Of all the books I have read in my entire lifetime, none can be compared to Left to Tell. It has left a significant emotional impact on my life.
But I am better than my Seattle based uncle who could not read beyond chapter 3 of the book’s 24 chapters. He shipped it back to me with a complaint. “This book is not for my type, and I wonder how you muster the courage to complete it,” he said.
Left to Tell profiles the amazing story of the 1994 Rwandan genocide survivor. Immaculée Iligabiza and six other women escaped the mass murders by hiding in a 4×3 metres secret bathroom of a Hutu Pastor for 91 days. They changed positions every 12 hours.
“No one must know that you’re here, not even my children,” Pastor Murinzi warned.
No one ever cried, let alone flushed the toilet unless another toilet in the pastor’s house was flushed. “It all seemed rather trivial in comparison to staying alive,” Immaculée recalled. She had throughout lived with fear of being raped and hacked to death by the bloodthirsty Hutus who were best friends and attended school and church together before the devil soiled their souls.
She later learnt that her younger brother, Vianney was killed by machine guns and grenades after Pastor Murinzi sent him away.
Except his brother who was studying in Senegal, the author’s entire family was gruesomely murdered in the genocide. She learnt to transcend fear and physical suffering throughout the tough and daunting period. Immaculée turned to God, which provided her profound inner peace, grace and forgiveness.
How did Ilibagiza have the heart to forgive is hard to imagine. Well, her name means “shining and beautiful in body and soul?”
Until the Hutu extremists started their killing spree, Immaculée described the central African country inhabited by only Hutus and Tutus as “the best country on earth.” She could not fathom why all that beauty would dissipate to the extent that the Hutu brothers were bent on exterminating her Tutsi people.
Calling them cockroaches, extremists chanted: “Kill them, kill them, kill them all; kill them big, kill them small.” The chantings, fueled by the irresponsible media, filled the air.
Immaculée had two wars to fight: physical and mental torture. Sometimes she hated the militia so much, and wanted them to die and burn in hell. Other times she begged God “to fill me with His light and strength and to cast out the dark energy from my heart.” Ilibagiza could only find relief in connecting with God and kept praying for 20 hours. “All I could do was pray, so that’s what I did.”
Immaculée was like her brother, Damascene who smiled and prayed for his killers one of who screamed: “You Tutsi have always rated so superior to us Hutu’s… you think you’re so much smarter than we are with your Master’s Degree? Well, I want to see the brain of someone with a Master’s Degree looks like.” The killer then dug blade into his head.
She remained grateful to God, despite losing 40 pounds and having lice infested all over her body.
Immaculée’s old wounds opened when she visited her ruined home. She fainted and hit her head on the ground upon seeing the face of Damascene who was buried next to her mother. Immaculée could not look at her mother’s face.
At a refugee camp, she met the leader of the gang who was imprisoned for the mass murders, including those of her mother and brother. Immaculée described Felicien as “filthy, bruised, broken and embarrassed” person whose “feet had open, running sores.” Guess what? She held Felicien’s hands and said “I forgive you” because “forgiveness is all I have to offer.”
Iligabiza is married and worked at the United Nations in New York. She met her only remaining brother but the two discussed everything, except the genocide, forcing her to write Left to Tell so Aimable would understand their family’s tragic story.
Iligabiza used her story to bring more light to the consciousness of the 100-day genocide which saw the killing of over 800, 000 Tutsis.
So painful and inspiring.
Amazing and inspirational stuff Musa. Man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds. I was listening to Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” last night and he tells the story of the little boy who survived the Holocaust because the Germans saved him for experiments while they gassed his whole family.