Valentine Iribagiza

Valentine Iribagiza

Before the genocide, I lived with my father, mother, two sisters and four brothers in Nyarubuye. In 1990, 1991, 1992, people lived together and got on fine. Things began to change around 1992/1993: you would be in class, for example, and people would ask you if you were Tutsi. Being just a kid, you wouldn't understand, and you would just say yes. From then on, you were bullied, especially by the older kids; they would take your things and threaten you. You could see that some people no longer had any value.

When Habyarimana's aeroplane was shot down on 6 April 1994, we were all at home. We saw many people running in all directions. When the perpetrators started burning people's houses, we ran to the parish church. On Friday 15 April, the Interahamwe surrounded it. Mayor Gacumbitsi was with the soldiers. He told them, "Take your tools and get to work. You hit snakes on the head to kill them." They started killing. At night, they went home, but they came back next day and the day after that. I lay among the corpses and tried to hold my breath. They would throw rocks in or pick up kids and throw them in the air. They threw a stone at me and I screamed. They took me outside beating me, along with the others who were only wounded. I asked for mercy, but one of our neighbours, Pascal, said, "I recognise that brat. Isn't she from Bikoramuki's family? All the rest of her family is dead, so what's so tough about her that we can't manage her?" He kicked me and spat on the ground saying that he wouldn't splash my blood onto him. He passed me over to another one called Antoine saying, "You kill that one." Antoine took a club and hit my fingers until the bones were all smashed. Then he cut my head with a machete. I don't know what happened after that.

When I woke up, it was night. There was a strong wind, it had rained and it was cold. I had dirt and sand all over me. I looked at all the people lying next to me. They were all dead. I started moving towards a place where there were more bodies so they would they think I was dead as well. By dawn, I was very hungry. I couldn't walk so I crawled on my bottom and whenever I came across a dead body, I rolled over it. I reached a place where there was a water tap, but I couldn't reach to drink the water. I carried on as far as the room where I had been before and I lay down again among the dead bodies. It was three days after the killings, so the bodies stank. The Interahamwe would pass by without entering the room, and dogs would come to eat the bodies. I lived there for 43 days. On the 43rd day, an Interahamwe found me. He told me to hang in there, and left. 45 minutes later, some RPF soldiers came with a Frenchman. I was in a terrible state: my fingers were going bad and my head wounds were full of lice. They took me to Kibungo, where I spent six months in hospital.

After I was healed, I found out that my younger brother Gahini had also survived. Since the end of the genocide, I've seen some kids really traumatised, but it hasn't happened to me. I had to get used to having the scars and having lost my fingers; at first I had complexes and would hide my hand, but now it's okay. My brother and I are lucky to be able to live with my cousin. He's like a brother to us; he's our father and mother. We share all our problems with him. He pays our school fees and looks after us when we are sick. Reconciliation is happening, and we hope that Rwanda can return to the way it used to be. But I'll never forget, and I'll definitely tell my children about it. At first I didn't want to give my testimony because testimony is like a secret. You can't just tell it to anyone. But it's a way of fighting those who deny what happened, and it's important because of that.

A longer version of this account is published by the Aegis Trust in 'A Time to Remember: Rwanda, ten years after the genocide'.