Two former child soldiers embraced on the set of an extraordinary television show, Look Me in the Eye, on SBS on Wednesday night.
One, Anyang, was a torturer. The other was Ayik, who was tortured.
Thirty years on, Ayik had asked the producers to reunite him with the then 16-year-old boy who was in charge of disciplining child soldiers who attempted to escape from the Red Army in Ethiopia.
“He used to tie my arm back, tied to my ankle. You cry until you can’t cry anymore and you are getting whipped at the same time,” Ayik said.
The beatings continued for hours and, later, chilli would be put in the wounds.
“Anyang did that,” he said.
Now both are living in Australia and Ayik wanted to find peace from the trauma. Look Me in The Eye, hosted by Ray Martin, provided that opportunity.
Its premise – backed by neuroscience – is that direct eye contact can communicate more than just words. So, the producers found incredibly brave people wanting to reconnect with someone they are estranged from.
More than 1000 people applied and 17 were chosen for this series.
At first, they sit, face to face, for five minutes, looking each other in the eye, without speaking. The cameras filming them are eight metres away, hidden behind specially constructed walls.
They are on their own and, for the audience watching, it’s painful to see the emotions played out on their faces.
Then, both sides decide if they want to talk things through. Not all of the stories are as shocking as the two boy soldiers – but they are emotional, nevertheless.
On Wednesday’s show, Queenslander Sue wanted to find out if her former husband Garry could rekindle the love they once shared during 33 years of marriage.
She had left him but realised, at their daughter’s wedding, that she had made a huge mistake.
When they looked at each other, Sue said it was like a movie of their time together flashing through her mind.
“I sent love from my eyes.”
Garry found it quite confronting.
“I saw her beautiful blue eyes. I saw our past, I suppose. I saw the love in her eyes was still there,” he said.
He returned to the set to talk further and, with some reservations, he told Martin later he was “willing to give it a go, openly”.
“I’m going to make sure I win him over,” said Sue.
Ayik, meanwhile, sobbed as he told Anyang of the agony he has caused him and that he had wanted to kill him when he unexpectedly saw him in church in Brisbane 10 years ago.
“No one hurt me like you did. Not even my uncle when he beat me as a child,” he said.
Anyang apologised for what he did.
“Are you really sorry?” asked Ayik.
“Yes,” responded Anyang and he begged for forgiveness.
“I need a brother. It is you. So please.”
Ayak, amazingly, obliged.
“I forgive you and I mean it. Let’s move on. I wish you the best as you move on with your life,” he told him.
“I think it is healed now.”