The Tomb of Fireflies
Last Tuesday, so I am told, was World Children’s Day. To celebrate, DED, an NGO which funds a program called CINEDUC, came to show an educational film to the kids at the camp and hold a discussion.
They came to our camp with all of the sound and projection equipment. My friend at HCR Kigali asked me to get the room ready (it was less a room than a shelter of corrugated metal) with chairs for the kids. I had to tell her that...well, we didn’t actually have any chairs. So we put down some plastic sheeting, which worked just as well for the 150 people or so who showed up.
The film they showed, The Tomb of Fireflies (Le Tombeau des Lucioles) was one in a series of films they’ll be showing during the coming weeks. This one was about the rights of children in wartime; other subjects include racism (they’ll be showing Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) and the right of girls to choose their husbands.
I was eager to watch the movie. Imagine! A movie at our little camp! It was almost too much to ask. I thought the kids would be overjoyed.
The reaction was mixed—and I could understand why. The movie, a Japanese anime dubbed in French (and translated into Kinyarwanda by microphone by the NGO staff) was set during World War II, and included images that were only too familiar to many of these children. A boy and his younger sister survive the atomic blast, but their mother dies a few days later. They show her body wrapped in blood-soaked bandages…and then, following her death, the showed the maggots which began to infest the corpse. The mother’s body was burned. If these kids had never heard of a funeral pyre, they must have been really appalled—I know I would have been! Japanese anime tends to have a flair for the dramatic, but JESUS that was not appropriate for the kids! One child started crying, flailing wildy, and threw herself up against the door, screaming to be let out. When she was allowed to leave, half of the children followed, and we thought only the adults would be left.
The story went on to show the brother trying to provide for his little sister by working and stealing. It turned out that the father had died as well, and then, at the end, the little sister dies of malnutrition, and her body is also burned.
Am I crazy? When the movie was over, I wanted to make a run for it, to escape potentially angry parents.
Thank goodness that there was a post-film discussion. They made some very charged statements and asked volunteers to pick a side—agree or disagree. The NGO team thought it would be funny if I participated, and I immediately knew my role, to be the voice of the UN. It wasn’t easy.
The first question was, “Is it justified to target civilians in times of war?” which, of course, is a no-brainer. Interestingly, several refugees said yes, and had to explain themselves; but they changed their minds after hearing contrary opinions from fellow refugees.
The second was harder: “Is it justified to steal to survive in times of war?” Oy. Survival is a whole separate ball game. I had to decline speaking first while I sorted out my thoughts, but ended up saying something like, “It’s never okay to steal, because you’re taking what’s not yours. Instead, people should share in wartime, because if people shared, there would be less theft.” Even I recognize that to be wholly unrealistic, but as a UN worker, I couldn’t say that it was okay to steal!
The program closed with music. As we left, we could hear the echo of Michael Jackson singing about making the world “a better place for you and for me and the entire human race.” No comment needed.