Gregory Meyer and Michi Vojta

Recorded April 25, 2014 Archived April 25, 2014 39:09 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby012051


Greg Meyer (49) tells his friend Michi Vojta (43) about his experience as a Rwandan expat in North Carolina during the Rwandan genocide.

Subject Log / Time Code

GM talks about living in North Carolina as a student when civil war broke out in Rwanda. For a year, he could get no information about his family. He carried a shortwave radio with him to classes.
GM talks about the two volunteers who traveled to Rwanda to track down his family members and bring back news. The volunteers found his parents in a refugee camp, and eventually, found his siblings in other camps as well. He also learned one of his brothers was killed.
GM talks about the experiences of his now-wife Claudine during the genocide.
GM talks about how the experiences during the genocide changed his wife and him.
GM talks about the small Rwandan community in North Carolina, which consists of Hutus and Tutsis socializing together.
GM talks about becoming a U.S. citizen.


  • Gregory Meyer
  • Michi Vojta

Recording Locations

American Tobacco Campus

Venue / Recording Kit



StoryCorps uses Google Cloud Speech-to-Text and Natural Language API to provide machine-generated transcripts. Transcripts have not been checked for accuracy and may contain errors. Learn more about our FAQs through our Help Center or do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions.

00:03 My name is Michi vojta and I am 43 years old. Today is Friday the 25th of April 2014, and we're in Durham Durham, North Carolina with my friend Greg Meyer.

00:19 My name is Greg Meyer age 49 today is Friday April 25th, 2014. We are in Durham, North Carolina.

00:29 And I'm with my friend Michie vodka.

00:34 So Greg I Met You in 1993. I think it was when you moved to the US to study Forestry at North Carolina State University here in Raleigh. And that's how I met you. I was a recent alumni of the same program. Where did you come here from?

00:50 I came here from Rwanda a small country in Central East Africa. That's where I was born and grew up. I came to do a masters in forestry head. That's when when we made so that one that was a series of small country, but very beautiful Green Mountains actually day nickname in the line of David. He is very very green. Very beautiful. Are there lots of bananas. We have the countryside is covered with lots of tea plantations plantations and Minnie.

01:44 Plants that depend on for food in a survival percent of the population that depends on agriculture. Is that what your family does that's my father had a small business so many people did more than one thing the father might be doing even small stole but the mother was at home taking care of the farm the cows and the family kind of animals is so you came here to study. How did you finance your trip to get here?

02:40 I came here but on the scholarship actually on the usaid scholarship to do this program in Forest lie to go back and help energy for the session. You know, how many people think of the car they behave Rosa Flores? Yes in many places there are but I don't wonder that many older small and overpopulated countries that use wood for firewood for cooking soda for the session is the big problem. That's why they can gain the first place how how many people live in Rwanda how many people lived in Rwanda when you were there?

03:23 It was

03:25 Around ten million. How big is it compared to North Carolina? For example of the North Carolina State about the size of Midland Maryland were from Rwanda. And at the time I was a few months away from going to the Peace Corps in Kenya, which is also there in East Africa and I remember being so embarrassed that I didn't know anything about Rwanda. You said all I'm from Rwanda. It's in East Africa and I thought really I should know something about this country cuz I'm going to move there in a couple to eats African a couple months. So yet and I think that's common. I don't think many Americans at that point knew much about Rwanda that unfortunately that changed a lot the very next year.

04:26 Can you talk about the history of it, you know like from 1990 and talk about what happened in 1994 before 1990 before the war and unsold Wonder was a known it's small. It's a landlocked Beautiful by everybody who got there. They loved it. But no mineral. No, nothing no story to tell Auntie 1990 War started and then 1994 when the president's airplane was shot so that because of the word tension between tribes. So when they shut down it's boiled down to mass killings 1990. You said there was a Civil War and internal War almost.

