Miracle escape from 100 days of living hell
2007: Illuminée Nganemariya
, a Rwandan
Genocide survivor, who now lives in Norwich
, woke up every morning for more than three months in 1994 to face the prospect that she and her newborn baby were likely to be brutally murdered that day.
Raped by a college friend of her husband’s, saved from a would-be killer thanks to a pistol’s empty chamber and left in the baking sun next to a pit full of dead victims, because the soldiers tasked with her murder could not be bothered to do their ‘work’, Illuminée staggered through the madness of Kigali. She even joined the Hutu exodus to Zaire, and probable death from cholera in the refugee camps, only to be turned back by the victorious Rwandan Patriotic Front.
Now 11 years on from the Genocide, and living in Norwich with her teenage son Roger, Illuminée (38) has finally felt strong enough to tell her astonishing tale in Miracle in Kigali. She is believed to be the first Rwandan Genocide survivor resident in Britain to publish her personal story.
Illuminée married John Nsengiyumva on April 4, 1994, two days before the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana, the spark that lit the Rwandan Genocide. Her son Roger was born on May 1 and husband John was murdered on May 10 at the height of the Genocide.
She existed for 100 days in the living hell of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, after watching her husband being dragged away to be killed by Hutu friends who had celebrated their wedding with them a month earlier.
Illuminée embarked on a horrific journey through the Genocide with her newborn son strapped to her back. At any moment a wrong move could have seen them join the 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus who were slaughtered in just three months.
She has spent the last decade living in Norwich dealing with the trauma of her 100-day nightmare and struggling to find permanent employment. She and Roger were granted British citizenship in 2004. "It is important that people know what happened to ordinary Rwandans during the Genocide," said Illuminée. "I hope that my book plays its part in helping the next generation ensure that the savagery of 1994 never happens again."
Brought up a devout Christian, Illuminee lost her faith during the genocide. “I couldn't understand how God could let it happen,” she said. “Thousands of people had sought sanctuary in the churches and been hunted down and hacked to death as they cowered beneath pews.”
For two years she struggled to rebuild a life for herself and Roger, until a surviving cousin, who worked for Oxfam, was given the chance to study at the University of East Anglia. Illuminee travelled to Norwich with cousin Esther - whose husband was also murdered - to help look after her three children.
Soon after she arrived in Norwich it took tremendous courage for Illuminee simply to steel herself to walk into a church. In Rwanda, desperate people had sought sanctuary in the churches - and thousands were cornered and massacred among the pews and prayer books.
“Even here, I was still scared,” she said. However, eventually she re-found her faith and gained a lot of support and friendship from local church-goers first at Bowthorpe Church and then at Holy Trinity in Norwich.
Illuminee will complete her journey when she recounts her gripping story, with the help of local author Paul Dickson, at both Holy Trinity Church on Tuesday November 6 at 7.30pm and then at Bowthorpe Church at 10.30am on Sunday December 23.
Miracle in Kigali, The Rwandan Genocide – a survivor’s journey
, Illuminée Nganemariya with Paul Dickson, price £10.99, is published by The Tagman Press, www.tagmanpress.co.uk
tel 0845 644 4186.
Pictured above are Illuminee and Roger.