UMULISA ODETTE.

I was born in Kibuye province at a place called Rubengera sector. The genocide started after I had gone to visit one of our family friends in Kigali. Maria was her name; she was a Hutu but a good friend to my mother and by that time, it was a holiday time.The war started after the shooting down of the president’s plane and I had stayed there for three days. I remember it was in the morning when things were becoming bitter and she told me that it is better you leave my house and go away. I was so surprised to hear all this from her simply because I had come to visit her and I didn’t know anybody in Kigali apart from her. I couldn’t even find the way or the road which could take me from Rugunga to Kiyovu. I asked her why she was chasing me out of her home. She replied that you’re a Tutsi girl and the Tutsi have shoot the president’s jet so you can not be with me, for sure I knew that Habyarimana the president had been killed but I minded less because it wasn’t me who killed him. But before the war I remember I used to ask my mother the reason as to why we didn’t have a grandfather and mother and how come in your family there are no elders? Whenever I would ask her about that she seemed to feel sad. When I was 14 years she told me that you have now grown up and I am going to tell you the reason why I don’t have my father here. She told me that in 1963 the leaders and authorities used to list or write down the names of Tutsi men and boys who were above 14 years. It’s because of that reason that your grandfather was taken with other men into the vehicle and they were killed in a place we don’t know. It was hard for me to believe because I could not imagine a person would be be killed simply for being a Tutsi; I continued to ask her: After they were taken, what was your reaction? She said to me nothing since they had nowhere to report to simply because authorities were doing it. Back in 1994 I remembered what my mother told me some years before then when the woman I had gone to visit chased me saying that I was a Tutsi girl. After chasing me out of her home, truly, I had nowhere to go, simply because I was new in the area and, to me, it was like it was the end of the world. I insisted and asked her where should I go now? I don’t look like a Tutsi because I have a big and large nose and the Tutsi they said that they have long and small noses — why don’t you allow me to stay with you? My request was rejected and she said to me that the Tutsi have done bad act of killing our beloved president, so better that I go away immediately. I went out of her house and entered the toilet which was outside and reaching there I found another who was staying in Rugunga. She was so scared and asked me what I had come to do in the toilet? I said to her that I have come to hide here so that they don’t kill me. She again asked me if I was not related to the woman I had visited and I said that she is just a friend to my mother. It was a hard time for me because I even asked the woman I found in the toilet, are we going to be killed, really? She said that it’s likely that we have to be killed and advised me to pray to GOD to forgive me all the sins I committed so that in case I die I may be welcomed by the Lord in heaven. She had a baby of one and half a year who was making a lot of noise, crying every time. I left that place and went back to Maria’s compound and again she chased me. Near her home there was another woman who was Tutsi who told me to stop behaving like a child so we can look to find somewhere to hide. But even she had no idea where to go, so I decided to return to Maria’s compound. She went to call the interahamwe to come, take me away, and be killed. This is because they had already killed many people. Someone called Billy came to take me but when he realised that I was the one then he was scared because he thought I was related to Maria. He ordered me to go with him. He had weapons all over his body and a lot of blood on his clothes, and he was telling me that we should go together and he would introduce me to the soldiers so that they might not kill me. I requested that he leave me while I go to clean myself and I gave him time to come and pick me up and he agreed. The Tutsi woman who was a neighbour named Merenia said to me, let us find somewhere to hide, otherwise our lives are in danger and once that man comes back again, we are going to be killed immediately. I agreed. She knew some people around but when we reached their homes they were not there. The woman we had gone to was called Theresa but she was a Hutu. We sat behind her door but with a lot of fear simply because it was broad day light and interahamwe were killing the Tutsi whenever they could find you.

Foolishly I later went again back to Maria’s place. Again she said to me that I should go to Doctor Jean’s family and see if they are still alive, I went there immediately but what I witnessed — oh GOD, it was beyond my imagination because they had slaughtered Doctor Jean who was a Hutu but in the process of protecting his wife, who was a Tutsi, they killed him and all his children, and wife and there was a lot of blood in the house like tap water flowing in the sitting room. While at the Doctor’s place, I collected some pictures of them because among the bodies they had not seen one girl and I thought that if I was to see her I could give them to her. They had looted every thing in the house.