05:27 Yeah, and I think you know 1994 all of a sudden Rwanda made the international stage, but you're saying that from 1990 till 1994 things were happening, but nobody was paying attention. So it was between a war between two tribes and hutus, Ohio when power and the two teams who are minority but I had so many messages in Uganda able to arm themselves and attack to seize power. So yeah, so palpable in the glowing and all of us hope this will be comes that the political parties will come together and solve the divisions the International Community. We hoped. Related. Please keep going on forever, but one day prison playing with good shot this boiled to mass killings.

06:28 Militia going house-to-house hunting hunting Alibis of the deliberate groups, but even after they continued in the countryside and actually in punggol so many as one dance died as a result of this conflict in the genocide have a good feel for how many people were killed. I know there had been numbers when I was in Kenya their numbers of 2004000000. And now I think it's they've decided the numbers they agreed it probably has a slightly smaller number.

07:17 Do you have any idea how much you saw the numbers usually depending on who you talk to Kitchen, 500,000 something more than a million. The census has also come up with different numbers, but it's safe to say more than 500,000 of innocent civilians were killed and I think they do you win this around 800,000. Yeah, it's awful and millions more will show themselves.

08:02 So you and you were here in the US you were here in North Carolina when this happened right? Tell me what it was like to be here when this was actually happen happening back in your home country at the time. You were still a Rwandan citizen. How did it feel to you know, where you able to talk to people hear about it? Or they not believing what was going on? How did you find out what was going on? So when the plane when you're boiling point quickly the international news media reported this so dependent plane was shot on the April 6th on the 7th. I knew I needed it. So I also heard of the mass killing that was taking place. So life became a nightmare for me. I quickly board shorts Wave radio not many people in this country know or useful to it, right? So

09:02 What's a cool song between classes that can listen to BBC Voice of America or life wasn't a nightmare? I was I was a high-functioning for over 1-year. Where was your family during this time? My family was widespread in Rwanda. My parents weighed in a small town where I came from Center West and I had a brother in it to the nose. I had to Seaside in the capital of chicory native shoes. Mitchell's any high schools all over the country. So I was just concerned.

09:54 About everybody in it was a big problem.

10:02 When April 68 I was not the first thing that went down was the telephone telecommunication get in touch with people in this was back in 1994 before there was the instantaneous communication that we have. Now, there's no internet there weren't cell phones and you're saying that the one line of communication that you had with the telephone that was cut you couldn't reach peanuts was cut so I couldn't reach them. And for one year, I could not find my parents my friend. I do not have no idea what happened to them.

10:43 I was afraid that would have been killed but because the majority were not in the capital where the atrocities.

10:52 Kaya I hope I kept hoping they're alive and kept hoping there and if it becomes but it took one year before I found out I was able to find out what's happened to them. So what how did you finally find out what happened were they in in were they in refugee camps in the Congo or somewhere or where were they part of my family and my sisters and brothers the on 101 today, but my parents moved from the home because to a dangerous cities in the Villages small town. They moved internally displaced. They went to a company says Wonder but after

11:37 3 months they came back to the house to find the house was destroyed furniture. Everything was taken the key to the start a new dimension 95.

11:52 So did you think about going back yourself in person to find out since it was no for a whole year. You couldn't reach anybody we thinking of just leaving and going home to find out what happened. I thought about it, but that did not last a few seconds because I knew I had a student visa, which if I had gone out of the u.s. I will not be allowed to come back so afterward I thought maybe if I had money I can find volunteers to go.

12:24 So friends to whom I was choking the international student office at NC State with the way we're supportive every now and then they will call me to find out how I was doing. So we came up with an idea to raise money. Anyway you able to raise enough money to send it to volunteers to wonder. Both of them were former Peace Corps volunteers and IQ in Congo and do no one has served in Tanzania nearby place where you where would it have been saved if you had gone back would it have been safe for you?

