Review of Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza
This is a great book that I highly recommend.
Immaculee Ilibagiza survived the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. She was raised in a devout Catholic home. Her parents were educators. As she grew up, she became aware of the hostility between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes. This hostility had been aggravated by the Belgian colonials who played the tribes against each other to help maintain control. The 1994 genocide erupted when the Hutu president was killed in a plane crash. Tutsis who had been displaced from Rwanda after a civil war in the 1950s began a war in order to return. The Hutu government advocated the mass murder of any Tutsis that could be found. Over one million were killed. Immaculee’s family were all killed except for a brother who was studying outside of the country. Many people were hacked to death by machetes provided by the government. Immaculee was taken in by a protestant pastor along with some other women. He hid them in a small bathroom in his house. They remained there 91 days where Immaculee devoted herself to constant prayer. Bands of Hutus came looking for them on a regular basis. Eventually the women escaped to United Nation peacekeepers. The Tutsis took over the Rwandan government, and Immaculee was able to seek refuge in the United States. When she finally confronted the man who had killed her parents, she realized the only way forward was through forgiveness. Immaculee believed that the Hutu killers had been overcome by some kind of evil. In the end the entire country adopted a policy of forgiveness to all who were sorry for what they had done. Immaculee is married, has two children, and now lives in the United States.
Your Kindle Notes For:
Left to Tell
Immaculee Ilibagiza and Steve Erwin | Location: 107
More Than One Million Murdered | Location: 179
A number of very good, informative books have been published recently exploring in detail the politics and mechanics of the 1994 genocide in which, according to Rwandan government estimates, more than one million people were murdered in roughly 100 days.
Names Changed | Location: 182
However, I have changed most of the names of others who appear in the book to protect the identity of the survivors and to avoid perpetuating the cycle of hatred.
Pain | Location: 194
Their voices clawed at my flesh. I felt as if I were lying on a bed of burning coals, like I’d been set on fire. A sweeping wind of pain engulfed my body; a thousand invisible needles ripped into me. I never dreamed that fear could cause such agonizing physical anguish.
91 Days | Location: 205
I believe that God had spared my life, but I’d learn during the 91 days I spent trembling in fear with seven others in a closet-sized bathroom that being spared is much different from being saved … and this lesson forever changed me. It is a lesson that, in the midst of mass murder, taught me how to love those who hated and hunted me—and how to forgive those who slaughtered my family. My name is Immaculée Ilibagiza. This is the story of how I discovered God during one of history’s bloodiest holocausts.
Eternal Spring | Page: 3
And the weather is so pleasant year-round that the German settlers who arrived in the late 1800s christened her “the land of eternal spring.”
House | Page: 4
I was born in the western Rwandan province of Kibuye, in the village of Mataba. Our house was perched on a hilltop overlooking Lake Kivu, which seemed to stretch out forever below us.
Farm | Page: 4
The beans she prepared for our breakfast were grown in our family fields, which Mom tended every morning while the rest of us were still sleeping. She checked the crops and would then distribute tools to the day laborers and make sure that our cows and other animals were fed and watered. And then, after finishing the morning chores and getting us off to class, Mom would walk down the road to start her full-time teaching job at the local primary school.
Education for Poverty | Page: 5
Both of my parents were teachers, and adamant believers that the only defense against poverty and hunger was a good education.
Note: Very Important! I can't agree more!
Father | Page: 5
He was eventually appointed chief administrator for all of the Catholic schools in our district.
Devout Roman Catholics | Page: 6
My parents were devout Roman Catholics and passed on their beliefs to us. Mass was mandatory on Sundays, as were evening prayers with the family at home. I loved praying, going to church, and everything else to do with God. I especially loved the Virgin Mary, believing that she was my second mom, watching out for me from heaven.
Scholarships | Page: 7
He also set up a scholarship fund for poorer kids by establishing one of Rwanda’s few coffee cooperatives, allowing a dozen coffee growers to plant on his land rent free if they promised to donate a little of their profits to the fund. The program was so successful that he was able to use some of the money to build a community center, a soccer field for teens, and a new roof for the school.
Hospitality | Page: 8
Dad invited people into the house at all hours and would discuss their problems until they found a solution. He was a good diplomat and always made people feel as if they’d resolved their own difficulties.
