Every year, Rwanda commemorates the Rwandan Genocide. One such person who equally does the same is a courageous African woman, Immaculee Ilibagiza. I know that her first name is supposed to have an accent on top of one of the ‘e’s, but I couldn’t for the life of me, manage to get the correct French version of her name from the computer I was using to type this. So kindly bear with me.
Anyways, I first encountered the name Immaculee Ilibagiza while poring over the Internet as is my habit. For some reason, I was interested in finding out a little bit more about the Rwandan genocide, where an estimated 800,000 Tutsis lost their lives at the hands of the Hutu Interahamwe(militia). Having shared a class in campus with quite a number of Rwandese students, I know for a fact that these people chose to rise up from the ashes and therefore do not, at any time, identify with tribe.
Probably something that we Kenyans need to seriously emulate.
The issue of having someone you have just met identify himself/herself by the tribe he/she comes from, needs to seriously go. And I say this with a lot of passion since judging from my quite unique second name, Likiza, I have encountered numerous people in the past who kept on insisting that I tell them from which tribe that name belonged. Well, for the still curious ones, it is a Swahili name. And if you check on the back pages of the Kamusi (Swahili dictionary), you are sure to find it, same way I did.
And so as I stumbled upon real life stories of survivors of the Rwandan genocide, I got acquainted with Immaculee. For a while, I seemed to have forgotten about her until quite recently, when I happened to watch her for a brief second on TV being interviewed by TV Anchor, Victoria Rubadiri. I then knew that I had to do a post about her.
Born in 1972, Immaculee Ilibagiza was in college and home for the holidays, when the killings began. Her father, a devout catholic, asked her to run to a pastor’s house, a distance away and beg him to hide her. The pastor was a Hutu but a friend of the family and by the grace of God, he accepted to hide Immaculee together with 6 other women in a tiny bathroom, that was rarely used in a hidden part of his house. About 3 feet by 4 feet in size. For 91 days, Immaculee together with her female companions stayed hidden in the bathroom while taking turns in stretching and standing.
When it became too cramped, they moved to a larger room but it was a highly unsafe move since the Interahamwe hunted day and night for Tutsis to butcher to death. Immaculee, sadly, lost most of her family in the genocide: both of her parents and 2 brothers. Only she and a brother who had been away studying in Senegal at the time while oblivious to the going ons in Rwanda survived.
Immaculee therefore credits her survival of the genocide, to prayer and a set of rosary beads gifted to her by her father prior to going into hiding at the pastor’s house. During that whole period she hid, cramped in the tiny bathroom, she spent most of her time praying the rosary fervently.
After the ordeal, Immaculee got once more lucky and landed a job with the UN. In 1998, she immigrated to the US. Friends and co-workers would later urge her to transform her story into a manuscript. This led to the publishing of her first book in March 2006, Left to tell; Discovering God amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.
It should be noted that Immaculee chose to forgive the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide who equally killed most of her family members. Indeed a highly courageous thing to do. She has since continued to preach forgiveness, peace as well as the power of praying the rosary. As a result of her humanitarian efforts, Immaculee has won numerous accolades.
Having not been on the ground to experience the genocide, I can’t quite say that I totally understand the magnitude of it. I can only try my level best to empathize with what the survivors of the horror went through from their stories. Am however deeply awed by the courage of this woman Immaculee. To be able to have such a profound faith in God in times of deep trouble one can only imagine, is indeed something that deserves to be admired.
Her story speaks out to all the survivors, male/female, of whatever wars they have had to encounter and experience in their respective nations. That when it seems like everybody around you has lost that humane part, there is still that one person that you can put your faith and trust in. And that person is God. Her story equally shows us that not all the Hutus participated in the massacre of the Tutsis. There were still those Hutus that you could depend on.
It shows us that we do not have to turn our backs on a neighbor and friend in need, just because of political tensions in our country, which dictate that certain tribes are our enemies and others our friends.
If I were to go on and on about all the inspirations and wake up calls we get from this particular woman’s story, I would probably stretch this post more further than intended. And so to cut this short, I believe that Immaculee is a perfect example of an overcomer of war and adversity, who did not use the usual weapons to kill and maim, but rather the powerful unseen weapon of forgiveness and faith.