because they're a lot of people living with HIV in many places around the world who still suffer with the stigma. And because of how they are treated within the their families. It can be really another traumatic experience to live with. And of course, I had to think about that too. How am I going to face all those challenges after I tell my story? I happen to keep telling myself that I'm going to be a voice for somebody else! Because I need to be part of changing the society’s mindset, how we look at a person who live with HIV. So, look at us in the same way. We are like anybody else.
Has the perception changed or has the stigma gotten a little bit better. Since you were diagnosed, do you find that people treat you a little bit differently when they find out. Are they more accepting of you or are they still kind of standoffish? How is it improved or how is it changed?
I think there's a lot of change compared to how it was before in the earliest times. I could tell how somebody would treat me if they know my status. But it's now different. The stigma has changed in different ways. So, and I'll give an example, when it comes to dating. there are so many things changing. For instance, if somebody hugs you or just normal things like sharing meals and all those things have changed, but of course in many parts of the world people still think they cannot even sit next to you. But in modern society, sometimes the stigma is different now. So with dating I've heard of some stories where even somebody say “oh I want to know Console, maybe get to know her”. And immediately somebody in our community starts talking amongst themselves, “Oh, do you know she has HIV. Oh my god!” As if I am somebody who is not like you. They make it look like it's terrifying, you know. They don’t even think about it. So, I've heard those stories a lot, you know among people, even people who think they're educated and informed, who think that they know better, but because they just feel like there are certain things they can share with you but when it comes to that they think, “Oh, no, you, you are not deserving to be with somebody.” And it's also part of education. They don't even know that somebody who lives HIV can be with somebody who is HIV negative. So, it's a lot of education people need to learn.
Because of the stigma that was around in the 80s and 90s and even in 2000s, some people are still stuck in that mentality. There's no enough information, there's no enough eduction about where and what the HIV medication and how it works. So what can we do as a society, to engage our children to teach each other? It's like if you had cancer, cancer literally kills more people than HIV does now, it's more of like knowing, knowing where the status of the HIV medication where it is. How can you get informed and treat people with love and respect? And open your ears to listen.
Exactly, you know, people living with HIV can have kids, you know, it’s just being educated about it and treat them like anyone else. So we continue to live our lives as long as you are taking your medication, and you are healthy you can live as long as anybody else. I don't think if I walk on the street with somebody who is HIV negative that anyone would even know that I live with HIV.
Even though society still a long way to go, learning, I have to be to part of educating people instead of being mad at people...I had a conversation recently with somebody who wanted to learn about me, who even didn’t have any idea about, you know about this illness. I said, “don't worry... ask me anything you want to know, I will educate you.” I understand, everybody doesn’t understand what it is to live with HIV. And he really learned a lot. I think also, we should all be educating people and understanding that life continues. And also to help us in our healing journey too. Some people don't know how to take a stigma. Some people commit suicide and it can affect their mental health. A lot of people are really suffering because of what they hear. The power of words too, so it's important. Words can kill or even heal.
The words, especially with someone who's going through that, can dictate the path that they go on, whether it’s positive or negative.
Yeah, and I feel like that's why I like to talk about it and also it has helped me to heal. I feel good. And I don’t even walk around thinking, “I live with HIV” anymore. Even if somebody would say something negative, I feel like I need to educate that person. And because for me I already accepted it, I know I feel great. I don't even see myself like that anymore. So I changed my mindset, the way I look at myself.
And I’m sure somebody else that feels the same way because that's what I do. I know that I should be the first person to treat myself better, nobody else. It’s not somebody else's job to treat me well. It should be my job first to treat myself with love and care. And, of course, somebody else can do that, but it's my job to really take care of myself. To look at myself and know that I matter... I’ve changed the way I look at myself.
I'm sure that ties into self expression. It's a huge part of you huge part of your personality. The sooner you take ownership over it, the sooner you find strength in that. I'm sure it lends itself to creating better paths and your life.
Yeah, definitely. It helps you to really enjoy life, to want to do more things in life. To want to know that you’re a part of society. And to contribute to the wellbeing of every person who comes around. I and I think it uplifts you and also energizes you to want to be better, to do better. You’re absolutely right. I’m grateful to be alive. And I know there are people who’re suffering. It’s important what are you doing, so far as to reach out to anybody. I’m sure there is someone here who is suffering from something that is similar. Or it could be a different pain, but they don’t know how to approach that pain.
