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Natricia Duncan in conversation with a Rwandan Genocide Survivor (Part 1)

Natricia Duncan  in conversation with a  Rwandan Genocide Survivor (Part 1)


Fri, Feb 24. 2012

She walked into the radio studio looking slightly awed. As I greeted her, I tried to put her at ease. Eventually I was able to elicit a smile. It dimpled her cheeks for a fleeting moment. Then it was back to the anxious glances around the sterile, padded room with its ominous equipment… waiting to steal the truth away from her.{{more}}

I understood. She had told me she had never spoken to anyone about her experiences. She was reluctant to publish her name, so we will call her Leah.

Leah is a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide.

That day, I asked her to revisit the horror that unfolded when extremist Hutu militia decided to exterminate the Tutsis in 1994, after their President Habyarimana’s plane was gunned down.

Leah’s family was brutally murdered in the atrocity that claimed the lives of an estimated 800, 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda.

As I listened to her story, I thought about the power of hate and how it can turn men into vicious, heartless animals who are willing to massacre the people they grew up with as friends….

Leah Ferdinand:

It was dark and there was confusion, men with machetes were shouting at my mother and aunt demanding information that they didn’t have.

I screamed with all my might when they started hitting them with stones, grabbing them and tearing their clothes. I knew I could not help, that I would be next. I ran as fast as my twelve-year-old legs could take me.

When I ran out of breath, I collapsed in some bushes. I could still hear my mother and aunt screaming.

I stayed there sobbing and begging God to make the screaming stop. It seemed to go on forever. It was surreal.

Just days ago my life was normal…. I had a family, a mother, an older, adopted brother and two younger siblings.

We lived in a peaceful community with Hutus and other Tutsis. We shared everything. We went to school together… played together. But even in these times of calm, there were political forces that tried to stir things up.

At school, they made the Hutus stand on one side and the Tutsis stand on the other. This used to scare and confuse us. We did not understand why they were separating us from our friends. But that did not prevent us from being a community.

Then things changed quite suddenly, starting with protests and chanting. Then fights began to break out and they started stopping buses and blocking roads.

As children, at first we did not understand what was happening. We started to get a sense of the seriousness of the crisis when the road blocks and bomb threats forced our schools to close.

They were stoning and burning houses and we had heard that a family friend had been attacked, so my mother decided to run.

We took refuge in a school. It was terrible. We were all squashed into one room. There were children crying all the time and there was no food or water.

We could hear the shouting and commotion of what was happening outside. We were full of fear. I remember my little brother saying that he does not want to be a Tutsi anymore.

On Sunday the 3rd of April 1994, my mother, who was a Catholic, asked for my sister to be baptised. She believed if she died without this blessing she would not be saved. That, to us children, was a sign that our fate had been sealed.

That very day, my mother decided to escape to my aunt’s house. She lived just outside the city and we believed we would be safer there.

We made it and were there for a few days before things escalated.

On the 6th of April we were outside playing when we saw, from the viewpoint of the hill where my aunt lived, a fire near Kigali airport.

Then we heard on the news that President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane had been gunned down. It was then that all hell broke loose.

The next day, the genocide started. I think they first targeted those who were known to have strong political ties.

Then they went from house to house. They said they were only killing those who were politically involved, but I do not believe that – they wanted to kill us all, to wipe us from the face of the earth.

On the 8th of April, it rained and rained and from the vantage point of the hill, we could see bodies and a flow of bloody mud in the roads. We could also see men taking things from the houses of the dead. It was like being trapped in a nightmare.

It took a week for them to get to us. Maybe we should have run. But where would we have gone? We were trapped, hedged in. We had heard that the killers were everywhere.

We stayed where we were and prayed. But they came to us one night and took my older brother. They said they needed him to help with monitoring the neighbourhood. We knew it was lie.

He said his goodbyes to us and asked us to pray. It was not long before we heard him screaming.

Conclusion next Friday in SEARCHILGHT Weekend