From The VG Bookshelf: Left To Tell
From The VG Bookshelf: Left To Tell
This year, 2019, marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the genocide in the African nation of Rwanda. Approximately one million (1,000,000) human beings died. The American media coverage was negligible and the United States government did less than nothing. Entire villages of Tutsi and sympathetic Hutus were killed. The Rwandan government’s goal was to eliminate any evidence that the Tutsi people had ever existed. The government very nearly succeeded. Immaculee Ilibagiza was one of the few who survived. Her book, Left To Tell, is the most amazing book of family, faith and forgiveness that I have ever read.
If you have read the book Night by Elie Wiesel or Dried Tears by Nechama Tec, you know how gut-wrenching reading the personal stories of those witness to slaughter of their peoples are. This book, Left To Tell, is different. Nearly every page is filled with love. Horror and fear, yes. Descriptions of brutality, yes. But, love drenches almost every page.
Immaculee Ilibagiza grew up in a small village with teacher parents. Although her parents had graduated high school, a luxury in their village, they had high expectations for Immaculee’s two older and one younger brothers. Her parents were loving, generous and well-respected in the entire area. They did not possess a showy love. They were firm with their children, but the children knew they were loved. And, they were people of faith. They had faith in God and faith in the goodness of their countrymen. I cannot fault her parents for not seeing “The Gathering Storm”. I have been told similar stories by the Nazi Holocaust survivors I have met.
The tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes had existed for generations. The tensions were exacerbated by the Belgian Colonial government which issued cards which identified people not by state but by tribe. Tutsi were seen as having preferential treatment with Hutus and Twa (a forest dwelling tribe) seen as less desirable. Immaculee knew nothing about tribal tensions or the outbreaks of violence in 1959 or 1973. Her parents wanted their children to have an innocent and worry-free childhood. It was both their gift and their doom.
Immaculee was in her third year at the prestigious National University at Butare when her father begged her to come home for Easter. It was shortly after Immaculee arrived home that the slaughter began. Thousands of Tutsi tribes people gathered on her family’s property and her father and mother tried to calm and comfort them. Just before the killing began on the family property, Immaculee’s father sent her to a Hutu minister, Pastor Murinzi, to be hidden from the murderous Interahamwe (those who attack). Pastor Murinzi was not happy about having not only Immaculee but, initially, five other women. Later, two other women became part of the bathroom group. Left To Tell is a very honest book and I felt Immaculee’s feelings of confusion and anger at the Pastor for his mixed emotions about hiding the women. Doing the Christian thing could have cost him everything as the Interahamwe often swarmed his house yelling for the cockroaches to be killed. The village believed the women to be hidden at the Pastor’s home but couldn’t prove it.
“In Hiding” is where Immaculee truly found her faith. Confined in a three foot by four foot bathroom with seven other women, with little food and no privacy, Immaculee prayed. Often, the Devil (represented by fear and doubt) tried to disrupt her prayers. From page 84:
Immaculee describes moments when God told her what to do, when he physically lifted her out of the bathroom hiding place and when he blinded the Interahamwe to the existence of the bathroom. And, she prays. She prays her father’s red and white Rosary beads for over 90 days until Pastor Murinzi knows that the murderers are about to come and removes the women from his house and takes them to French officers. France was the only country that sent her military and the women were distrustful of the French.
The French camp was the beginning of the end of the war for Immaculee and the beginning of the real horror for her. Immaculee sets her feet upon “A New Path” that includes dealing with the loss of her family (save for one brother), continuing on her spiritual path and forgiving those who killed nearly everyone she knew.
Here is a short video from CNN in which Immaculee Ilibagiza describes her time in hiding:
Reading this book, I kept questioning if I could ever have the faith, courage, intelligence and loving heart to survive. Credit has to be given to writer Steve Erwin. He was co-author with Immaculee of this book. Immaculee had written thousands of pages and English is her third language. Erwin helped bring the book into cohesive form without losing the authentic voice of Immaculee Ilibagiza.
With racial tensions and religious hatred on the rise around the world, we must remember these genocides. We can never forget. I highly recommend Left To Tell.
Photo Composite by Darleen Click for Victory Girls