So it’s important to encourage these people to never give up. They probably don't know how to love themselves because they don't know, probably how to take care of themselves. And it's important to encourage these people to reach out to somebody who can help you in that journey. So, for me, that's why I really reach out to people that I know they can uplift me. They can help me in that journey. I didn't even do this on my own, I learned from so many different people. So, with the people who hold me down, I have to just ignore them, and just follow the people who encouraged me moving into me so. And I think it's important for anybody who is suffering from some pain they carry within themselves, find somebody. Find that person. It's important to really reach out so at least that person can lead you to the right way to heal, as part of your healing journey.
When you see the MeToo Movement going around, how do you feel? And just seeing how a lot of young women, young men have to deal with sexual harassment, sexual violence. And what before you were 14 years old (when she experienced sexual violence). And now seeing it in the MeToo Movement, how does it make you feel?
It was very painful but at the same time to see how women... a lot of women are coming forward for their story... collectively. So to me that was a way of like, it takes together, you know people coming together from all walks of life to tell us the painful experience they go through. Because all women around the world go through the same things. So yeah sexual violence or even sexual harassment can happen everywhere around the world. So every woman can tell you a story.
And for me to see that women are coming forward and supporting each other, encouraging each other. I was so happy to see that because I realized that he was afraid of women to come together and thankfully for social media. You know, which allowed women all over the world to come together to just tell a story. To me it's like we accompany each other, holding each other’s hands, even though you're not meeting in person, but you hold each other's hands and say we are we're in this together. We are not allowing suffering, you know. To continue again we are going to tell our story. We are not going to allow anybody to stop us from telling our story. And for me, I was so I was so happy that women came forward. And also with men, for a lot of men are supported. I'm really grateful to see that. The MeToo Movement really has changed a lot of things....I've seen a lot of stories, even in what women have spoken out about from their personal experiences. We come from a culture where we don't necessarily talk about things like that. So to see some women talking, it was really, it showed me that if you all come together, we can definitely change a lot of things.
You can create the treatment thing even speak about it because it happened, countless people. And there, there's a stigma within that as well I'm not wanting to speak out because you may be putting yourself in harm's way or whatever the reason. But in my observation, as limited as it is, I guess, you're seeing people feel more empowered to share those stories, to be embraced by people and knowing they're not going to be judged or ridiculed.
In my observation as well, it’s not just for women also for young men who've been through the same thing that women are coming together to support each other. Then you have them give them , “Okay maybe my story (is the same), I'm not alone”. Then some men also started sharing their stories, which is also stigmatized. But at least starting that conversation can help reduce the (number of) perpetrators and knowing that’s not okay.
Even in the society where you write, especially for younger men, or it's, it can be very, very hard to talk about it, in any form. But that really helped to encourage each other, to support each other, and also you’re right for those who are committed those heinous crimes the perpetrators to never feel that they can walk around freely There's always a stigma of victim blaming. Most of the time a victim is blamed what happened. They always find ways to say, “I’m the reason why that happened.” So it can really pain the survivor maybe who's been through that. So, I'm glad we're speaking out, using our voices and fighting all those painful, heavy and bad way of treating survivors. And the thing is that collectively it's helping. Of course there's still a long way, but it's really helping. I'm sure there will be laws out there supporting survivors if you come forward whenever we choose to come, or, because sometimes as you know survivors will say, “Why did you come forward late in your life?” If you go to the judge to seek justice. Sometimes they will say that the the term, the statute of limitations. You waited so and I'm sure a hopefully one day This will end. Hopefully that whenever you choose to go to seek justice, you will be able to get it.
Despite everything you’ve been through, do you believe in hope? And if you do, what does it look like? And do you have hope for humanity as well?
Oh, that's a very good question. So despite all the things I see happening in the world, even what are the you know I've seen myself in my life I feel like hope, really, you should never give up on hope. Hope for me is important to me. I feel like there is always something I like to always tell people... my mantra that I live with, “no matter what horrible circumstances you may face in your life, never lose hope. For losing hope is the beginning of your own self defeat.”