13:08 I could have dared if I win if I go and be able to be allowed to a safe country because it was dangerous but being running myself in that particular time. I could have been targeted for my background. So I did not take a chance to go and I was lucky to have a group of friends who supports to help me raise the money to send these two volunteers worried about it being dangerous for them already ngos helping in Rwanda the Red Cross.

13:57 Samaritan purse was there.

14:01 Mssm Frontier, yes, there were many ngos. So these two friends he's from man and the Laurel from here to North Carolina. They took a chance and the Wayans and then you told dangerous but but there was a caring enough to to take this away is Amina said is helpful for them since I had the American passport, but it's still quite Brave of them. It sounded like it was really quite a big organize organizing effort on your part to make this happened you had to raise awareness and raise money and then find people to go how how long did that take? When did you start?

14:47 We started Arena spring 1995 and by the summer by Junu had enough money to send the two volunteers, but really as much as I can but I couldn't have done it without the international student office at North Carolina state director Elizabeth name not the former governor of North Carolina some friend who who is just the first behind me pushing me to keep going to do it. So these volunteers can go

15:36 Yeah, it's it's

15:39 Funny isn't the right word sad. It's ironic that I was there in Kenya and I could have gotten there so much quicker and so much more cheaply, but we just didn't know you were looking at you know, I missed you bad. So how long were these two volunteers gone in Rwanda in East Africa? It was very short. I in tagari. I had given them any names of people. I thought would be there many houses to go to to find and see if they can find somebody that is there somebody from Laredo. That's the name of the place where I'm from. I think I kept asking around. They took them to the second house they found

16:39 Somebody who knew me my friend and then they they were able to catch a ride the bus system is not working yet. So to to get it to where I'm from the head to hike about 45 minutes 45 minutes after when the car comes by Prince way back and sitting in the house as a prize to see these two American coming in asking about them and tell them about me D. I didn't do it last the winter in July. We were done by mid-june. So how long was it between when they left and when you first heard word from them about your fam?

17:41 Remember how they sent the message but they were able to find an email somewhere. Didn't you get it did they were able to use some of this email and the email that one friend who was helping at international student office and they told me that they had found my parents because I like after one week did you do with my parents alive?

18:20 I said a big like a big relief for pressure relief independent. Sorry, I didn't live then what happened to everybody else. I knew if the if the others did not mention anything about my brother's my sister's they just told my parents were alive. And then we arranged to talk like a three days afterwards when they told me something doesn't have to go to listen to Cubs. It depends if you don't know anything about them neither, but they knew that they had left my sisters on your nieces and nephews.

19:11 So during the genocide I just want one brother to get medical attention because it was adorable is leveraging with what I'm plumb sick or he was injured so but my aunt caught my uncle's family who lived.

19:42 Three four minutes from from where I'd be lost like at two of my cousin and then

19:51 Day two daughters and then in the sun just started road block and they were killed.

20:03 What are you still in touch with the two volunteers who went back to help you find your family in any man, but I took Allegra-D to one of them and they're thinking of them or talking to them. It's always that I can bring my heart because it's a it brought back. They brought me back to life.

20:39 What weather in census of people who went above and beyond to help your friends and family or maybe even on the other side are there cases where people obstructed denied help to you're obviously the ones who were stopped at the border crossing or at the checkpoint, but other examples of people who helped your family members or

21:03 Yeah, so I want because of this before so friends used to have friends. If you did to see Neighbors or friends that attacked the Hutu neighbors we hide them but this instance when the president was a kid and bumps was with Fang of everybody was so my parents would helped by number at the beginning because

21:43 My father had in my family, we are mixed with some Tutsis and hutus, but my father had to buy it was a hoe too. So I'm going to be able to so they hiding Tootsie's at the beginning by the bombs came flying in a small town. Everybody was running. So at the beginning they helped then they were helped but

22:09 It was very dangerous for everybody.

