Subjects: going to an Italian Catholic school, wanting to be a priest or go to seminary school, religion class, family of mixed religious practices, attending church every day, friends at church, selecting his confirmation name
Hyperlink: Jean-Claude Van Damme
Subjects: older brother going to college, seeing his brother get shoes for the first time, family in the city, privileges with education
Subjects: selecting preferences for university, riding in a car for the first time, inspiration from uncle living in Bujumbura, Lake Tanganyik, seeing a shower for the first time
Subjects: Twa, Hutu, Tutsi, Pygmy, as a child not noticing differences between Hutu and Tutsi, respect and sharing between each other, Twa tribal differences, Tutsi owning land and cattle, Hutu working for Tutsi people
Hyperlink: Ethnic groups in Rwanda
Subjects: learning that Hutu have killed Tutsi, privilege to study and serve in the library, the election of 1993
Hyperlink: Melchior Ndadaye
Keywords: "Today is this. I’m going to cut your throats.”
Subjects: Radio being disconnected, Coup in Rwanda, mistreatment by instructor
Hyperlink: Death of Rwandan President
Keywords: "Outside, they are screaming. They are chopping off the ears of kids. They are hitting machetes in their necks. They are beating the kids. I’m terrified."
Subjects: Tutsis being tied together to be burned alive, Gilbert being placed in isolation after Headmaster decides he wants to crucify him, Gilbert being stripped of his belongs and clothing, beating children to paralyze them
Keywords: "And finally, I’m like, You know what? I’m going to die outside. If they kill me—if they chop off my head—fine. At least, my parents when they come to get—to see a piece of me, they’ll be able to see a piece of Gilbert."
Subjects: escape, being chased by guards, planned parts of genocide, dangers of ignorance
Subjects: women giving him water and jacket, lying about his ethnicity, Hutus measuring Gilbert's nose, forehead, ankles and hands
SLOAN: Hi, this is Stephen Sloan. The date is October 28, 2015, and this is an1:00interview with Gilbert Tuhabonye. And we're at Luke's Locker in Austin, Texas. This is an interview with the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission's Survivors of Genocide Project. Thank you, Gilbert, for making time for us today. I'd like to start--I know you've told your story before--several times as we said--but I would like to start if you could give us kind of an understanding of your early life there in Fuku, what it was like growing up in your village, and just a picture of what that was like.
TUHABONYE: First off, thank you for allowing me to be with you this morning tobe able to testify, to show, and to tell the world what happened. I'm very happy because today--this week--marks twenty-three years since 1993. After today twenty-two years. Growing up, I was a happy child. I am a third out of the four, and I was also third in the family. And growing up I had one older brother, Dieudonné, an older sister, and I have a younger sister. So growing up, my life was fine. My daily routine would be getting up in the morning and go fetch the water. We didn't have water or electricity in house. I would go fetch the water, and then I would go to school. School was six miles away, and I would walk from school to home. At the end of the day, you know, no water--I was dehydrated. But still once I get home from school, I would go guard cows or chase the cows. We had a lot of cows, and then we had a big mountain that we let the cows graze, 2:00and at the end of the day just have to go bring them home.
At the end of the evening, some of the stuff that really stuck with me was mygrandma who was my inspirational half. She was kind of to me was my dictionary--learned all the history from her, because it's not like here in the United States where you have access to books. We learned stories from my grandma, and besides the stories, she would have us sing. Most of the songs were coming from going to church. She didn't know how to read and write, but she memorized all the songs. One of her favorite was, "Let's sing one hundred." We didn't know one hundred. I was not even part of the church, but, "Let's sing one 3:00hundred," which was, (sings in Kinyarwanda) Nzoririmba igitangaza [the first two words of "O Victory in Jesus"].
I loved her voice. I love to sing that song because it stayed in me. She passedaway. She died, but her voice, the melody, the beautiful words, they stuck with me. So that was what I meant by growing up in Mountain Fuku.
SLOAN: So the herd that you were attending to, was it your family's herd?
TUHABONYE: Yes, it was my family, my mom and dad. In the whole family mygrandparents--Pauline was her name--because my grandpa passed away before I was born. We had cows from my cousins. All my uncles would be guarding the cows together, and we alternate. So let's say my kids would have a day. My uncle 4:00would have a day. We rotate. So we have close to eighty cows total. That was a lot. That was big, and that was also probably the richest in the whole village.