That speaks volumes, you know, because when you're on hold, there's nothing that can shake you because you, you know, you know, you know, you are positive you know what you want. And it’s strength itself.
I wanted to ask something and I know you spoke a little bit about it before, but when giving talks or speeches in front of a load of people. Do you ever consider how much of it is getting things off your chest, versus you talking to help people? What's that ratio and how often you think about that?
You know I remember the first time I decided to share my story, it has changed a lot. Every time I meet people or even in my, I mean, audience sharing my story. Because for me, if I share something I want to be able to connect, of course with the audience in a way that I feel like we are all feeling the same way. Heart to heart. And the energy, you know? I feel the energy in the audience. I just want to be able to connect in a way that I feel like we are all learning together from that experience. Even though it's my story I feel like together we can all learn from each other and be able to heal together. We’re empowering each other. Also, I feel like you can also learn something from your own story as well, how to improve yourself from your own experience.
I’m sure if you told the same story over and over again, but if someone reacts to it in a particular way that makes you think, “oh yeah I never even thought of what I'm saying, or how how that can affect somebody.” That adds a different layer to your own understanding of it.
Right, right. Yeah, no, I really learned a lot of speakers. And I also feel like talking about it also has helped me to to discover more about myself. And learning from the people I am with. And I feel good when there’s somebody - because I just tell them I just want them to learn something and be able to use it in their own lives along with me.
When people don't know your story, but then they find out about your story, do you find them treating you differently?
I'm sure the first time they see me, they don't even (shakes head)... The first thing they tell me when I say share my story is that they couldn't believe that I carried that within myself. So it's different. Because of how I am, you wouldn't even believe that I have a story. And it's good also to take care of yourself, so whenever you meet people I think it empowers them that even though you have the painful story, life goes on. You can be able to to heal from that experience and live a different life now, then just be able to love life.
And for me it's not about telling them a painful story. It's about also to tell them, “life goes on and I can live a positive life despite all of the things I’ve endured. Of course there’s a reaction but it's always positive. I feel like it's always positive because of the way I approached you it.
so I'm sure I probably, I was the person who never, you know, took the time to work on myself and heal probably the reaction will have been different. So, and most of the time the reaction is positive, because I feel like people approached me more and we, you know, shared people shared so many stories with me.
You know, if somebody can open up to you that means there's something you've done. There’s work you've done for yourself. People can feel, they can sense if you are able to listen. So I know that if somebody has given me the time to listen and work on myself, they did the work. I feel like it's important also to listen to somebody else. But if you're not healed within yourself, I don't think you are able to listen. Listening is a skill. It takes a lot of courage too. Especially the heavy things. If somebody wants to share the heavy, painful experiences in their lives, they need a compassionate ear...They need somebody who is present, who is compassionate. That presence makes them feel safe and comfortable to share what they feel.
If somebody was present for me, I need to keep working on myself so that I can be present for others.
I want to add something as well. I tell Dydine this, sometimes. Maybe not as much as I should. But there is something that when you're when you're able to share these stories and you're able to share parts of yourself that are very, very close to you. Things that regular people wouldn’t share in their day to day life. People flock to that. You become like a beacon of light and maybe hope. And people yearn for that human connection to experience the human experience in a way that is uplifting and very true to yourself, very true to who we all are as human. The both of you. But Consolee, we’ll focus on you for now. You do this thing where you have people gravitate towards you, because of your openness and your willingness to tell those stories. So I think there’ definitely something to be said for the strength you show. It's something that I think we all need to do better at.
Happy to be here, thank you so much for having me. And thank you for watching with me.
Once again Consolee, thank you so much for joining us. And I'm sure the Baserange community also mirrors those sentiments.
I really appreciate that and I appreciate everybody who has been here, some of my friends, everybody. Thank you so much and I really appreciate everyone and it was really joyful to talk you. You are truly incredible I admire you and all the work you do. Thank you so much for having me.
All right, like Dydine said thank you so much Baserange community, once again for joining us on this fabulous Sunday, and we'll be back next month with another guest... before we go, I always say we forget this but, um, you can support the foundation genocide survivors foundation. You can go on their Instagram and go on their website for them. We're all about that, Dydine and Consolee for sure so please be sure to check that out.
Stay healthy. Remember to wear a mask and take care of one another. And we'll see you next month.