When writing fiction becomes the reality

The genocide in Rwanda

On 6 April 1994, a plane with Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana on board was shot down outside the country’s capital. A few hours later, one of the most horrific genocides in history was underway.

Around 800,000 people were shot or chopped down with machetes in just over 100 days.

Journalists documented the killings directly, the UN people in Rwanda had warned of the genocide in advance. Nevertheless, the international community stayed out. Only in 2000 did the UN Security Council explicitly take responsibility for the failed attempt to prevent the genocide.

“The plastic bag was white, and a contrast to the red blood from the torn feet

  Writing is recreating images of situations I have experienced, words I have captured or people I have met. 

One of the pictures I will never forget was of a refugee woman carrying her child in a dirty sling in an endless column of refugees

She had plastic bags on her feet, a kind of illusory protection against the hot sand. 

The plastic bag was white, and the sharp contrast to the red blood from the torn feet struck me when I saw her.

Another vivid memory that will forever stay with me is of a three-year-old Tutsi boy.

His arms was outstretched, among a group of a dozen other children seeking help by the roadside along the main route towards Kigali in Rwanda. 

As UN vehicles sped past, I couldn’t help but notice the soldiers’ distant gazes – they saw, yet chose not to acknowledge. 

The sheer number of children overwhelmed them. Sometimes, I find myself wondering about the well-being of those soldiers today.

During my research for Delete, I delved into numerous Senate hearings on the Rwanda massacres. 

The detailed accounts of atrocities deeply shook me and prompted me to seek further insights into the events that led to the brutal slaughter of between 800,000 to 1,000,000 people in the span of a few harrowing months in 1994. 

I was astonished by the near-silence of the media regarding the unfolding tragedies in that small nation.

"Being saturated"

The numbers from such disasters are always large, and one is therefore always in danger of being “saturated”. Still, some numbers touched me more than others.

Additionally, I noted that following the massacres, over 100,000 children were found wandering in Rwanda. This indicated that toddlers aged two, three, and four were walking unaccompanied, without any relatives or older siblings to care for them.

Eventually, the children were gathered and – where relatives were alive – reunited with theirs or otherwise cared for. Nevertheless, there are a dark number of about 15,000 children who were not accounted for. 15,000 children have disappeared. The only thing we know is that these certainly did not die during the massacres.

That led to the writing of Dreamland.com, by the way.


Unfortunately, fiction is becoming a smaller and smaller part of what I need to write. Unfortunately, I write because I wish I could have been without the knowledge of all the cruel actions we humans expose each other to every day, every hour and every minute – worldwide. Now the same thing is happening in Ukraine, and before that, Syria and before that … you know what I mean.

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