SLOAN: In a fairly small village? How big was your village?
TUHABONYE: My village, I won't say it was big. It was a mountain that was myfamily, which were closer to twenty--twenty-five grandchildren. And then to our neighbor there was another family. It was really small. We didn't even have roads for a while that leads up to the major roads.
SLOAN: So very rural, very remote?
TUHABONYE: Very remote. So it would take from it--that's where the school wassix miles away. The next market was six miles away. The next hospital was six miles away. I mean, to get to the paved road, I would have to walk two hours to 5:00get to the paved road to get to the city. It was really isolated. I don't know how I made it here.
SLOAN: Well, I know a little bit about you, and you probably ran part of thetime, too.
TUHABONYE: I did. I have a nickname called Tumagu, and that name was givenbecause every time I would go get the water, fetch water--I was the favorite son for my grandma because she loved--every time she wanted something, I would run. I'd come back quick. That reminds me also. When I was--she started calling me Tumagu which means--back in the days, probably when I was born, there was a lot of thieves that would come to steal cows. So people they would stay at night to guard the cows, and to stay awake they would smoke. Smoking was a sign of they are awake. Do not try to mess with them. And so when I was born, they start to 6:00call me Tumagu because I was really calm. The kids would even sleep. They're like, "Oh, Tumagu's awake, man." And then when I would go get the water, it's dusty everywhere, especially in the summer. And we enjoyed making dust so we could see dust in the air. I'd be running and it was like, "Here he goes. Here's Tumagu." Really, it was fun. It was fun growing up, because I didn't have anything to worry me. All I worried was school, taking care of the family, help them fetch water, get dry woods to make fire. There was also for the cows, sometimes they needed to refresh their barn. We're getting grass, so we go cut 7:00grass and put it at the top of the head and take and spread it. So we kind of make fresh. At the end of the month, another thing we'd do, we need to take out the compost. And that would--the compost, it would serve as--
SLOAN: And I'm interested in you talking about your grandmother telling stories.Were there some favorite stories that you had of hers that she told?
TUHABONYE: There was a numerous stories, you know, but what I remember was therewas a teasing. I forgot what they call this game here. They would go, "Sokwe," which means--I have never heard of this game. It is like "Sokwe, niruze." It's like I'm about to start a question. It was like, "Hey, hey--I'm about to start a question." And then we'd start a question to see who would answer, "Sokwe, sokwe." Some kind of parable is used, and that was kind of a game to keep up the 8:00story, keep up what's going on in the country. She told us the story about how they colonized the country. She told us that was the story [of] how they killed the hero for independence where she was. She told us the story during independence, what was she doing. The name I learned in school later on, but you know, it's like being ahead.
SLOAN: Yeah, you had heard it at home before you heard it in school. Did youhear a different version at home than you heard at school?
TUHABONYE: There was always exaggeration at home, because you know what? It'spassed on by just talking. It's not written anywhere. She couldn't read or write. The way they interpret a few things and yeah.
SLOAN: Now, did you like school? Were you a good student?9:00
TUHABONYE: I think--let me see. Yes, I love school. I loved school. There was mybrother who was pretty smart and brilliant. My brother was smarter, so I had to keep up with him. And then--let me see. I screwed up a little bit. I think I was a good student. One [thing] I didn't really like, I didn't like running, because it was too much, man. I mean, I ran from home six miles. I get to school, no water. I was dehydrated. You get to school, and they ask--I'll fake anything to skip sports at school. Like when you have the flu, there was a hospital. Every time they say to go do a run, I would say, "No, I got to go to the hospital--my flu," because it was too much. When I think about these days, that's the only thing I didn't like because it was too much to go get the water, and I would 10:00fake it. But student-wise, I think I was a good student. I respect everyone. I was always a good team player.
