When life is normal, each day passes quickly, calmly, adding drops bit by bit to the bucket of memory. Looking back, you can drink from the bucket, but you cannot always distinguish each drop. Moments and conversations become impressions—they are real, they are true, but they may be indistinguishable from what is around them. In times of crisis, though, everything is different. Time stops, crystallizes. Each moment, each action, each word is seared into your memory as if your life depends on it, because it just might. It is as if it is the last thing you will ever see—because it just might be.
Chapter 1 : A Simple Boyhood (1941-1955)
The villagers organized hunting teams, starting out early in the morning with their dogs for remote game reserves. After a successful catch, the team would return to the village, singing hunting songs. The catch would cook for hours in earthenware vessels. Then there were dances with plentiful banana wine, meat for all, and celebration. At this point you may wonder where the Hutu and Tutsi fit into this picture. They were there, in my village—living and working side-by-side in these common causes.
Chapter 2 : Hearts Turn to God and to Hate (1955-1962)
The systematic persecution of Tutsi intensified. Tutsi of the royal Nyiginya-Hindiro family, to which we belonged, were especially threatened, supposedly because they would provide heirs to the traditional monarchy … The Belgian soldiers arrived, prepared to arrest or kill us. But they found only unarmed, frightened, and desperate people. Alex was educated and could speak with them in French. He explained that he worked at the Scientific Research Institute for Central Africa in Butare and that his family was in danger … In 1962, the new Rwandan Republic was born—a troubled child conceived by competing interests, religious-political intrigue, extreme ideologies, and bald hatred. Being Hutu or Tutsi would play a key role in determining who had a right to live in Rwanda, indeed, who had a right to live at all.
Chapter 3 : The Tutsi Diaspora: Our Years in Exile (1962-1977)
Still, the events that took place in the wake of the death of King Charles Mutara III began to open my eyes to the possible motives behind the Catholic mission to which I belonged as a member and a future priest. From personal experience I also had a clear view of the damage done by ethnic inequality and social frustration … The Rwandan Catholic Church had taken an ambiguous role during episodes of ethnic conflict. Refugees were hidden in churches, given food, and somehow protected from killers before fleeing to foreign countries or returning to their villages. But high authorities in the Catholic Church, such as Swiss Monsignor André Perraudin of the White Fathers, openly supported, spearheaded, and masterminded the Hutu revolution.
Chapter 4 : Trapped in My Homeland (1977-1988)
In 1988, having obtained my Ph.D., my contract with the Rwandan government came due. One day I sat down with Chantal, gently broaching the subject of my decision to honor the terms of my contract by returning to Rwanda to teach for five years. I explained that keeping my word not only showed respect for the government, but especially submitted to a requirement of Jesus. She reacted with anxious concern for the children and tried to get me to change my mind. I have to admit that I dismissed her views because my conscience told me that I must pay my vow. Despite her misgivings, Chantal eventually acquiesced to my decision. At heart we both sorely missed our homeland, hopeful that we could return to find peace and quiet.
Chapter 5 : Stepping Into the Maelstrom (1988-1994)
From 1959 to 1994, the Tutsi Diaspora in neighboring countries became a “nation” of around a million people. Many were determined to return to their home country … My brother was right. The RPF attack began on October 1, 1990…At NUR (National University of Rwanda), Hutu colleagues harassed Tutsi colleagues. Professor Vincent, a Hutu extremist, tried to prove that Tutsi inside the country shared responsibility for the rebel war. On the other hand, Professor Rose, a Tutsi colleague, did not agree. She warned, “The majority of the Tutsi here did not know how the rebel attack was organized or where it came from. So they should not be held accountable. Holding Tutsi responsible for such an event is dangerous because it may incite other people, namely Hutu, to harm them or even kill them.” However, Professor Bernard and Professor François supported Vincent’s extremist views, saying: “Tutsi should be kept under tight control and surveillance.”
Chapter 6 : Open the Floodgates of Hate
Ordinary killers could be seen with a machete in one hand and a transistor radio in the other as they went forth in their mission to hunt down men, women, and children and to chop the “cockroaches” to death. Potential victims too stayed glued to the radio, knowing that if they heard their name broadcast, the Interahamwe militia would not be far behind. If they fled their known address, neighbors helpfully contacted the stations to disclose their suspected hiding place … On April 19, RIG President Theodore Sindikubwabo came to Butare prefecture to give a speech. People expected him to be a moderate voice for peace. Instead, the good doctor surprised everyone when he branded Hutu in Butare as “ba nyirintibindeba” (irresponsible bystanders) because they had been reluctant to start killing Tutsi. He called on them to “get out of their comfort zones and get to work.”
Chapter 7 : Amidst Friend and Foe
People might scoff at the idea that our survival could be an answer to a prayer. Some would argue that many survived the genocide without praying to God. Whether it was mere coincidence or not is up to you to judge. We can only say this: We were doomed to be destroyed, but literally minutes after praying to God and begging him to bless the efforts of our friends to help us, Adolphe arrived, we escaped death—and today, we are alive. Adolphe Rwamuhizi, a Hutu Jehovah’s Witness, had a Tutsi wife, Illuminée. I had met them two years before … When we heard someone at the door, all the children scurried to hide under the beds and in the closets. Adolphe stepped in and quickly closed the door behind him … Adolphe was so happy to find us still breathing. In less than ten minutes, he organized our escape … No more explanation was needed. We had no other choice.
Chapter 8 : A Mud Wall Between Us and Death
Vincent took us to his place, a large house of adobe bricks covered with sheet metal. But our new home would be the small hut in back where Vincent’s goats used to live, a round shack with mud walls and floor. It had a straw roof, a small wooden door, and no windows. There was a single bed with a foam mattress that took up three quarters of the available space. Chantal and the children would “sleep” across the bed, and I would lie on banana leaves on the mud floor. During the day we all sat on the bed … Our days and our nights in the shack seemed endless. It is difficult to say which brought more anguish. The shack sat near a crossroads, close by the busiest market in the area. We heard the passersby gleefully exchange stories of their killing exploits and their plans for the next day
Chapter 9 : Alive in “the Grave”
The tiny underground chamber would be our safe haven for the next month and a half—we called it “the grave.” The “room” was actually a space about 6.5 feet by 6.5 feet, and 6.5 feet tall (2 m3). A wooden plank concealed the access leading to the secret chamber. A heap of sand sat atop the plank. To get to the room, we pushed the plank aside to reveal a hole about five feet (1.5 m) deep with a built-in three-step ladder. We stepped onto the top rung of the ladder and then let ourselves down until our feet reached the second rung. From there, we could touch the ground. Then we had to crawl through a four-foot high tunnel on all fours to the underground room … Frequent bouts of asthma and palpitations accompanied malaria, brought on by swarms of mosquitoes that multiplied with the rain. Fresh air barely came through the cracks. But day and night the sounds of dying and death penetrated the dirt walls, reminding us to be grateful for our lives.
Chapter 10 : Let There Be Light
Every story has an end, and this one ended for us on July 5, 1994. At 3 p.m., the soldiers came to Jean de Dieu’s door. Our relief was indescribable! Jean de Dieu felt a huge weight lifted from his shoulders now that he knew we made it through safely. I had always assured him that he could be safe with us, along with his parents and all his relatives, when the RPF came to free us … We emerged from our hideout into the blinding sunlight. We had been living in the dark for more than two months. Our skin had grown pale. The soldiers looked at us and said, “This man has been hiding white people! These are not Rwandans—they are Belgians!” These “Belgians” were speechless. We had actually lost the ability to speak aloud and could only talk in whispers.