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The Book of the Week is “Those We Throw Away Are Diamonds, A Refugee’s Search for Home” by Mondiant Dogon with Jenna Krajeski, published in 2021.
Born in February 1992, the author began his childhood on a cattle ranch in Bikenke, a village in Rwanda. His family was of the Bagogwe tribe, a subcategory of Tutsi. His ancestors had migrated between Rwanda and Zaire (aka Congo; the author was unclear as to which current country– “Democratic Republic of Congo” or “Republic of the Congo”– he and his family lived in and when; so the area will hereinafter be referred to as Congo.).
In the mid-1990’s, the genocide in Rwanda forced the family to flee their Congo home mostly on foot with little more than the clothes on their backs. They had previously lived harmoniously side-by-side with their Hutu neighbors in the Congo. But contagious hatred reared its ugly head. The family hid in a cave, at a school, in the woods and other places prior to trying to stay alive at less dangerous places (i.e., refugee camps).
By spring 1996, the family had finally made its way to a refugee camp in Rwanda, where the Red Cross provided humanitarian assistance. The author and others lived in a tent city on grounds formed by the eruption of the volcano, Nyiragongo. A refugee was shot by a sniper, so the UN moved them to another camp, guarded by the Rwandan Patriotic Army. That did not end well either, as child-soldiers in the terrorist group called Interahamwe killed hundreds of Tutsis with machetes.
In the next several years, the refugees were moved from one camp to another, as life-threatening dangers (mostly from human violence) presented themselves around every corner. They nearly starved to death many, many times, and suffered from malnutrition all the time.
Nevertheless, the author, at eight years old, was finally able to start first grade at school. According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index), there were no: chalkboard, desks, pens and books. He passionately took to learning, anyway. At recess time, he and his friends also played soccer with a makeshift ball– made with whatever material was at hand. The refugees continued to eat only tiny portions of beans and corn every two or three days.
In 2001, Kabila, the new dictator of the Democratic Republic of Congo, wanted to give the (false) impression that peace had been restored in his country, so he had officials from Kivu go to the region’s refugee camps, including those in Rwanda, and propagandize that refugees could come home and live as they had prior to the unrest.
However, unaware of the full extent of Congo’s then-civil war, the author, his brother and father endured a stressful, multi-day journey via on foot and bus to see whether conditions were sufficiently safe for their family to return to their pre-war property. They were unable to reach their home, but in a village many miles away, the father found work from a Hutu employer who showed no tribal hatreds. For a change. The author resumed attending school and achieved fluency in Swahili, giving him a survival skill when he was confronted by haters. Bullets flew around outside the school from all different rebel groups in Kivu.
Read the book to learn: of the numerous times the author cheated death; the many hardships he suffered; and how he parlayed his passion for school into various positive developments, including receiving recognition from a philanthropist who helped him rise above discrimination against his refugee status.