Devotion | Page: 9
After he finished eating, Dad would make us all kneel down in the living room and recite our evening prayers.
Three Tribes | Page: 14
But our parents didn’t teach us about our own history. We didn’t know that Rwanda was made up of three tribes: a Hutu majority; a Tutsi minority; and a very small number of Twa, a pygmy-like tribe of forest dwellers. We weren’t taught that the German colonialists, and the Belgian ones that followed, converted Rwanda’s existing social structure—a monarchy that under a Tutsi king had provided Rwanda with centuries of peace and harmony—into a discriminatory, race-based class system. The Belgians favored the minority Tutsi aristocracy and promoted its status as the ruling class; therefore, Tutsis were ensured a better education to better manage the country and generate greater profits for the Belgian overlords. The Belgians introduced an ethnic identity card to more easily distinguish the two tribes, deepening the rift they’d created between Hutu and Tutsi. Those reckless blunders created a lingering resentment among Hutus that helped lay the groundwork for genocide.
First Hutu Revolt | Page: 15
When the Tutsis called for greater independence, the Belgians turned against them and, in 1959, encouraged a bloody Hutu revolt, which overthrew the monarchy. More than 100,000 Tutsis were murdered in vengeance killings over the next few years. By the time Belgium pulled out of Rwanda in 1962, a Hutu government was firmly in place, and Tutsis had become second-class citizens, facing persecution, violence, and death at the hands of Hutu extremists.
Not Prejudiced | Page: 16
They were not prejudiced; rather, they believed that evil drove people to do evil things regardless of tribe or race. Mom and Dad ignored the social and political reality they lived in, and instead taught that everyone was born equal. They didn’t want their children growing up feeling paranoid or inferior because they were born Tutsi.
Prejudice | Page: 16
Dad spoke to my teacher the next day, but he didn’t tell me what they discussed or what my tribe was, as he’d said he would. I didn’t find that out until the following week, when Buhoro held tribal roll call again. My father must have shamed him, because he spoke to me in a much sweeter voice when he summoned me to his desk before roll call. “Immaculée, stand up when I call out ‘Tutsi.’” I smiled as I walked back to my seat, thinking, So I’m a Tutsi. Good! I had no idea what a Tutsi was, but I was proud to be one anyway.
Differences Between Tutsis and Hutus | Page: 17
The differences between Tutsis and Hutus were more difficult to spot: Tutsis were supposed to be taller, lighter-skinned, and have narrower noses; while Hutus were shorter, darker, and broad-nosed. But that really wasn’t true because Hutus and Tutsis had been marrying each other for centuries, so our gene pools were intermingled. Hutus and Tutsis spoke the same language—Kinyarwanda—and shared the same history. We had virtually the same culture: We sang the same songs, farmed the same land, attended the same churches, and worshiped the same God. We lived in the same villages, on the same streets, and often in the same houses.
Ethnic Balance | Page: 18
How was I to know that my ambitions were just a silly girl’s dream? I didn’t know that those weekly roll calls served a sinister purpose: to segregate Tutsi children as part of a master plan of discrimination known as the “ethnic balance.”
Ethnic Balance | Page: 18
Because Rwanda’s population was roughly 85 percent Hutu, 14 percent Tutsi, and 1 percent Twa, most jobs and school placements went to Hutus.
Cows | Page: 19
It turns out that my father had left before sunrise to sell two of our cows so that he could send me to a private high school. Cows are status symbols in Rwandan culture and extremely valuable—selling one was extravagant; selling two was an invitation to financial ruin.
Unfriendlies | Page: 21
Clementine was right about the unfriendly faces. It was difficult to venture beyond the campus walls—whenever I did, I felt the eyes of the local people on me and heard them muttering “Tutsi” in a menacing tone. The priests and nuns who ran the school made sure that the students and local residents never attended the same Mass at the local church. We were issued strict orders forbidding us to leave school grounds without a staff escort.
Prayer | Page: 22
Damascene was true to his word and visited me once a month. We’d sit together on the grass and talk for hours. He always had good advice for me, especially when it came to studying. “Pray, Immaculée. Pray before you do your homework and whenever you’re preparing for a test or exam. Then study as hard as you can.” I did as he said, praying especially hard before math exams, and I continued to excel in school.