We'd play a game, because it's six miles from school. We'd play a game to knowone another. I remember one time we tried to--you know, we go through corn and land full of vegetation--corn, sorghum, peas, bananas. Sometimes you run and there's a ton of bananas ripe, and you're hungry, like, "Get them," you know. Then there's also, we go through a forest, and the forest was full of some of the--there's some fruits. I haven't seen these trees in the United States. It's kind of big and produces yellow fruits. That is, they're kind of sour when they're not ripe. Whenever they're ripe, they are kind of sweet. The monkey 11:00loves those. So once and a while we would go and we would find a monkey around it, and then you'd have to do something to fight the monkey. It's something you can't do by yourself. You'd have to do it with people. I remember one time this guy was like, "Kids, do not ever touch my land." We were trying to eat--what do you call it--the corn to get the sugar out of the corn. You know--
SLOAN: The sugar cane?
TUHABONYE: Yeah--no, not the sugar cane. The corn's also the sugar. They'resweet. Not this corn here. We knew how to tell this corn that is sweet or not sweet. Usually, you don't have that kind of corn. So we went down, and we decided, "Let's go get it." It's kind of like a sugar cane but made out of corn. And the guy was hiding. He was hiding in the corn, and he come in, caught some 12:00of my friends, and were turned in, and went to the headmaster. We were punished so bad for doing that. You know what a punishment was? They send you home, and the next day you come with your parents. That's not cool. That's not cool when your parents come to school with you. You get a spanking in front of them. It was embarrassing. I mean, the worst thing.
SLOAN: So you get disciplined in school and disciplined at home?
TUHABONYE: Yes, both. It's like either they spank you home and say, "When youget to school, I won't spank you." But they get to school it's more lies than what you told them. "You lied to me again." It was good. The headmaster was really connected to my parents, so I couldn't do anything stupid. I was always like, "He's going to tell them. He's going to tell them." Because during holidays or during parties they would get together. [My parents would ask him,] "How is my student doing?" So you can't mess up. Those were at home. Once you go 13:00to school you learn to respect one another, respect your teammates, respect your friends--don't do, you know, stuff like that.
SLOAN: Yeah, so you couldn't get away with anything. Although, I know you didget away with some things, right? So what did you do for fun when you had time--other things for fun?
TUHABONYE: For fun at the school or home?
SLOAN: At home.
TUHABONYE: Oh. Crazy. So home we have cows, and again, guarding the cows, it's amountain. You know here, there's a field everywhere. You play soccer. There's a field everywhere. There's none of those. So we found a place that the grass is not high, so we--this is our terrain. This is the field [where] we're going to play. We play, play, play, and you forget that you're guarding the cows. One day, the cows went to graze or went to somebody's land, and they damaged the 14:00corn. They damaged the potatoes. This was like in the midst of the summer, like early August. You know, the rain hasn't come in, and they just planted. Man, ooh, that was bad. I would never forget that moment. So I end up when I get home--so this family went to my mother. They said, "Hey, look what your son has done. Come on take a look." And all the cows--they don't have proof. It's not like you take a photo. Look, it's gone. They have to bring a bashingantahe which means--it's a group of wisdom men and women that make judgment. It's a kind of justice, local justice. And so once they call those group of people, you're in 15:00deep trouble. You're in deep trouble. So I was in trouble because the cows went and damaged my neighbor's land.
The other piece that I loved to do was riding a banana. That was fun because welived at the top of the mountain. When we had free time or when Mama said, "Hey, you get twenty minutes. You come back here, you're going back to call the cows." You chopped like a banana, and then you would take the banana to the slipperiest--it's a grass. In the summer, it died. In the summer the grass would die, and so when you put something wet--(wooshing sound). So you put--it's like a trunk, and then you put--it's like this is the trunk. Then you take a stick up to here, right. So you put your leg here, and you put a leg here. That would be 16:00to push. It was amazing. It would go fast. Over and over your shorts would get hot. You'd end up with a hole in the back. And I got in trouble, too, because the shorts. It was like, "What happened? What happened to your shorts?" They knew what you'd been doing. But it was so much fun, you can't quit. Think about it like kids here in the United States where there's a snow. You take boxes, ride on the ice, something like that, but it was fun--race, soccer.
