The killing reached Bugarama on April 16. How gladly I would forget all I saw that day, but – as war veterans can confirm – such images are seared into the brain as if by a camera’s flash. Why revisit that day’s events, then, if they were so horrific? I feel I owe it to the people who died; if I don’t tell, who will even know that they lived? Also, I write for the sake of history. If a nation’s shameful deeds are not to be repeated, they must be recognized and remembered – not swept under the rug…
So, as a witness to the genocide against the Tutsi, I must tell what happened, no matter how painful it is for me to write. I hope my account will help ensure that nothing like this ever happens again, anywhere on earth. But I also write because genocide is not the end of the story – not for me and not for my beloved country.
The terrifying noise of splintering wood and metal told me our iron-clad back door had given way. At their roar of entry, we scattered. I leapt for the bathroom, Christian on my back in his ingobyi. The sounds that came through the bathroom door in the next minutes were unutterably horrible – savage roars, slashing metal, thumps, thuds, screams . . . I knew Christian and I, and my unborn child, would be next.
Certain there was no way to escape death now, I hurled a last desperate prayer at God: “Why didn’t you tell me the truth? You promised to protect us, and now we are going to die! You have totally failed me!” My next thought was that we were about to enter heaven. My fear departed in that instant. I felt strong, ready to die. I straightened my shoulders and crossed my arms.
Just then, the locked doorknob rattled and a triumphant bellow burst through the thin wooden door. It took only seconds for the steel axe to crash through. Then five Interahamwe were crowding into the small space, getting in each other’s way, peering at me. One of the killers raised a dripping red blade. Contempt twisted his features, and his body gleamed with sweat. Grenades, hanging from his belt, clicked with every move, and strips of ammunition
crossed his naked chest. But these fiends did not need bullets – they worked with steel.
“I’m going to kill you!” he gloated.
“Why?” I challenged.
“You Tutsi killed Burundi’s president last year!” His accent told me he was Burundian.
“I had no part in that,” I replied.
Another shoved forward, demanding, “Give us money!”
“It’s in my bedroom.”
Cursing, and tripping over each other, the five pushed their way back into the corridor. I passed between them, and they followed. I entered my room. Anselm was curled on the floor behind the half-open door. His head was split open, and the wall behind was splashed with his blood. Beside him lay the girls. Aline looked dead, though I saw no wounds. Thérèse’s body quivered and jerked. She was bleeding from deep gashes.
Under my pillow was the wallet that saved Christian and me, containing papers and 170,000 Rwandan francs, about $400. I gave it to the leader, who lost no time dividing the cash.
“Don’t bother with her,” he scoffed. “Let’s get going!”
“She’s a Tutsi – kill her!” another retorted, raising his machete.
But the leader grasped his arm, pulling him out to continue their hunt. The others followed. Christian had remained motionless on my back.
I fainted to the floor.
When I came to, I had a split-second reprieve – thinking I was waking from a nightmare. But the sights and smells were all too real. I felt an instant’s shocked amazement that I was alive. Then my thoughts flew to my four-year-old – where was he? Charles-Vital was not among the dead and dying. Frantically, I searched the rooms for my child.
Stepping outdoors, I saw my houseboy, Samuel – and at his side stood my son. I swayed and almost collapsed again, from sheer relief at seeing him alive and unhurt.
Samuel, however, gestured madly, crying, “Go back inside! They said they would come back for you. I don’t want to see them kill you!”
Swiftly passing little Christian to Samuel, I fled back indoors. Leaving my children tore me in two, but they had a better chance with my Hutu houseboy than with me.
I glanced around the apartment, but there was no adequate hiding place. Then I heard Manasseh’s urgent whisper from my room, “Denise, here – crawl under the bed!”
It was dark down there. I tried to wedge myself sideways between the concrete floor and mattress board, but there was not enough space. My arm felt wet – and I realized I was lying in my relatives’ blood. With the strength of desperation, I squeezed under the bed. I could feel every bone in my trembling body. The baby within kicked in protest.
Oh little one, will you live before you die? If only I could fly like a bird, airlifting my children to safety. . . .
I was breathing blood; its odour filled my mouth and nostrils. Horror, around and within me, was swamping clear thought. Manasseh’s back was pressed against mine, and I sensed his terror. He had seen and heard even more than I had. His teeth were chattering, and occasional spasms convulsed his body. Like him, I knew the killers would return. Without doubt they would find us in their macabre game of hide-and-seek, and then . . .
But I mustn’t panic, can’t let fear paralyze my mind. For my children’s sake, I must collect my wits.
Hours passed. Darkness came, hiding the ghastly tableau in my home and in countless Tutsi homes throughout our town and across Rwanda.
With nightfall, Interahamwe took a break from their gruesome labor. I could hear their bragging from the bar across the road. Some were voices I heard every Saturday night; others were strange. With a fresh pang of fear, I recognized the Burundi accent I had heard at noon. Was it the killer I had confronted?
From my awkward position under the bed, I caught fragments of their boasts. “Cockroach” was the word I heard most: I slit inyenzi’s throat . . . cut her in pieces . . . stuck him up on a pole . . . hung him . . . clubbed her to death . . .
One man was so loud, his remarks carried distinctly across the road: “We will exterminate every last cockroach, no matter where they hide! Our children will ask, ‘What’s a Tutsi?’ and we will tell of an extinct tribe, a people of the past!”
The raucous cheers and rough laughter continued hour after hour. Exhausted, I finally dozed off. . .
I snapped awake. I had heard my name. “. . . Denise Uwimana. Manasseh must be somewhere too. We’ll find them both, no problem. Tomorrow they die!”
Now that I was alert, I realized with dismay that something besides their words had wakened me. My discomfort was more than my strained position; the wetness I felt was more than the blood on the floor. My waters had broken.
Within me, steady pressure was building, then receding . . . and again. I had to face the fact that I was in labour – that in a matter of hours, my baby would be born. Oh little one, you could not have chosen a worse moment in the
entire history of the world . . .
Extract taken from From Red Earth: A Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness, by Denise Uwimana, which is available on Amazon here. Used with permission.