Then I went back to Maria’s and gave the pictures to her sister and told her that please make sure you keep them because me, I am likely to die, so you will give these picture to her if you find her (Irene) alive. A sister of Maria’s took the pictures with me to a banana plantation where we covered them in soil. I went back to Maria’s and she told me to get a hoe and dig a big cave where I could hide myself, I tried to do that but it was impossible because I had no strength to do that and I got tired and decided to stop. As I was planning what to do, Merenia came back to me and said please let us try again to go to Theresa’s and see if she is back. Unfortunately she was not around. I was uncomfortable to that place because I could hear a voice telling me that once you stay here for long you will die. I left Theresa’s place I just walked while on my way I met a group of interahamwe with many Tutsis lined up, I was also included, and we continued to walk on our way again we met Merenia and they took her also with us, then we reached were they had planned to kill us. There we were lined up according to height and I was in the middle of the line because the first part of the line was for young children of 4 to10 years. We were so many children who were crying, asking forgiveness, saying that we will not be Tutsis again. One child said to his father, why don’t you tell them that we will not be Tutsis again, but his father I had nothing to say. Immediately they began to shoot from the first line, then the second line and for me I was on the third line but due to much fear I then fell down and bodies covered me. I was covered by dead bodies. On my God — I slept in the blood up to around 3:00 a.m.Merenia was also shot but she was still alive and she said cried out, Umulisa are you dead? I replied no, but my body was full of blood in ears, noise and in mouth, I suspected that I was also shot because of the blood. We crawled and slid down in the valley and we washed our clothes in order to remove blood all over our bodies.Even now, years later, that whenever I give a testimony of what I witnessed or what happened, I sense the smell of blood inside my body.

Later on, after we washed, we went back to Theresa to ask her to hide us but she said that no — it is tough and bitter — I cannot hide you. After her refusal we went to a busy area with Merenia and blood was coming out of her body at higher rate. We stayed there for a while and all of the time we were very hungry and thirsty, especially her, with the problem of much blood coming out of her body. Merenia said we should leave this place and go to Hélène’s place were she had kept her clothes Upon reaching there Helene’ told us that I have nowhere to hide you because my husband is also killing people, she brought the suitcase and Merenia told me to pick the clothes that would fit me. I remember I chose a nice outfit and whenever I think of this I laugh at myself because it reminds me how childish I was. After getting the nice clothes we went back to the busy area again but Merenia was not content to stay there for along time and she said to me, I have a national identity card as a Hutu so I am going to try to see if I can go to Butare. I told her please don’t go, because your physical appearance matters, and nobody will allow you to go and immediately they will kill you. She insisted and decided to go and that was the last time I saw her. What I know is, she probably died on her way.

