Rangira Béa Gallimore has spent much of her research career speaking about the unspeakable, that is, the trauma of rape. As Associate Professor in the Romance Language department, Gallimore’s research history may be divided into two periods: pre- and post-Rwandan genocide. Her earlier work focused on African Francophone women’s writings, African women of the Great Lakes Region in the conflict and peace process, as well as the representation of African women in social discourse and the media. Following years of studying fiction, Gallimore began the second phase of her work in response to the Rwanda genocide of 1994, when the country was “plunged into a frenzy of ethnic butchery” stemming from long-standing tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi groups.
In 1994, work on Gallimore’s second book came to a screeching halt because of the Rwandan genocide, in which roughly one million people were massacred. Included in the numbers of the murdered were Gallimore’s mother, three brothers, and a sister, as well as her extended family. Among the genocide survivors are an estimated 250,000 women and children who were raped. Gallimore eventually returned to working on her book about Beyala’s work, “but it was very hard because I was working on a book about fictional characters who were victims of rape. On the other side, in Rwanda, there were real women who were victims of rape. I have really had to juggle my feelings, and my writing, because it didn’t really make much sense then to write about fiction when reality was so cruel.” Hence, it is no surprise that even as she was finishing her second book, “there was a book about Rwanda right in front of me.” That book, co-edited with fellow Rwandan Chantel Kalisa (University of Nebraska), was called Dix ans après (2005) and features both academic articles and creative pieces on the Rwanda genocide.
Gallimore speaks of the obstacles to overcome when trying to speak the unspeakable, to comprehend the incomprehensible, that is genocide. Her next book involves literary criticism as well as sociolinguistic and anthropological methods, drawing upon data collected in Rwanda as well as archival data and transcripts of the testimonies of women who survived the genocide. She has been working with an organization in Rwanda called ABASA, a group made of rape survivors. (Abasa is a Kinyrwanda word that means “we are all the same.”) Interviewing women from this group, Gallimore hopes to give voice to their stories and identify their various needs so that Step Up can try to address them.
Béa Gallimore will return to Rwanda periodically to meet with the ABASA women, check on the projects that Step Up has spearheaded, and determine what further steps need to be taken to help these women become financially independent. Their next priority is to build a counseling center, which is becoming increasingly urgent as primary school children, who were not alive during the genocide, are showing signs of trauma. They may be withdrawn, have difficulty with attendance and learning, report nightmares and sleep disturbances, and show signs of anxiety and distress. From studies of the children of the Holocaust survivors, we know that symptoms of trauma may be transmitted down through the generations. Step Up’s mission of improving mental health availability, therefore, is of vital importance. To learn how you can help, go to http://www.stepuprwandawomen.org/.