We also had a game we'd play on the water that was kick the lion. But because wedidn't know English, we'd say [Speaks in French] "Qui effrayé le lion?" I mean, "Who's scared of the lion?" "Qui effrayé le lion?" and everybody would say, 17:00"Nobody." So who's scared of the lion? Nobody. So you have this creek. Someone would call out from the other [side of the] creek. So the goal was, it's coming to attack you. When coming to attack you, you keep getting away. So you have ten people, five people. So you get caught first you help him catch the second person. And then when you have a last person left, you have to jump [across the creek] ten times and you win, which was impossible. Go one, two, three--and this is big like this, and it's all water. You go down, you can't come back. It was a lot of fun. I mean, it was incredible.
SLOAN: Another thing--
TUHABONYE: Hide-and-seek, too. We did hide-and-seek, and that was, you'retalking about hide-and-seek. When I see my kids play hide-and-seek, I'm like, "Hide-and-seek? This is not in the house." Man, you're talking about grasses that are bigger than here, and you say, "Close your eyes." Even if you watched 18:00them go, there's no way you're going to find them. I mean, it's incredible.
SLOAN: You could stay hidden for hours.
TUHABONYE: For hours--until he said, "I won." You can say, "Okay, come out. Iwon." Yeah, it was fun.
SLOAN: I also know you and your father did hunting, or you did hunting with your family.
TUHABONYE: Oh, the hunting was kind of incredible, because every morning likeSundays was like a hunting day, and Saturday. Because on Saturday we didn't have school. We lived, again--it's a bunch of mountains, and in the valley, it's a forest. So you have all these deer. You have all these gazelles. You have all these--some eat monkeys. In the morning, we have pygmies, and the pygmies love 19:00meat. They like to eat meat, and they didn't have a lot of land to cultivate and to get crops. They substitute their getting protein by meat eating hunting. So the animal would get away, and the way we hunt here and [the way we hunted] growing up is totally different. We would chase the animals until they're tired. When you say chase the animals until they get tired--let's say the animal had been running from Baylor. By the time it gets here, it's dead tired. Everybody [would yell], "Hey!" Everybody, "Hey!" The dog and the people, we would do a circle. And then you end up, and it's like captured. Because it's the mountains, I mean, you can hear echo from that way, and you know it's coming. So that was one of the coolest things, and I remember my grandma was really strict. Once 20:00you're done eating, once you killed the animal, she didn't want anything to do with meat. She said, "If it's meat, it's cursed." So you already have to kill it, but don't eat it because we still eat chicken, and we can still eat cows. But I ate a rabbit heart. I did.
SLOAN: Some other things that I know were important in your early life as wellwas the church, being part of the church. Could you tell me a little bit about that experience?
TUHABONYE: So, it's kind of complex. When I was growing up, my mom was not--shewas one of the best people you ever met, but she didn't believe. She wasn't a part of any church, but she would support us. The school we went to was a Catholic school. It was an Italian school, so it was Catholic, 100 percent 21:00Catholic. I even wanted to be a priest one day. I even remember sixth grade. Could you imagine a sixth grader come to you, "Mom, I want to be nun," or, "I want to be a priest." I'm like, "Really? Why." "Because I want to give my life to Christ," and I remember my mom said, "No, son, I need grandchildren." I'm like, "Mama, no!" But to be honest with you I wanted to go to a seminary school, because at seminary school kids were well, well off in terms of life. They had a nice life. For me, I went till I was like tenth grade--I was not full in. I wanted to be able to go to the school because it was so good, and the discipline was awesome. The kids were number one in the country, and I wanted to go to that experience. However, my grades didn't allow me to do. Also because my parents 22:00didn't approve. They had to approve, so I didn't get a chance to go. What is the other question you asked me?
SLOAN: I was asking about the church.
TUHABONYE: Church. So, grow up as a Catholic, what I mean is, every morning wehad, at least once a week or twice a week, we had religion class. This is a Catholic school. You had to pray before the Holy Mary the day before you start class. Then we have someone who'd come, and then we'd go to church--the whole Catholic things. But in my household, only my brother, my sister, and myself--the younger sister--were Catholic. The older sister and my mom, they didn't believe, so they end up getting later. They end up being Catholic later. My grandma was a Protestant. My uncle, he was a mix of Catholic and also 23:00Protestant. We would go to grandma's, everybody didn't care when we were singing those songs. She would invite once in a while also to go, but my church was cool--was awesome. The Catholic Church was awesome. You get a chance to see mzungu. Do you know what a mzungu is?
SLOAN: No, what's a mzungu?