RPF | Page: 24
I knew about the Rwandese Patriotic Front, or RPF, and I knew that the people in it weren’t fighting simply to topple the Hutu government; they wanted to live in a country that was free and equal. Most of the RPF soldiers—the rebels—were Tutsi exiles or the children of Tutsi exiles. Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis had fled Rwanda during the troubles of 1959 and 1973, as well as the many other times that Hutu extremists had gone on Tutsi killing sprees. They’d gone into exile to save their lives and those of their families. Mr. Gahigi called the rebels “foreigners” because most of them grew up in neighboring countries such as Uganda and Zaire—but that was only because President Habyarimana enforced a policy banning exiles from ever returning to Rwanda. He’d created a Tutsi diaspora, and entire generations of Rwandan Tutsis had grown up without once setting foot in their homeland.
Prayer | Page: 32
My favorite roles were the religious ones, and once I even got to portray my favorite saint, the Virgin Mary. And I always made time to pray. More and more I found that devotion and meditation balanced me and helped me focus. I attended church several times a week and formed a prayer group with my girlfriends.
Hutu Boyfrind | Page: 33
We started dating, and over the next couple of years became quite serious about each other. John was Hutu, but it was never an issue. My father was more concerned that John was a Protestant and the son of a minister.
Bedroom Chapel | Page: 42
My bedroom was like my own little chapel. With my Bible and statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary on my night table, it was a place where I connected with God and my own spiritual energies. I knelt by my bed and looked at the statues, saying a prayer to God to protect my family from danger.
The Beginning | Page: 44
It was the morning of April 7, 1994. We didn’t know it yet, but the genocide had begun.
Scapular | Page: 51
After the attack, I went to my bedroom to get my scapular, a kind of cloth necklace that Catholics wear. The scapular is very precious to me because it’s blessed with the Virgin Mary’s promise that “whosoever dies wearing it shall not suffer eternal fire. It shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger, and a pledge of peace.” I bought it when I moved away to university, believing that if anything happened to me, my scapular would speed my journey to heaven.
Rosary | Page: 78
I clutched my rosary as though it were a lifeline to God. In my mind and heart I cried out to Him for help: Yes, I am nothing, but You are forgiving. I am human and I am weak, but please, God, give me Your forgiveness. Forgive my trespasses … and please send these killers away before they find us!
Never Pray Too Much | Page: 79
To me, those seven hours had passed in what seemed like a few minutes, yet I was utterly drained. In all my years of praying, I’d never focused so completely on God, or been so keenly aware of the presence of darkness. I’d seen evil in the eyes of the killers, and had felt evil all around me while the house was being searched. And I’d listened to the dark voice, letting it convince me that we were about to be slaughtered. Every time I succumbed to my fear and believed the lies of that poisonous whispering, I felt as though the skin were being peeled from my scalp. It was only by focusing on God’s positive energy that I was able to pull myself through that first visit by the killers. My father had always said that you could never pray too much … now I could see that he was right.
Survival | Page: 80
I realized that my battle to survive this war would have to be fought inside of me. Everything strong and good in me—my faith, hope, and courage—was vulnerable to the dark energy. If I lost my faith, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to survive. I could rely only on God to help me fight.
Prayer | Page: 85
Even a few minutes not spent in prayer or contemplation of God became an invitation for Satan to stab me with his double-edged knife of doubt and self-pity. Prayer became my armor, and I wrapped it tightly around my heart.
Corner of My Heart | Page: 95
I found a place in the bathroom to call my own: a small corner of my heart. I retreated there as soon as I awoke, and stayed there until I slept. It was my sacred garden, where I spoke with God, meditated on His words, and nurtured my spiritual self.
It Starts in the Heart | Page: 144
“The genocide is happening in people’s hearts, Jean Paul,” I said. “The killers are good people, but right now evil has a hold on their hearts.”
All Dead | Page: 147
“They are all dead. Everything I loved in this world has been taken away. I’m putting my life in your hands, Jesus … keep your promise and take care of me. I will keep my promise—I will be your faithful daughter.”
Family | Page: 147
I closed my eyes and pictured the faces of my family, and I prayed that God would keep them close and warm.
