It was an event that could easily have passed in an emotional blur: the moment Clemantine Wamariya was reunited with the family she’d last seen 12 years earlier, and had for a long time feared were dead. Instead, she can recall every second: the moment she threw herself into her father’s arms, before clinging to her mother and, in a gesture of disbelief and gratitude, raising an arm to the heavens.
The reason everything is still so clear 12 years on is because the reunion took place on television, and she has rewatched it many times. “I thought in that moment I’d died,” Clemantine says. “You hear about how you’re united with the people you love in heaven, and I thought, this must be heaven. I was so happy, but I was also scared: had I died?”
It was 2006, and Clemantine and her sister, Claire, thought they were being invited to appear on the Oprah Winfrey show to discuss their experiences of the Rwandan genocide. But, unbeknown to the sisters, the show’s producers had flown their family in from Africa. The last time they had seen their parents was in 1994, but although they knew they were alive, they had been able to speak only by phone and had no idea when they would be able to meet; they had also missed the birth of a new brother and sister, then aged eight and five.