TUHABONYE: It's a white person. You get a chance to see the Italian come topreach, and that was pretty cool to see them learning your language. It was awesome. Then the Protestant [church], where my grandma was going, we started singing and I didn't like the church, because you find guys that they interpret the Bible. It was not good. But the Catholic, they read--for some reason I liked the structure. I liked the routine. I kind of knew how to pray. The other one is 24:00improvised, and I was not ready for that. It was not super organized. And I went to church every day, and I'll be honest with you. When I look back, part of it was yes, I love Jesus, but at the same time, I wanted to see my friends.
SLOAN: So those were your close friends--the friends at church.
TUHABONYE: Yes. Yeah, in that church, and it was also the school, because thechurch was nearby the school. Can you imagine going Monday through Sunday going to the same place, six months? But the Protestant [church] was two streets away. So when you get late, that's where we'd go to go to our grandma's. So when you're talking about church, you do things to please your parents. You do things to please your peers or your friends. I did. I loved it. I loved to be in that 25:00church--the song, the melody, kind of part of something bigger than myself. It was really cool, especially when I got my communion. Also when I [was] baptized when I was old because I have to save Gilbert. I was not Gilbert before. I was Tuhabonye-imana. So I have a change to, say, Gilbert. I almost called myself Jean-Claude--you know why?
TUHABONYE: Jean-Claude Van Damme.
SLOAN: Jean-Claude Van Damme. (laughs) Well, I was going to ask how you picked Gilbert.
TUHABONYE: Gilbert was--so you're given a chance. You have a family name,Tuhabonye-imana, and unless you're baptized right when you're born--for me--I had to seek to get baptized when I was older, because you're parents are the 26:00ones that decide. If you're born, we're taking you. So I seek for to get baptized, and I seek also to get the communion. Then also--what do you call it? I even forgot now.
SLOAN: So those were all your decisions?
SLOAN: And that was different for some of your friends?
TUHABONYE: Yes, and because I did it [when I was] older, I did it once. That'show they allow you to do. So, really, I went to church, but the requirements were not fulfilled until I was--you have to wait. You have to be patient, and your parents have to approve. And it was big, because when I did, my parents, they were so proud and happy. They gave me a cow. They gave me land and [they told me,] "This is your land for you to stay." It was incredible.
SLOAN: So had you read the name Gilbert somewhere? That's a very unusual choice.
TUHABONYE: Actually, I told you I wanted to be Jean-Claude, and there were so27:00many Jean-Claude around here. And I look at Gilbert. There was only one Gilbert in my village. (speaks in French) Oui, [Yes] it's not Gilbert, it's [zheel-B-AIR].
TUHABONYE: And I look, there was--I think there was Gilbert on my mom'sside--maybe her cousin far away--talking about generations named Gilbert. And I wanted to be Gilbert because I wanted to be different. I don't want to be John because everybody's John. Everybody's Jean-Baptiste. I wanted to be Gilbert, and I'm glad I chose Gilbert or Gilbert.
SLOAN: I know it was influential when your brother graduated and went on to his school.
TUHABONYE: High school. Yes.
SLOAN: And that influenced you as far as what you wanted to do.
TUHABONYE: Yes, my brother was pretty, pretty smart, and they call him--he had anickname. So in school--I think it was the fifth grade or sixth grade--we have 28:00to conjugate the verb in French, you know--I will. Use something--give a sentence in the future.
SLOAN: I will go to the store.
TUHABONYE: So he said, "I will buy cow." In Kinyarwanda, it's different. (speaksin Kinyarwanda) Gasheteri nishe, I will buy a goat. And all of a sudden people are laughing, you know? Why in the world do you want to buy a goat? So that was his nickname, Gasheteri nishe, but they just call him Gasheteri. So that was his nickname, so he passed and went to one of the premier colleges. It was named Athene [and was] in the city [Bujumbura]. And all my relatives, my uncles, they were in the city. So how cool is that? And back then, I didn't have a shoe, by 29:00the way. I didn't have shoes. He went to school. They buy him shoes for training, shoes for church, shoes for class. What? That inspired me.
