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My Story

My name is Valentina, a 16 year old orphaned resident of the Nyarubuye Village, Kibungo Province of the Rwandan Capital Kigali, Africa. I am currently living with my aunt and two other orphans in the same village where my entire family was slaughtered three years ago. I may have a similar unfortunate and terrifying experience in our village with other children but I know that each one of us has a unique story to tell. I was a doting 13 year old girl who enjoyed playing with other kids in our village.

My parents have lived here for as long as I can remember and we called this place fondly as our home. The events prior to the incident in my village have never bothered me and my playmates whose main concern was gathering and eating the sweet banana yield. We all went to the same school, played on the same yard and went to the same village church, the Roman Catholic Church of Nyarubuye. Although we have heard about certain references about Tutsis and Hutus, we never understood any point of reason for such designation.

As far as we knew, we all have the same skin color, belong to the same race, enjoy the same kind of food and entertainment and have the same government whose main concern is the welfare and security of every Rwandan. Our peaceful and carefree lives were drastically shattered on a fine April day when news spread quickly that the Tutsis and Hutu moderates were being hunted down in other villages. We all gathered together in the village church to pray and ask God for an end to the evil events that started ten days after President Habyarimana was assassinated.

My friends told me that they overheard the adults in our village talking about the Tutsis being blamed for the death of the president and were hunted by the Hutus. I have also learned from my mother and father that we belong to the Tutsi tribe which should be a reason to stay indoors. Later in the day, a neighbor informed us that Tutsis were being attacked in the marketplace. The village elders advised my parents to bring their families to church and seek solace in a place of worship where evil men would think twice before attacking us.

We all fled to the village church and saw other villagers arriving with fear in their eyes. Children began to huddle together with their parents sensing signs of gloom. In the afternoon, Mayor Gacumbitsi arrived together with our Hutu neighbors carrying knives and machetes with 30 soldiers as escorts who surrounded the church. What happened next was beyond my comprehension as the men told us to give them whatever money we have in our possession and be spared from what they intended to do to us. The adults offered them all they had but after taking all the money they started killing everyone.

Someone said that we were snakes and one way to kill us would be to smash our heads. We were all terrified then as the killers started hacking us like rodents. No one was spared as anyone who made any movement would be smashed in the head with stones or hacked with sharp machetes until they die. I could hear the cries of women and children begging for mercy while others scampered away to escape as the killing raged on. My father and Frodise, my 16-year old brother was instantly killed along with other adults. I wanted to beg for mercy and spare our lives to the Hutu men.

These men were our neighbors, fathers of other children I went to school and played with. Surely, they wouldn’t try to harm kids like us? But as I heard babies crying and saw them plunged headlong into latrines, I knew then that no one will be spared from the murderers who wanted to kill us all. In the frenzy, I got hit in the head and hands with a machete and started bleeding heavily. The pain reminded me of my mother and I suddenly missed her warmth and comfort. I slowly crawled to her calling her name softly, lest anyone would hear me. My mother never responded and I knew then that she was dead.

I lay beside her lifeless body on the ground seeking for warmth and pretended that I was also dead. Amidst all the noise, the evil men were still shouting at each other “Catch them, don’t let them get away. ” In four days, the killings continued in the mornings while the butchers rested during the night. They guarded the church grounds to make sure that none of the wounded escaped. There was blood all over the ground as mother’s body began to grow very cold and rigid. The entire room was now littered with dead bodies of people I knew frozen fear etched in their lifeless forms.

I saw a slight movement and noticed Placide slowly coming towards me. He too was alive just like me and we slowly crawled to where there were less bodies littered on the floor. I felt so alone then and missed my family so much. I did not know what to do amidst the stench building up around the church and the flies swarming like bees feasting on honey. I thought that we were probably the only ones alive in the country except for the bad people who were waiting to kill us. I did not want to move anymore as weakness enveloped my entire system. I knew that I will die just like my mother and join her soon.

As the rain started pouring, I drank rain water while Placide silently scoured around for scraps of food and wild fruit that we could eat. I became too weak to move and just laid there waiting for death to take its toll. But the days passed and the stench grew. The bad men had stopped coming and other children began emerging from their hiding places. I was glad to see other children alive because the older ones helped feed me. We exchanged our experiences and knew that all of us had lost our families. In the evenings, the wild dogs began appearing and eating the dead bodies of our families.

It was a terrifying sight to see someone you know being eaten by animals in front of you. I no longer fear the dark night because then I know that the bad men had gone home. The ghost stories that our mothers used to tell could no longer evoke fear because we were safer among them. The horrible smell permeating the air was our aid in driving all the bad men away. But we had to stay in the church where our dead family members lay for we had no one to turn to and bad men were waiting to kill us. Nobody wanted us because we were Tutsis and filthy snakes who all deserved to die.

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