This is the story of Deo, a Burundian who escaped genocide in both his home country and neighboring Rwanda. A 24-year-old former medical student, he arrived in New York City with $200 and no knowledge of English. The kindness of strangers and Deo’s innate intelligence and perseverance helped him overcome the odds. Little more than a decade later, he had metamorphosed into an Ivy League-educated doctor who had established a health center in Burundi.
Country Focus: Burundi
Strength in What Remains
By Tracy Kidder
Published by Random House, 2009.
About the author: The American journalist Tracy Kidder won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1982 for The Soul of a New Machine. He met Deo through Paul Farmer, the highly regarded physician and humanitarian he profiled in his 2003 award-winning book Mountains Beyond Mountains.
Deo had spent a lot of time, in the classrooms and cathedrals of this rarefied piece of Manhattan, thinking about the catastrophic violence in Burundi and Rwanda. He had left Columbia believing that misery had been not the sole cause of the mayhem, but a primary cause, a precondition too often neglected by scholars: little or no education for most and, for those who did get it, lessons in brutality; toil and deprivation, hunger and disease and untimely death, including rampant infant mortality, which justified all-but-perpetual pregnancy for women until menopause. He told me, “Women get so exhausted that by the time they are thirty they walk like, you know, old ladies. And they are the ones most of the time who do the farming. At sunset, go down the hill, get water to cook. And women are not allowed to own property…” He went on: “Almost everyone has got worms. They are there since they were born, and worms will be their friends until they die. Can you imagine that kind of life? It’s terrible. How are you going to think right? With pain everywhere. So it’s been really hard to blame the people who have been slaughtering each other, though I do blame people all the time. They were not themselves. They were something else.”