She has a small, neat head, her features delicately sketched, her teeth very white. Her grey suit is too large for her narrow frame but her cream shoes are polished and she moves with a certain elegance on ankles impossibly slim.
Her name is Vestine. She's 42 and she survived the Rwandan genocide.
Vestine was rounded up one night and held captive in a stadium with others. Left without food, on the fifth day, she began to eat grass, one green blade after another. It was that day, too, that a soldier marched her to the sordid bathroom and ordered her to take off all her clothes. Her hands twisting in her lap, she says,
"He told me he wanted to see if Tutsi women were made differently than Hutu women. Then...then he raped me."
The next day it was a different soldier, this one trying to force his penis into her mouth. When she protested, he clubbed her on the head. With her fingers lightly tapping her face, Vestine describes how the blood streamed into her eyes and down her nose, as she did what he required.
Vestine's story continues, relentless. After they had had their fill of her, you see, the soldiers would force her down on her hands and knees, straddle her back, and ride her around the stadium like a donkey, beating the soles of her feet with a stick urging her to go faster and faster.
When she was finally brought back to her home, Vestine found her husband and two brothers on the floor, hacked to death by machete. By day, she was raped over and over by a soldier who held her captive. By night, the dogs would come and feast on the rotting bodies of the people she loved most.
After weeks, Vestine was ordered to the local Hutu commander's house who wanted a piece of the action. Vestine fought back, perhaps her fatal mistake. Her voice faltering, she looks down at her lap and whispers,
"The commander took a knife and then he mutilated my genitals, cutting off ....cutting off everything I had left there. Then....then, he made me swallow what he had taken from me."
Vestine survived the genocide, rescued by a Hutu neighbor who hid her. Two of her three children also survived, the third was killed by a grenade when he tried to flee into the mountains.
It was only seven years later that Vestine -- broken and sick -- found out that she had been infected by HIV/AIDs.
In a different dark life, in a different dark space, it could have been you, in Vestine's place. It could have been me in Vestine's place.
My week has been filled with horror -- I can't look away. Please, please, don't you look away, too.