My strongest memory of the genocide, the one that hurts me most, is the night of 13 April 1994. That was the day they came to kill my family. I was away from the house, in hiding, but Mum came to find me. She knew I was very hungry because by then nobody could cook any food. There was practically nothing left in the house. By then people were bribing the hungry Interahamwe [Hutu militia] with food – to let them live a few days longer. At home the only thing we had left was beans. Mum knew I didn’t like beans and so she brought me some vegetables and passion fruit. She told me, “I couldn’t find anything for you to eat…The people I told you about – the ones who don’t like us – took everything away from me. I don’t have anything to give my child.” Then she added, “Try to eat this, it will be OK. Be strong.” Today, passion fruit still reminds me of that last meal my Mum gave me.
I also remember that before she was killed, Mum told me I had to be strong. She said that if my sister and I survived, I had to be a man. Those are the two things still on my heart to this day. I was there when the perpetrators came to kill my family. They came saying, “We’re tired, we’ll take these two fat kids [Freddy and his sister] later.” So they took the younger ones; my sister Rosette and I were left behind. We saw them being taken with our own eyes and they were killed not far away. We couldn’t see it happening, but we could hear them screaming…They took Mum far away to kill her. Later at night, I went with another boy to find her body. We rushed there and buried her. We simply covered her with soil. So I saw my Mum’s body, but not the rest of the family. I just heard my sisters being killed. I didn’t see my father killed – people told me about it later.
I know some of the killers very well. One of them wanted to rape my sister, but he didn’t succeed. I know the people who took them away. They were our neighbors, among them a man called Benoit who had been our neighbor for years and owned a shop nearby. He was Mum’s friend and he even used to lend her money for me to go to school. They got on very well. He was one of the leaders of the group that took them. And there was another young man called Kanani – Mum had been his teacher in primary school. Some people inside the compound tried to fight off the killers, but it was Kanini who held on to Mum when they took her out of the house. Later, he let go of Mum’s hand and she ran away. But they found her again and she was beaten to death with clubs.
The memories usually come back to me in April. That’s when I have nightmares and I see people killing other people…I see Interahamwe killing people. But otherwise I’m lucky, I rarely have nightmares. Another thing I keep remembering is how they used to chase people from their hiding places in the bushes and run after them with dogs. Once they caught them, you could hear the screams that meant they had been killed. The killers ran after people as if they were animals. Tutsis were no longer considered human beings then. The killers were like animals as well. They acted as if they were killing something else, not human beings.
It’s hard to describe how I felt during the genocide. I was so afraid. I used to imagine a machete cutting my neck all the time – or my neck on the ground. All the time I was hiding in the roof of someone’s house, my heart was full of fear. They sometimes used to let me sit near the fire because I was freezing in the cold. I used to hide behind a big sieve (for sorghum) so that whoever was making the fire couldn’t see me. I was so afraid and lost all hope of survival. But then I reached a point where I wasn’t scared any more. I was no longer afraid of death. Death or life, it meant nothing any more.
Sometimes my sister and I would walk along the road. We walked a lot but we weren’t afraid of passing the roadblocks. There was only once we were frightened. That was in a place called Mwendo in Kibuye. They took us up to the roadblock and asked if we were Tutsis. We told them we weren’t, but they looked at us and said we must be Tutsis because of our soft hair. They told us to stop lying to them. They asked me to dig my own grave and I refused. They said the burgomaster would judge our case and took us to the commune. We ended up spending a night in a cell because the burgomaster was drunk. But I wasn’t afraid. I had lost my fear after my parents were murdered and after all the terrible things I had experienced. Only my sister Rosette and I survived.
AFTER THE GENOCIDE
I personally believe that surviving was partly a matter of luck – but it’s also a great responsibility because many survivors are very poor and don’t even have life’s basic necessities. That’s why those who have something to share need to feel responsible for those who have nothing. I also think that surviving is a privilege because when I consider what happened in Rwanda, all the determination of the killers and their accomplices, it’s a miracle that some people managed to survive.
It’s hard for other people to understand our experiences. Obviously not everyone can understand what I went through. Some people didn’t even want me to live – they still don’t want me to be alive today – and they’re not happy to see me prosper. Those who went through similar things do understand, especially those who share our lives daily.
In the future, I want to carry on working to help survivors. I’ll need to invest a lot more effort into it because I know survivors have many problems. So I’m ready to work for them my whole life. I was lucky; I’m not handicapped, so I want to make use of my luck to help others.
It’s difficult to forgive and I don’t even know where to start. Who should I forgive anyway? The former Government? Individuals? I look around and I don’t even know where to start because so many people involved in the genocide. Personally, I’m not ready to begin that journey of forgiveness.
Forgiving is difficult, but it’s not impossible because the few genocide survivors can’t develop Rwanda by themselves. We all need to combine our energy to develop our country. But I think it’s better for those who committed the crimes to start asking for forgiveness. They should come to us to talk about it. Let’s say if it’s a Hutu who killed, he should come and say, “I killed people and I am really sorry.” They should show us that they are truly sorry. Then things could proceed.
And the countries involved should also use their power to help survivors in need. I’m not among them because I’m not handicapped; I’m able to work for myself. But what about the orphans, the kids who look after themselves and have other responsibilities as well, how do they survive? The countries involved should do something to show they care about them.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE GENOCIDE?
I think we can learn from the genocide. A lot of people had to grow up very quickly. They had to take on responsibilities while they were still young. Their experiences made them forget they were still young. It wasn’t a good experience but it taught us important lessons – about knowing who you are, how to behave and consider others.
There are also lessons for the international community – that it’s very important to keep one’s word, that they did very little to save people who were dying in our country. They also need to know about the survivors, that they need to live a good life. The international community needs to know that the genocide actually happened. It should show respect to the victims and acknowledge that those victims were innocent people
I dream of having a family one day and I’m sure I’ll achieve it.
I want to help other survivors as we join together to fight against the consequences of the genocide. I dream of a developed Rwanda and I’m determined to fight all genocidal ideologies. I want to see us build our nation. We can only do that if we consider the younger generations and work to remove all bad ideologies from their minds.
This interview was filmed in 2008 by 3 Generations at the Kigali Memorial Center in Rwanda. Special thanks to Aegis Trust and the Kigali Memorial Centre.