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|Resident returns flute to Rwanda after many years|
|Tuesday, 23 June 2009 20:55|
The flute was simple, wooden, hand-made, with the letters of the ownerâ€™s name carved into the side. But this basic, honest instrument carried the hopes and fears of a young Rwandan musician in its textured holes and grooves. For Judi Vose, it represented a promise she needed to honor.
The fluteâ€™s journey ended in a ceremony at the Statehouse, but it began in the jungle.
Vose first met the flute, and its owner, teacher and musician Emmanuel Sekimonyo, on a 1990 trip to Rwanda. Vose and the other members of the trip were in Africa to see the mountain gorillas in the Parc National des Voscanes in Rhungeri, and Sekimonyo, whom they would come to know as â€œManny,â€ was their guide.
Through the often thin walls of the places the group stayed, Vose heard Manny playing his flute. She learned he was traveling from village to village collecting the folk music of his country, and that he had a dream of attending the New England Conservatory in Boston, to study music.
After she returned to Massachusetts, Vose (then Judi Pettit) sent letters to Manny. He told her of his attempts to leave Rwanda, which always ended in futility. Once, he made it toÂ Burundi but had to give up his quest when his savings were stolen by a border guard. Another time, he made it as far as Dar es Salam in Tanzania but eventually turned back.
â€œIt wasnâ€™t easy for me to realize the painful struggle he was going through, torn between the love for his country and the love of his music,â€ Vose wrote in a 1994 PSA for a Concord radio station.
All the while, the ethnic hatred that would eventually lead to the Rwandan genocide was brewing.
â€œHis letters kept saying, â€˜why are people killing each other?â€™â€ Vose said.
In April of 1994, a plane carrying the Rwandan president was shot down. The incident sparked 100 days of violence between the countryâ€™s Hutu and Tusti ethnic groups in which between 800,000 and a million people died â€“â€“ nearly 20 percent of the population.
Three days after the plane was shot down, Vose looked in her mailbox at her home in Carlisle. There were two packages, wrapped in ordinary brown paper. One of the packages contained a tape of Mannyâ€™s flute music, a scratchy, distant sounding recording. The other package was the flute. Vose never heard from Manny again, and believes he was lost in the genocide.
â€œI felt like I didnâ€™t know what to do with this music,â€ she said. â€œI felt an obligation, like I should do something with it.â€
She took the tape to a local recording studio, where they cleaned up the sound. Then she copied the tape, and sold it at a music store in Acton. She opened a bank account and put all the proceeds from the tape sales in it, with the idea that if Manny ever made it to Boston, the money would be his.
â€œI said someday, something is going to come across my path and this money will go to Rwanda.â€
For years, however, the money stayed in the account. The letters from Manny stopped.
Then a few weeks ago, Vose was watching a local newscast, and saw that the president of Rwanda,Â Paul Kagame, was going to be at a UNICEF fundraiser at the Statehouse in Boston.
She knew that the flute, and Mannyâ€™s music, needed to return home.
Without a ticket, she showed up at the Statehouse early and caught a group of Rwandan children performing a dance routine.Â Eventually, she spotted the president and walked up to him, handing him the flute, a tape of Mannyâ€™s playing, and all of his letters.
â€œIt felt so powerful ... I felt like I was returning something to Rwanda that belonged there,â€ Vose said. â€œ[Manny] left something for his country, I was just the keeper for a while.â€
Vose is considering donating the money to UNICEF or another Rwandan charity.
â€œItâ€™s going back to education,â€ she said.
Sheâ€™s hoping to add to the funds she collected from selling Mannyâ€™s tapes. She recently turned in 28 cans of change sheâ€™s collected over the years. Edgartown Bank offered to count the money without taking a cut, so the funds could be donated directly to the Rwandan people.
Even though the flute is returning to Rwanda, Vose feels Mannyâ€™s music and legacy has had a lasting effect. During the holidays, she ran into an old friend from the Concord area who said she used the tape for therapy sessions at a local hospital.
â€œItâ€™s things like that that make me feel like his life isnâ€™t gone,â€ Vose said. â€œI couldnâ€™t let his story go.â€