The Rwandan genocide in 1994 killed nearly a million ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutu -- and led to a mass exodus of mostly Hutu fearing reprisals into neighboring countries.
Pierre-Claver Ndacyayisenga, his wife and three children were among the hundreds of thousands who fled Rwanda. In his recently published book “Dying to Live,” the author, a Hutu, writes about traveling thousands of kilometers on foot without food and water. The family was forced to cross dangerous rivers and hide in animal-infested jungles from rebels hunting them.
“Many people wondered how we survived for so long in that jungle of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and this is a story to tell people: that you should never give up on your life,” he recounts.
The author said he spent five years hopping between refugee camps that stretched across the Democratic Republic of Congo; from Bukavu to Tingi Tingi, Ubundu, Obilo and other regions.
In one of the most touching moments of the book, the author relates how he was nearly separated from his wife in a disagreement over which route to take. One would cross the path of former DRC President Laurent Desire Kabila and his rebels heading from Kisangani to Kinshasa to oust long-time strongman Mobutu Sese Seko. The other route, he said, would put them in the cross hairs of the Rwandan Patriotic Army, which had assumed power in Kigali.
Speaking in French, he said, “I told my wife 'I am taking the route through the forest.Better to be killed slowly by insects, reptiles and others rather than being massacred by rebels.' My wife answered 'how can we do that with the children?' She responded that she would not follow me this time; she want to go through Kisangani.”
In a chilling account, he described how their son saved the day by convincing his mother to follow his father. He held back tears while recounting the story during our interview.
While those moments make the reader cry, other episodes in the book evoke humor. Sometimes, the family commissioned the acting talents of their three-year old daughter Emerance as they passed checkpoints -- stops where they were often mistreated and robbed of all their money. So, they decided to stash everything they had in the cast the little girl wore over a broken arm.
“She was very little, so we told her that we’d leave her behind and directed her to start crying after we passed the checkpoint pretending that her parents left her behind by accident,” he said with a smile.
Ndacyayisenga said the distraction worked, and check point guards seemed more interested in reuniting her with her family than in checking her cast.
He describes the lesson he wants people to take away from the book.
“What we lived through during this ordeal happened because of previous events, and I am talking about endless ethnic conflicts; basically, I want people to understand that evil breeds evil. When someone does something bad today, someone else will eventually pay for it later. Let’s respect human beings.”