SLOAN: So you had--
TUHABONYE: And then also, you know what? And also when he'd come back onvacation--before you pass the sixth grade, which is a national exam. It's called Concour. You have to pass a test. That test--man, it's really, really selective. Out of maybe ten thousand, one thousand get admitted. So you have to be not lucky, you have to be really smart. I saw how he did it. He was not even sure. He was like, okay. So that it inspired me. It inspired me to work hard to follow his footsteps. The gear that he got, the gifts that he got. He was the first in 30:00the family, the whole family, to go to college. And I'm like, "Man, I'm next. I have to." During the break, he would come out, and he had all these privileges, man. He was not allowed to fetch water. I was the one fetching the water. They didn't ask him to go get water. I was the one getting the water. I mean, all these privileges. I'm like, "You know what? I'm doing it." So that really inspired me.
SLOAN: So that inspired you to do well on your exams?
TUHABONYE: To study hard. Do well. There's also some luck. Because you know whenyou have ten thousand, it's a selection. They have spots for a thousand. I don't know. I don't remember then, but it was really, really the chances were slim. I made it. I'm so happy that I was able to make it, and I didn't get a chance to [the] school that I wanted. Because he came home and everybody in my 31:00village--they were growing up. The elder, twelve--it was seven up to thirteen. We had a baccalaureate. I don't know if you're familiar.
TUHABONYE: Yeah. You have the people that are last year of high school. We havehim, and I'm in seventh grade. I wanted to go to that school, but that's not the case. They sent me to Kibimba.
SLOAN: And why did they send you to Kibimba?
TUHABONYE: You know, it's random
SLOAN: I see.
TUHABONYE: It's random--usually, they take probably the first maybe one--so youput three schools on the application by--
SLOAN: Preference? Like, you ranked which ones--
TUHABONYE: Preference. So, yeah. I want Baylor, Texas, A&M--that order.
SLOAN: Um-hm. I like that order, by the way. (all laugh)
TUHABONYE: And so if you do that, there's a certain grade. If you are the one at32:00the top, you go to your favorite. After that, they just mix it up. For some, it could be luck. It can be tough.
SLOAN: So was Kibimba one of your preferences? Not you first?
TUHABONYE: Not even my backup. I didn't even know where was the school.
SLOAN: Oh, so you didn't know anyone there?
SLOAN: You didn't know how--okay.
TUHABONYE: Also, sometimes it depends on one province will have more studentsthan the other, so they'd have to fill out because they're spread out in the country. Because the government has to take care of them, all of them. And so when I was sent to Kibimba I'm like, "Damn it, what is this school?" And my mother--I think my parents were about to find--there was a girl--Lucy was her name. She was a last year of Normal. It's called Ecole Normale, which is--it was 33:00a school that was to form teachers. She was in last. Lucy was her name. So I remember we went, "Oh, tell us. What does the school look like? How do you get there?" So that leads to leaving home to this school where I've never been on a bus, besides watching my brother go. Never been in a car. You hear there's vomiting in the car. You're like, Man, I'm going to vomit until my heart comes out. I mean, all these things start troubling me. How am I going to get to Kibimba? You don't have a map to locate it. You just tell, "It's this way. It's in this province." And that whole summer when I passed the exam, it was like, how am I going to get there?
SLOAN: And how old are you at this--?
TUHABONYE: That's like when you finish sixth grade.
TUHABONYE: Ready to go to seventh grade. Just think about it.34:00
SLOAN: Very young.
TUHABONYE: Very young. I won't be able to see my parents. I won't be able to seemy family for three months. You go September. You come back for Christmas. You have two weeks for Christmas, and then you start again.
SLOAN: Now, I know that when you went you had an uncle that lived in that area, right?
TUHABONYE: In the city?
SLOAN: In the city, yeah.
TUHABONYE: So let's say my house is right here. That is the city, and I have tocome back this way, because there's no way I will go straight here. There's no roads.
SLOAN: I see.
TUHABONYE: So the car leaves. You go [from] my town to the city the next day,because you can't make it in one day. The roads are not--plus transportation is not developed, so you would wait because of the bus. It leaves in the morning, so you wait until the next day. A huge bus, like two hundred kids. They get those buses from Japan. Maybe if you take a bus, but you don't have anything in 35:00the middle because they would be holding and--
SLOAN: Yeah, because they're packing people in there.