22:17 What was it like for you being here in the US and knowing that this government could make a difference this government and and many other governments or actually hearing about this genocide and what was happening but yet not doing anything about it was watching every now and then they were talking about what do I doing to help Rwanda saying that they are waiting for correlation. They're waiting to see what happening by the me. I knew things were getting worse everyday things were getting worse some radios international radio more casualties. So it was agonizing sing you see them.

23:10 Talk about how they're waiting to hear and I know people being killed it was agonizing to sometime. I wish I had the telephone to be able to talk to them to tell them something that

23:25 It was no time to wait. I was in Kenya at the time so I got I don't know what was in the Press here. But I saw what was in the press and Kenya and it was it was it made me sick. It was it was very say I was very ashamed so your wife Claudine is also from Rwanda. Where was she in 1994 and actually encouraged at the beginning shows in school so atrocities in when they increase child to go home find her family, so they walked a head of the atrocities because if they win the capital and she got it they they walked days to go to the small town where they were from and then from there when the atrocities good there the violence increase they had to go to refugee camps.

24:25 Yeah, so they say

24:30 They left the big city the capital and they went to the rural areas. But then the atrocities followed them to the Seattle area.

24:43 Where are your family is now. I know that like I visited some of your family where it where is it? Where are your family members now is in the Wanda I have my sister's there. I have brothers in the Europa.

25:05 The one in bedroom one and Francois mitterrand, so we are straight but my wife's family also sprayed North America Europe also just recommended one of the nice tragedy upsetting many people will like we are done. So cold they left. So we are we are everywhere.

25:34 Yeah, I know when I was in Rwanda there were when I was at when I was in Kenya. There were taught there was talk about a lot of rwandans fleeing and going to Tanzania and going to Kenya and probably gone to as well. And I know that there was talk about there being a a small community of rwandans in Nairobi the capital of Kenya and they're all kinds of all kinds of rumors about who they were those people, you know, any people just like the gossip no matter where they are. So what is it Rwanda like now 20 years after the tragedy?

26:10 Rwanda right now covered there where you can see pictures of the computer and the what was small towns. They did a vibrant economy, The government has worked hard to improve infrastructure at the wood bunk that us if you don't find the union they have all pitch then they have helped rebuild its economy. The issue that the one that has now is on the freedom of expression Association opposition figures and now they get killed in Towanda or outside of Towanda. I'm not sure if you heard of

27:02 Some of some stories about that so they could have done it have a good record. But now we are not moving forward on right side. How about socially how are people getting people who are moving back? How are they even those who remained? How are they getting along now with their neighbors who maybe they were running from before in the countryside. I don't hear many issues issues. They always associated with politics in the countryside. I think the people getting getting along but the recovery at this cuz I so deep

27:49 Did I people who have lost their families who have lost half of their members? So and it's called if you remove somebody who has not lost a family member so discover people some people have

28:14 Every confidence it will somehow but the memories of that event is is very very bad.

28:23 How would you say your life and your wife's life have been affected today by what she lived through and what you lived through.

28:34 Yep.

28:36 Did the name what's the wentzel was like?

28:46 Survival survival excuse she got an emergency kind of work for one week working for one week and changing direction exploding ahead of you or behind you sometime and sleeping in the bushes. So it was very difficult for them for me. I think having gone through that. 94956 was very hard for me. I think I learned that everything is possible. Just country lose. Hope when you

29:31 When you are going through a very hard time, you know the Delights it is going to be a light at the end of the tunnel somehow. So I think I consider myself a resilient and so is she because of this this event went are there many other rwandans here in North Carolina?