I remained alone in the busy area because Merenia had gone; I remember it had rained heavily, I was hungry, thirsty and decided to go back to Helena’s place again even though her husband had been killing people. When I reached there she was again surprised to see me again and see that I was still alive but she advised me to go back to Maria, the one I had first visited. I had nothing else to do so I then went back to Maria. She was very surprised to see me alive after such along time because by that many people had been killed in the area. She said to me – Umulisa, I have a solution for you. Better go to Sibomana who was responsible for issuing national identity cards and convince him how you lost your identification, but say you are a Hutu. She directed me to the road but I took a different route. Unfortunately I found a roadblock with five interahamwe. They stopped me and asked me where I was going and where I had come from? I said to them that I was from Maria’s place. One of militia said, why are you deceiving me — I know all people who stay with Maria — how is it that I don,t know you! He said to me that you are a cockroach (Inyenzi). I said that I am not, but he insisted and said I was a Tutsi girl. I again said no – please! He asked me my name and I told him that I am Umulisa. He laughed and laughed and said that Hutu’s don’t have names like that, therefore you are Tutsi. The interahamwe told me I had better tell me the truth because if they proved me wrong, then I would be killed immediately. He ordered me to sit down; he looked and checked my fingers and legs and after checking he said, you are Tutsi. Then I finally agreed. I was told to stand there and he went a distance away. He was planning to kill me but among the militia, there was an old man who resembled a Tutsi and I looked at him kindly so that he might help me. But he didn’t help me. So that interahamwe called Ruzindana targeted me in his trigger but as he was going to shoot another militia man told him to stop. He said don’t kill that girl there because she will smell for us and we do not have a hoe so that we can bury her. Better leave her and wait for the vehicle which has gone to bring other Tutsi to be killed and she will be included. As time was passing by, another militia came and asked them what about that girl and what is she doing there? They replied that she is a cockroach. He said he doubted that girl really is a cockroach! Then Ruzindana told him that you have not understood what I have been saying, she is a Tutsi girl. Immediately that interahamwe came near me and asked me my names, where I was going and where I was staying? I told him my names and I told him that I was staying in Kibuye in place called Rubengera. Luckily, the man knew the place because he was also from the same area so he become sort of kind to me and asked me if I knew a pastor called Nzabahimana, I told him that he is my pastor and his wife is a good friend to my mother — oh God, the man was related to my pastor’s wife! He went back to his militia and he requested that they not kill me. They agreed because must have convinced them very sincerely. He then returned to me and said that they have agreed to spare you. So where are you going now? I told him that I was going to Habimana to get an identification which described me as a Hutu. He advised me not to go there because the man there was killing many Tutsis. Then he requested me to go with him but I didn’t trust him. Although he had requested his fellows not to kill me, I feared he would probably rape me. I asked him to let me go back to Maria and inform her that I would not see Habimana but in my mind I was planning to go back to the busy area because it had become my safest place. In the evening I went to Helena and she gave me something to eat and told me that she was going to hide me for a day and then we would plan where to go. She was willing to hide me but her husband was an interahamwe killer, so she never wanted me to be killed at her place. She tried to find other people to hide me and then I returned to the bush but I could see people passing and I saw Buhiri, one of Theresa’s sisters. She was afraid to talk to me but promised to ask Theresa to hide me. In the evening Helena came to pick me up and she took me to Theresa. Then I was given a room next to a sitting room but interahamwe were searching for me because they had not seen my body among the dead bodies. I stayed with Theresa for three weeks and I was with a little boy called Mishove, whom I considered as my brother. One time he came and said to me that today I will die! I asked him why are you saying this, but he told me that he was just feeling it. Nevertheless, when it was approaching midnight, Mishove told me that he was missing his mother and when I tried to stop him from leaving he vehemently refused. While trying to reach his home he was killed with all of his family members except for one boy who jumped over the vehicle that had taken them to be killed. I told Helena that Theresa had ordered me to leave and go elsewhere. Oh God, she was surprised to hear this but she again promised to go to another woman and request that she hide me. That woman was staying in Biryogo. The problem was how to reach there because of the roadblocks. But that woman by the name of Mama Sania had agreed to hide me. Helena explained how I could get to her place but due to my fear I got lost. I came to a roadblock, and there was an old man standing there. He stopped me and told me that I was a cockroach and I said no, please! He ordered me to sit down and I realised that he was very old and I decided to run away because he was unable to run after me.I went to another house across from Mama Sania’s house and then I knocked and a man (Emmanuel) opened the door and asked me where I was going. I told him and then he directed me to Mama Sania.

When I got there and I greeted her, I told her the reason why I had come to her place. She said to me, Umulisa I will not be able to hide you! Immediately I became desperate or I lost all my senses and asked God — why don’t I get killed instead of suffering this way because everybody has rejected me? I went outside crying and crying. Then she said to me, Umulisa, I am a Moslem and I fear God and once I leave you and you get killed, then God will judge me for not having helped you, so please come back into my house.

When I entered the house, I found many people in the house and most of them were similar to me. There were some older and there was a girl who had faced a terrible situation because they had raped her and she was stinking in her private part and bleeding from there. I got very worried about this girl because she was in pain and then I started to look after her as Mama Sania was trying to get some people who were cut into pieces but not yet dead and bring them in. I remember one time she brought a man who was cut all over his body, he was called Minani and she gave me the responsibility to look after him and try to prepare hot water for his wounds by washing them.This man, after gaining strength, asked me the relationship I had with Mama Sania. I just said to him that she is my relative. He said but you look to be Tutsi! I also asked him the reason why he wanted to know my tribe. He said that I am Hutu from Burundi. Then I asked him how come he was in Rwanda? He said that they were staying in a refugee camp in Bugesera, but when the war reached that place he was very afraid. I continued to help him as I was doing it without considering that he was Hutu, as his life continued to be worse he told me I am going to die but with evil in my heart. I asked him, why? He said that I hated the Tutsis! Oh God, I got scared and worried. However he then said to me, I ask you to forgive me because I realised I hated Tutsi for no good reason because I have learned a lesson from you and I asked God to forgive me for having hated Tutsis. I told him that I have forgiven you. We then shook hands and he promised to pray for me so God will rescue me. After a week, the RPF took over Kigali city and all people were advised to leave the houses and go to St Andrew’s Church. Mama Sania told all of us to go to St Andrews and she remained with that girl who was sexually abused (raped). We went to St Andrews and we stayed there until the war ended in Kigali and when I went back to Kibuye all my people had been killed except my young brother who survived. Then I was taken to an orphanage centre in Gitarama. I went and brought him, we stayed together. My mother had not yet died and  I tried to get medicine for her but simply because she was beaten so badly she died immediately after the war.