TUHABONYE: Yeah, so leaving my village to go to school, I had to stop with myuncle who was in the city where it's called Bujumbura, which is a main city. He was well--I'd say he was rich. He had a shop full of clothes. Yeah, but so many--he had big condos, places to rent. He had like a bar. He had all kinds of--I mean, getting in the car was full. This is the man that comes. That also inspired me. One day, I will get this stuff. One day, I will be, "How did you get this?" And I would listen to everything he says. On the way to the school, we would go along this plain, and there's a lake. I don't know if you've ever 36:00heard of Lake Tanganyika. Man, it was a 133 kilometers, which is almost 70 miles. It was 80-something miles. That whole 80 miles--you go down and then 40 miles of flat. You're coming from a mountain. You never experienced a heat wave. You lived in altitude always. Mine was 8,000 feet. Now, I'm by the ocean. It's hot, man, I mean, I want to take--I was long sleeve in the village now I was like when--and get to my uncle. Never seen running water. Never seen a shower. It's amazing. What am I doing?
SLOAN: It's like another planet.
TUHABONYE: Yeah, another planet. I was able to get to school. I made friends,37:00and on the way to the school, we had to go catch a bus. When I catch it, I don't know anyone. They come in, and they scream. They have like a, they call it a convoyeur, which is to help. I don't know what you call it. It's someone who has to announce, "Kibimba! Gitega!" They announce where they're going. They start screaming because you have a bus full of twenty people, and you have a hundred people to go. Well, how do you do that? It's first come, first serve, but it's also you have to be strong to fight for your spot. Same as in the village, I ran to catch the bus. And then I was able to make it with one of my cousins.
SLOAN: What were your first impressions of Kibimba when you got there?
TUHABONYE: We got there. It was late. It was the nighttime. I was nervousthat--they did do the hazing, and I was nervous. I was nervous because I didn't 38:00know anyone. I thought they were going to torture me, and I would hate school. I might have to go back. It turned out I made many of my friends--Rene and John. They invited me to eat mushkok--you know what mushkok?
TUHABONYE: Shish kabob. We ate a shish kabob because dinner had been served, andthere was no food. Then we had to walk one mile. When we get there, there's some kids who want--these pygmies--they would take your bag if you just them money in the end. They would walk with you. It was--I mean it was like, "No. Why would I give my bag to you and have you take it?" They were like, "You cool." I mean, those guys were one year older than me, and we're still friends. They were older than me. They said, "Ah, you'll be cool. Just walk with us." We get to school. You give them two to three dollars. They were so happy, and they would run again to go get another person. I mean, it's--so in Kibimba I didn't see that much. I 39:00was worried about my well-being. I was worried about how I'm going to sleep then. And then the next day, it was breezy and it was at altitude, but it was not what I expected. It was kind of isolated. It was just school, nothing else.
SLOAN: One thing we haven't talked about that's going to become very importantis the tribal differences in your country--Twa--
SLOAN: --Tutsi, Hutu--these differences. I know it's going to become veryimportant soon, but growing up, how much of a difference did the different tribal groups make in your life as far as who you were friends with, who you weren't friends with?
TUHABONYE: You know, I wish I knew growing up it was going to be an issue. If Iknew it was going to be an issue, I would take seriously. So growing up in our 40:00family, we shared everything. I shared everything with the Hutu and Tutsi. I remember my shoes that my brother--that I got. I gave to a--I probably wore it twice, and I gave to these Hutu friends to wear because we shared everything--shoes, clothes. Yes, you knew. They'd tell you they were a Hutu, but it was not a big deal. He's a Hutu, you're a Tutsi--what? It was not a big deal, especially our grandma. Our grandma was very respected by anyone. When Eliphaz, who was my uncle, would come with--he was a well-known and rich man. The guy who has the only car and comes. My fathers and my uncle didn't have a car, but he did. And so what respect--everybody would come--it's like a king coming home. He 41:00would come with gifts there. I mean, it's a piece of cake to feed all the people that he'd find at home. It was not a big deal.
