Blog post

Getting unstuck

July 11, 2017
By Lisa Ndejuru

Lisa Ndejuru moderates Montreal Life Stories keynote session

It’s showtime. Time to write. As usual, I’m stuck, struggling to know where and how to begin.

I’m a multilingual scribbler. I take notes on scraps of paper, in journals, on napkins and coasters tightly-written on both sides. Over the years I’ve accumulated boxes of the stuff, and when it comes time to create something for public consumption, I rarely lack for material.

But because my research is so personal, writing is never easy. I was born in Rwanda, and for all my adult life, my work, my studies, and my performative creations have had to do with making sense of the effects of organized violence on myself, my family, and my community. I am a student of what persecution, loss and dislocation have done to us.

My younger, immigrant self lived with free-floating existential terror that left me unable to focus, progress, or project myself into the future.

Then I found Kazuba, a wiser, snarkier inner voice that I think of as my guardian angel. In the Kinyarwanda language, zuba means ‘light’. Add the diminutive ka- and you get his name.

L: K, I’m stuck.
K: You wanted this. Do it, already.
L: Easy for you to say.

Now my terrors are fancier and less immobilizing. I’ve studied religions that have helped people in various times and cultures make sense of living and dying. I’ve studied the sacred and profane, time and space, and the myths and rituals people create to make order out of chaos. I’ve studied psychology and the ways we engage with feelings, thoughts and behaviors. In fact, I am a professional psychotherapist.

More recently, my PhD work at Concordia has taken me directly inside the intergenerational dimensions of violence, through study and performance of the stories we tell.

To be clear, I am not a genocide survivor. Unlike some members of my family, I was not a political prisoner. I have not witnessed the murders of friends and family. I did not live in a refugee camp for 30 years. I did not join a guerrilla army to fight for the right to return to our homeland. I left Rwanda before my second birthday; I can’t even really claim to have lived in Africa, since I don’t consciously remember it.

But as a member of a close-knit diaspora with deep traditions, all these realities have affected me deeply. I spend my days thinking about how we can engage productively, constructively, with our legacy of violence.

In fact, my topic is finding ways in which we can get ourselves unstuck, individually and collectively. My process involves working with stories via improvisational theatre, creative writing exercises, dialogue, sensory tools and ‘invitations’, and group activities.

That doesn’t mean I’m always very good at it. Kazuba and I currently are writing my PhD dissertation, a creative, performative project about engaging with stories and restoring agency. I seek to understand how stories have shaped us, and how we can create new stories that will help guide our lives – and our children’s lives – into the future. I often get stuck.

I seem to spend much of my time pushing back against the flattening, demotivating effects of violence. As I move forward on my dissertation, every so often I intend to post some related reflections here, and would love to receive feedback.


About the author


Lisa Ndejuru is a 2017 Concordia Public Scholar. She’s also a core member of the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling. Lisa aims to make sense of her research and complete her dissertation later this year. 

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