On the Gacaca issue it’s good simply because if those who killed confess and ask forgiveness at times it helps the survivors to get to know where their loved one’s bones are and then bury them with the respect they are due. But, in addition, Gacaca causes headaches for me, especially when people who killed are frankly speaking without fear or sadness, they then release them without even punishment. I consider it bad for me to attend Gacaca because whenever I do attend (afterward) I spend like a week, very sad and traumatized. On reconciliation, they should find another term to use because according to my understanding, reconciliation means sharing views, secrets and every thing with the person who killed your relatives and family members That is very hard for me — maybe (alright) for those who still have some relatives but not for me. I can’t reconcile or unite with those who killed my parents. This will never be for me and it is because of that, I had hated God but later I asked for forgiveness. The reason why I had hated God is that his son did not suffer the way the Tutsis suffered because he suffered for only three days and later he was resurrected but the Tutsis suffered for much longer after the world was created. I don’t say that we should (seek) revenge against those who killed our beloved people but pretending is not reconciliation. I pray to the almighty that my children should never face this (again) in their lives because it was really to shake the hands with the devil. Because Tutsis were like goats the way they were slaughtered from 1959-1994. I have two children now, a girl and a boy, 5 years and 11 years respectively. I am happy with my children. The boy resembles my father, who I loved so much, more than anybody in this world.

Note: After this interview was conducted by Stephen Gatsinzi in the spring, 2007, it was discovered that another, shorter version of Umilisa Odette’s story was published in the 2006 Aegis book entitled We Survived: Genocide in Rwanda – 28 Personal Testimonies

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5 Responses to “Umulisa Odette’s survival and her rescue”

  1. Denise Says:

    Continue to be a hero!
    Mama Kevin I did not know your story!
    Continue to be a hero, we will live and live better
    May God continue to give you strength and the good heart
    I could not leave without saying something. It was necessary because my heart was broken.
    So be strong and struggle to live.

    submitted on 26 August 2008

  2. Nkubito Emmanuel Says:

    You should live better
    After reading your story more than 10 times mama Kevin, and the way you interact with Rwandans in the normal life, it’s hard to believe that you passed through that hardship which is like the calvary from Rugunga to St Andrew. What I can tell you Umulisa is that you were born a hero and with love. This is because your family had the same qualities. You have the right to live even if you and your family you were denied and persecuted but we have to struggle for life.
    NEVER AGAIN TO GENOCIDE AND THE GENOCIDE IDEOLOGY
    Let us struggle for life and to live
    (Submitted on 26 August 2008)

  3. Uwamurengeye Alfred Says:

    Mama Kevin what I can tell you is that you are a hero because the way I know your good behavior nobody can easily understand what happened to you. I wish you to continue forgiving even Jesus before his death he forgave those who wanted to kill him but again never forget.

    (first submitted on 08 June 2008)

  4. Denise Says:

    Continue to be a hero!
    Mama Kevin I did not know your story!
    Continue to be a hero, we will live and live better
    May God continue to give you strength and the good heart
    I could not leave without saying something. It was necessary because my heart was broken.
    So be strong and struggle to live

    (submitted on 26 August 2008

  5. Nkubito Emmanuel Says:

    You should live better
    After reading your story more than 10 times mama Kevin, and the way you interact with Rwandans in the normal life, it’s hard to believe that you passed through that hardship which is like the calvary from Rugunga to St Andrew. What I can tell you Umulisa is that you were born a hero and with love. This is because your family had the same qualities. You have the right to live even if you and your family you were denied and persecuted but we have to struggle for life.
    NEVER AGAIN TO GENOCIDE AND THE GENOCIDE IDEOLOGY
    Let us struggle for life and to live
    (submitted on 05 November 2008)


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