Charles was “just” one of up to a million people who died in Rwanda
in 1994, in the space of 100 days. That is 10,000 deaths every single
day for three months.
For a while I saw my identity as a widow from the Rwandan genocide.
But my life is bigger than that now.
On the tenth anniversary of the genocide, I went back in search of
the truth about what had really happened to my husband. My new book is
about that visit. It’s an update on my first piece of writing, The Colour of
I did not talk about my marriage in the first book. My
emotions were so raw. I felt such a failure. I have worked through so much of
that now. My new book talks about how, on my 2004 visit, I discovered details
about Charles’s affair.
I have worked through a lot, as the awfulness of what happened was
clouded by the memory of his affair. I did not want to splash this
around, but, on the other hand, it is part of life.
I remember exactly where I was when I heard about the genocide
. I was on holiday with my sister, sitting in a hotel room in Kenya. I
rushed up to Nairobi and desperately tried to phone for information. I remember
lying on the bed in utter despair. Nothing could get Charles out. It was
I went back three months after the genocide to find out more about
what happened to Charles. I went again in October 1995, when there was
a state burial after they exhumed mass graves. This was the nearest I had to a
I have worked very hard at forgiveness. I very much
respected what the Revd Julie Nicholson said about her daughter’s death in the
July bombings [News, 10 March]. I am 12 years on, and so in a very different
place. For me, forgiveness is a choice — not an easy one, but an act of will.
I have had to forgive both the men involved in Charles’s murder and
the fact that he himself deceived me. God teaches us to forgive, but
it is a long journey.
I find it easier to write than to share my story. My visit
was a discovery of some very traumatic things and some very wonderful things. I
felt it was very important that people knew what it was like. It was like an
outpouring for me. It took six to seven months of writing every morning.
I now work part-time as an administrator to let me pursue my
interests, such as writing, supporting Tearfund, and speaking about my
experiences. I originally went to Rwanda as a midwife. I took part
in the Truth and Reconciliation television programmes in Northern Ireland
chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
I still oversee the Charles Bilinda Memorial Trust. It has
been going for 11 years, and we have a regular core of supporters. In turn, we
support a number of different individuals in Rwanda. We generally use our own
on-the-ground contacts. A lot of our work is done through Christians.
My experience in Rwanda is completely unforgettable; it is
part of who I am. For a while, Rwanda was where I felt I belonged, but my roots
are now firmly back in the UK. I have very close connections still with friends
in Rwanda. Looking back, I was very lonely. If I had had people to talk to
about my marriage, I might have coped better. If, through honesty and the
admission of my failures, others might survive better, then it was worth it.
I enjoy biographies in which people are honest and real through
adversity — Brian Keenan’s An Evil Cradling, Fergal Keane’s
All of These People. I am currently reading Desmond Tutu’s
No Future without Forgiveness and Joanne Harris’s
Five Quarters of the Orange. I love France, and this book is really
My parents are both still alive. I have two older sisters
and an older brother and several nieces and nephews, and I love them to bits.
As a child I loved animals, so really wanted to be a vet —
until I discovered I might have to put an animal down.
Going to Rwanda was my most life-changing decision. Its
repercussions have influenced me hugely. But there is my ongoing choice to give
my life to God, which is fundamental to all that I am.
I last got angry when someone cut me up on the motorway.
But generally I get angry over our selfishness and greed in the West at the
expense of the majority world.
I feel happiest on a long walk over the hills in Scotland with my
rescue greyhound, Rosie. Also if I’ve had a part to play in someone’s
journey towards peace with themselves, others and God.
I love fairtrade Dubble bars.
I was brought up on the coast, but spent all childhood
holidays in the hills. I just love both for holidays. My favourite retreat
place is a little cottage in a Scottish glen, surrounded by sheep and hills.
I enjoy gardening, cycling, dog-walking, campaigning for justice and fairer
trade, and thrashing out some of life’s nitty-gritty issues with
friends over a glass of wine.
I would most like to get locked in a church with my sister Sheila
. I rarely see her, because she has been living in Argentina for the
past 12 years, and we have so much to catch up on.
Lesley Bilinda was talking to Rachel Harden. Her book With What
Remains is published by Hodder & Stoughton at £7.99 (CT Bookshop,