Brother Dies | Page: 154
Instead of negotiating or begging for mercy, he challenged them to kill him. “Go ahead,” he said. “What are you waiting for? Today is my day to go to God. I can feel Him all around us. He is watching, waiting to take me home. Go ahead—finish your work and send me to paradise. I pity you for killing people like it’s some kind of child’s game. Murder is no game: If you offend God, you will pay for your fun. The blood of the innocent people you cut down will follow you to your reckoning. But I am praying for you … I pray that you see the evil you’re doing and ask for God’s forgiveness before it’s too late.”
Tempted to Revenge | Page: 158
The captain offered me the perfect revenge: trained and well-armed soldiers who would kill at my command. All I had to do was whisper a name and I could avenge my family … and the families of the thousands of corpses rotting in the street. His offer came from his heart, but I could hear the devil in his voice. He was tempting me with promises of murder, when all I wanted was peace. I slipped my hand into my pocket and wrapped my fingers around my father’s rosary. “Thank you for offering to—”
God’s Forgiveness | Page: 159
There would certainly be even more bitterness after the killing stopped, bitterness that could easily erupt into more violence. Only God’s Divine forgiveness could stop that from happening now. I could see that whatever path God put me on, helping others to forgive would be a big part of my life’s work.
God’s Forgiveness | Page: 173
“If they kill me, God, I ask You to forgive them. Their hearts have been corrupted by hatred, and they don’t know why they want to hurt me.
Recovery | Page: 179
How many years—how many generations—would it take before Rwanda could recover from such horror? How long for our wounded hearts to heal, for our hardened hearts to soften? Too long for me, I decided. Looking into that soldier’s eyes, I realized that I was going to have to leave Rwanda.
A Place to Pray | Page: 184
Aloise’s house was too noisy for me to meditate. Believe it or not, I actually longed for the days in the pastor’s bathroom, when I could talk to God for hours without interruption. I remembered the joy and peace He filled my heart with during those long stretches of silent prayer, along with the mental clarity I enjoyed afterward.
Keyboard | Page: 189
I memorized every function of every button on the computer, and then I drew an exact replica of the keyboard on a piece of cardboard. I spent three days working on the computer, and stayed up three entire nights practicing, typing on my hand-drawn keyboard.
Proof of Prayer | Page: 190
I was living proof of the power of prayer and positive thinking, which really are almost the same thing. God is the source of all positive energy, and prayer is the best way to tap in to His power.
Never Alone | Page: 190
God had brought me a long way from the bathroom, and He’d walked with me every step of the way: saving me from the killers; filling my heart with forgiveness; helping me learn English; delivering me to safety; providing me with friendship, shelter, and food; and finally, introducing me to Mr. Mehu and my dream job. No matter what I’d been through in the past several months, God had never left my side; I’d never been alone.
Refugees Return | Page: 190
More than a million Tutsi refugees from the 1959 and 1973 genocides were returning to Rwanda from around the world, bringing children, grandchildren, and all manner of new cultural heritage and strange languages with them. They were changing the sound and look of the country. A million exiles returned, which was also the same number of Tutsis murdered in the genocide—a number beyond my comprehension.
Animals | Page: 196
I went straight to bed when we arrived at the camp without talking to anyone. My soul was at war with itself. I’d struggled so hard to forgive but now felt duped for having done so; I had no clemency left in me. Seeing my home in ruins and visiting the lonely, forgotten graves of my loved ones had choked the life out of my forgiving spirit. When my neighbors whispered the stories of my family’s sadistic murders in my ear, the feelings of hatred that I thought I’d banished from my soul sprang violently from the depths of my being with renewed vigor. My heart hungered for revenge, and I raged inside myself. Those bloody animals! They are animals, animals, animals!
Evil Thoughts | Page: 196
I rolled out of bed and got down on my knees. “Forgive my evil thoughts, God,” I prayed. “Please … as You always have, take this pain from me and cleanse my heart. Fill me with the power of Your love and forgiveness. Those who did these horrible things are still Your children, so let me help them, and help me to forgive them. Oh, God, help me to love them.”
They Hurt Themselves | Page: 197
The people who’d hurt my family had hurt themselves even more, and they deserved my pity. There was no doubt that they had to be punished for their crimes against humanity and against God.