30:02 We are not many but there are more than a hundred in North Carolina. Yes. You've met you met a lot of them. Yeah, and I'm surprised many is that hutus and Tutsis want to hear North Carolina who gets along with share event budget fence if it is a funeral or christening or wedding or mixed together and we are moving along. When did you do anything to

30:53 Memorialized this events. Do you get together? Are you having events to to get together and talk about it. This is a very timely event this interview tomorrow with Haven Mass at to commemorate to remember 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. So we have invited many people we expecting at 3:17 people coming to this month at to pray. We commemorate this in prayers and songs. What is it? Like when on people here in the u.s. Find out you're from Rwanda. What is there? What's their initial reaction? Do they have a reaction to they think they have to associate you with the genocide but that time in Rwanda remember when you when they meet people to date the first thing

31:53 What are you going to do during the genocide so I know I was here. So somebody shocked and ridiculous to know how did you know side is affected me my family, but the gun majority surprisingly. You don't know anything about Rwanda. You can talk about the movie Hotel Rwanda that was made about 1994 and then someone will remember but some people did they just don't know much about 1, I think the movies that was a very good movie, but I think it didn't really explain.

32:40 The what happened to lead up to it. It just showed what happened during that time. And especially the that one man. So you and Claudine your wife finally took your three kids back to Africa last year, but not to Rwanda. Why didn't you go to Rwanda?

33:02 We had a very short time and he'll put into it in Madagascar. So which of them to see the grandparents in Madagascar very beautiful island on the east African coast and then wanted our kids growing up in America when they meet people when people know that they are from Africa Justin, do you know about the Lions, you know about this. So want them to take when it take them to trace a Friday so they can see the wild cards and CD elephants date so we could not fitting in Wonder and beside

33:48 So what's the deal time left to go to wander but we will have to go there one of these days. So you're wonderful. Children, Derek and Maria and baby Bella. What do they know about Rwanda? And what do they know about this portion of its history?

34:09 They know that 1994. There was a genocide that happened in Rwanda neighbors getting neighbors people being targeted because of the background which they did not choose the older one now cuz read some articles key. He knows more about Etiwanda and if you don't want them too many details, but they have to know so what do you miss most about Rwanda the at like the Rwanda that you knew the one under the past and how do you think that will be different when you finally take your family there from the Rolanda? Is there a lot of the past in the Rolanda you will get to see you again?

35:00 Did one that. They knew was so small.

35:08 Everybody knew almost everybody. So many people want to have the one University what I did my undergraduate. So when you know people who have gone to that school at you here you get sent to me today friends to like a place where everybody knows everybody. You can be anywhere baby toys like an American citizen 2007 years. Why did you become an American citizen?

35:56 Because I want to be part of this Democratic Society. So this country has a high standard of rule of law.

36:15 If anybody did something wrong to you you can.

36:20 Pursue Justice. I'm not saying that it's a perfect but I don't know of any other place where you can pursue your just this is a place where Root of Happiness can happen. I'm seeing many people work hard they night and get day was with a 2 degree or a successful business ever seen it to happen and you have your doctorate degree as well. And I have a picture of y'all from your house in Greenville when you only had two of the two boys and they were very small and there's a picture of the two of you and the two children in the house in the background in the in the Big Green Lawn and I remember showing it to my friend Mark at the time and saying this is just a picture of the American dream, you know, the two happy that the the perfect family with the the two parents and the two children and their house in the background and I was like that is just the perfect.

37:20 The perfect picture and thinks we went in school and I was finished and we have jobs and I think that the picture is even better now even better outlook for your family.

37:40 Do you have anything else you want to tell me about Rwanda?

37:45 Rwanda is a very beautiful country at very friendly people what happened in the Wanda in 1994. It was beyond my imagination. I knew that were tensions. I never thought to be able to to this killing of thousands and thousands of people so I have good hopes for Rhonda that one day I get one that would be able to

38:16 To enjoy the Liberties to live free without any Politics. The past is very hard and then manifold has infected a huge in Disguise deep, but I I hope that things will improve and run away emerge again as a friendly land of a Thousand Hills. Happy Hayes.

38:43 Yeah, I I am. I really enjoy it when I was there. I thought was beautiful and your family was great.

38:52 Thank you very much. I'm glad we got to have this talk since you and thanks a lot for being my friend for all these years 20 more than 20 years. Thanks.