Interview: Authors Talk Friendship, Writing Book Thousands Of Miles Apart

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Usually I only interview one author at a time, but today is a special treat!

I got to ask questions of both Rebeka Uwitonze and Meredith Davis, authors of the true story, Her Own Two Feet: A Rwandan Girl’s Brave Fight to Walk, which I reviewed last month. Since they live in different countries (Rwanda and United States), they have to Facetime or send letters to communicate most of the time. Rebeka answered my questions via video and Meredith emailed her responses.

I learned so much about this dynamic duo, and you will, too.

Question: Rebeka and Meredith, whose idea was it to write this book, and how did you collaborate?

Answer: Meredith: It was my idea to write the book, but I knew I didn’t want to do it unless Rebeka wrote it with me, and she was excited to partner with me. Because we live so far from each other, collaborating was complicated. We got to work together the summers of 2017, 2018, and 2019. I traveled to Rwanda each of these summers. In 2017 we did lots of interviews and talked about what to include in the book. In 2018, we looked at the editor’s comments and revised. In 2019, we worked on promotion and recorded together a video to show at presentations.

Rebeka: When Meredith asked if I would write a book about my life with her, I was excited because my life would not be forgotten. To work together, we used to Facetime and she would ask me questions, or write a letter. In 2018 Meredith brought some CD’s that had a recording of the book in my language, Kinyarwanda, and even my parents were able to hear it.

Q: Rebeka, how does it feel to have your story inside a book that tons of people will read?

A: I feel proud of myself because I say that “Oh God, thank you that my life is not going to be forgotten,” and many people will read my story and they will come to know that in many areas of the world there are some people that are not like them.

Q: Rebeka, As a little girl, what thoughts went through your head when people treated you badly because of your feet and hands?

A: The problem is that I was feeling so sad and I was nervous but I came to know that God is there and he is watching for me. I used to say “God please help me,” and I passed through these problems.

Q: How often do you talk each other? Do you still keep a close relationship?

A: Meredith: We don’t get to talk as often as I would like. It is difficult since Rebeka doesn’t have a phone or easy access to the internet. We send emails sometimes and if there is something important I need to tell Rebeka or show her, I can always find a friend in Rwanda who can get her a message or package. I have several friends in America that travel to Rwanda and visit Rebeka. Those friends showed Rebeka the cover of her book once the publisher finished it, and a picture of the president of Rwanda holding a copy of Her Own Two Feet. They brought her an advanced reader copy, and then the final hardback copy when it came out. I try to travel to Rwanda once a year to see Rebeka and her family in person. I think I’m closer than ever to Rebeka after writing this book. I learned so much about her early childhood, and the book is a shared project that will tie us together forever.

Rebeka: Yes, we do keep a close relationship. But how we talk to each other is by writing letters and when her and her family come to visit me in Rwanda.

Q: Rebeka, how long did it take you to truly recognize the Davises as family?

A: It took like one week and then I used to say, “Oh, this is my family that I know, and they are good people and I was proud of them.”

Q: What were some struggles and achievements while writing this book?

Q: Meredith: One of the biggest struggles was working together long distance, and not having Rebeka here when the book released. I would have loved to throw a launch party together! One of the biggest achievements was pulling off the international collaboration. Another was partnering with Scholastic, a fantastic publisher that made our book amazing, from the bright cover that is the same colors as the Rwandan flag, to the 70 photos sprinkled throughout the text, to their promotion once the book came out.

Rebeka: The part which was hard is that I was talking about my own life and I feel like I was going to cry but I came to know that writing my story is good. The part that made me proud is that I have wrote my own story and it is not for other people but it is my own story. I have not got it from other places but it is my own story.

Q: Meredith, do you feel like living with Rebeka has taught you more about acceptance and inclusion?

A: Living with Rebeka taught me a lot. I felt the stares of strangers when they looked at her twisted feet and was impressed with how Rebeka handled the unwanted attention with poise and dignity. It was a good reminder that we can’t control what others do or say, only our reaction. I learned to accept unpredictability as her treatment plans changed. Our whole community grew to love and respect Rebeka, and her home country of Rwanda by getting personally involved. It taught me to accept what I cannot change, and it gave me and my family the opportunity to draw people together from many different cultures and backgrounds.

Q: What do you want people to learn from your book?

A: Meredith: I hope people will learn more about Rwanda and the people who live there and see how powerful it can be to sponsor a kid to go to school. I hope they will see their capacity for courage and strength after reading Rebeka’s story, because sometimes chance comes once. I hope readers take those chances to change their world, and the world around them.

Rebeka: What I want to tell people is to encourage them to be proud of themselves and they should not trust other people but only God.

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