The Murderer | Page: 203
His name was Felicien, and he was a successful Hutu businessman whose children I’d played with in primary school. He’d been a tall, handsome man who always wore expensive suits and had impeccable manners. I shivered, remembering that it had been his voice I’d heard calling out my name when the killers searched for me at the pastor’s. Felicien had hunted me.
The Murderer | Page: 204
I wept at the sight of his suffering. Felicien had let the devil enter his heart, and the evil had ruined his life like a cancer in his soul. He was now the victim of his victims, destined to live in torment and regret. I was overwhelmed with pity for the man.
Felicien was sobbing. I could feel his shame. He looked up at me for only a moment, but our eyes met. I reached out, touched his hands lightly, and quietly said what I’d come to say. “I forgive you.”
I answered him with the truth: “Forgiveness is all I have to offer.”
Marriage | Page: 205
So, as I’d learned to do whenever faced with a problem or challenge, I called on God. If I wanted a marriage made in heaven, what better matchmaker could there be?
Marriage | Page: 205
The Bible tells us that if we ask, we shall receive, and that’s exactly what I did: I asked God to bring me the man of my dreams. I didn’t want to cheat myself—I wanted to be very clear on the kind of person God should send me. So I sat down with a piece of paper and sketched the face of the person I wanted to marry, and then I listed his height and other physical features. I asked for a man of strong character, who had a warm personality; who was kind, loving, and tender; who had a sense of humor and strong morals; who loved me for who I was; who enjoyed children as much as I did; and, above all, who loved God.
Marriage | Page: 205
I did include one caveat: Because I loved the rosary and the Virgin Mary so much, and so many other aspects of Catholicism were important to me, I told God that He had better send a Catholic. I wanted to make sure that there would be no tension in my marriage because of religion, and that my husband worshiped God in the same way I did.
Forgiveness | Page: 205
This is the same power that I feel propelling me forward into the next phase of my life. God saved my soul and spared my life for a reason: He left me to tell my story to others and show as many people as possible the healing power of His love and forgiveness.
Forgiving the Killers | Page: 205
Similarly, a genocide survivor whose family had been murdered called me from Rwanda not long ago, crying over the phone and asking me to explain the steps I’d taken to forgive the killers. “I thought you were crazy to forgive them, Immaculée—that you were letting them off the hook. But the pain and bitterness I’ve been carrying in my heart for 11 years is about to kill me. I’ve been so miserable for so long that I don’t have the energy to live anymore. But I keep hearing people talk about how you forgave your family’s killers and moved on with your life … that you’re happy and have a husband, children, and a career! I need to learn how to let go of my hatred, too. I need to live again.”
Family Worship | Page: 205
My kids and I attend Mass together each week and pray together daily. I make sure they know that God is always with us, and if they ever run into trouble when I’m not around, to call on Mother Mary and Jesus for help. I make sure they perform their religious duties as Catholics, but I don’t need to force it upon them. To my great delight, they both have a natural love of prayer and have developed a rich spiritual life that often catches me unawares in pleasantly surprising ways.
Outdoor Trials | Page: 205
For years every jail and prison in the nation was jammed beyond capacity with the hundreds of thousands of Hutus who were either guilty or suspected of committing murders and other atrocities during the genocide. A long and painful process of public trials held in open-air courts in towns and villages all over Rwanda was established to speed up the potentially endless legal proceedings that otherwise could have dragged out for more than a century. The system allowed victims to directly confront the killers in their own communities and ask them whatever questions they wanted. The courts were imperfect, but they provided a forum for the perpetrators to confess their crimes and seek forgiveness and for the victims to offer forgiveness if they found it in their hearts to do so.
Government Policy of Forgiveness | Page: 205
The last of these trials was held just two years ago, but the act of forgiveness at the center of each trial has become a guiding principal of Rwandan government policy. President Paul Kagame, whose Tutsi rebel army drove the killers from our country and ended the genocide, has declared it the national duty to forgive any killer who sincerely seeks forgiveness. And while love and forgiveness must come from the heart and cannot be legislated, President Kagame’s heart is certainly in the right place. More than anything else, he wants Rwanda and Rwandans to heal and flourish, and he knows that forgiveness is the road we must travel to reach that destination.