Twa--the Twa at the beginning without knowing a lot, I was--you know, becausethey didn't have a lot, and sometimes they didn't have clothes. You don't figure it out until you go see where they live. It was like, "Ahh," because they would stink also, because they didn't have a place to shower. By the way, later on probably that's one of the things I did was to give clean water close to homes. They would stink and because they stink as a child, as a kid, you don't know what's wrong with that, but it was because they didn't have water or enough clothes. They wear clothes until--they didn't have enough to change clothes. They wear the same--they had maybe one [set of] clothes; that's it. That's for 42:00church. That's for [everything else]--yeah. And you wonder.
SLOAN: You know, you're uncle--because I know a lot of the business owners wereHutus, right? And a lot of the, traditionally, a lot of the business owners and things like that were Hutu, a lot of those that worked in agriculture were more Tutsi. Is that true?
TUHABONYE: Work in the agriculture--actually, the Tutsi would employ. Back then,the Tutsi would employ Hutu. Hutu would be the one working in that. The Tutsi would own land.
SLOAN: Own the land and own the cattle.
TUHABONYE: Yeah, but the Hutu would come to guard the cows, cultivate. Theydidn't go to school, so they would guard the cows. We have someone guarding the cows while we go to school, but in the summer, they'd go on break because we had to take care of the cows. And so that was--
SLOAN: That was kind of the difference. Well, tell me a little bit about as you43:00get settled there in Kibimba, getting to know the other students, getting to know the teachers, what your impressions were about your fellow students and teachers.
TUHABONYE: I connected very well with the two students, and as I get to KibimbaI got a long with everybody. I remember I was good in math. That gave me confidence. I remember the teachers were great. The teachers were nice. The people were nice. I felt confident because I knew some of the upper class, and they would protect me at nighttime when they come to torture us. Because they were, "No, do not just this kid." If you didn't' have anybody looking after you, you'd be in serious problems, and so the teachers were great. I mean, my seventh 44:00grade, I think, was my highlight. It was--because part was I did great in school, and then second I got along with everyone. My headmaster loved me. It was probably one of my highlights--seventh grade.
SLOAN: So the older kids protect you from the hazing that was going on.
TUHABONYE: From the hazing and also once a month at the end of themonth--because it was a boarding school, which is--I loved so much, and I learned so much. At the boarding school, you learn how to be a man, you make your own dishes, you wash your own clothes, and you also--time--they say, "You got to be in the bed at ten. You got to be in bed." It's kind of time management was awesome. At the end of the month, the school would give us permission to go home. There's kids that live nearby that would go home. I didn't go. I didn't 45:00have anywhere to go. I didn't have any money. You'd have to go to Bujumbura and then--no way. Rene and John, they would--we'd go out and get shish kabob. When I had money, I'd share with them. They had money--actually, we'd put the money together, so it can--and I would manage the money. They said I was good at managing. I would manage the money, and so we'd go get, you know, Fanta and then shish kabob and then we'd come home. Everybody goes to their home, and we stay and watch cars, count cars, but that's it. It was fun.
SLOAN: That was your holiday?
TUHABONYE: No, it was a one--they gave us one day. They even said eighto'clock--boom, you're free. You'd have to come back [at] six o'clock, so you have a whole day. So if you're not nearby--unh-uh. But they also announced. They 46:00would say, "This week, this week we're going to give you a break." So you're kind of prepared, but Rene and John, we didn't go anywhere.
SLOAN: I know school also gave you this experience--gave you the experience tostart competing formally in races and running.
TUHABONYE: The school was selecting a team to represent the school. The way theyselect athletes, they hosted like a five mile, and I won. I won the five miles. When I won the five miles, I remember when the teacher didn't want me to do it. She kind of was mean. She didn't believe in running. And she was like, "You're not going anywhere until you finish this here." I beg her. I begged her. I ran barefoot. I won the race. When I won the race, this coach came up to me and gave 47:00me confidence. He said, "Son, you can be the best. Not only here. I want you to look forward, not at this country. You can be the best." That really helped me. That inspired me, for the coach to believe in me.
I remember how in elementary school I faked [being sick to get out of] running.This one was kind of like a wakeup call [when the coach said,] "You're good, son." I beat the guy who almost made the Olympics. I was selected, and then the following spring we have track. I would run 800 [800-meter race]. As a freshman, I was second. For the first time in history, the school was able to send one kid, a freshman, to state. That was huge. And then the following year I won the state, and the following year I won the state, until they get tired of me. So the hard work, the dedication, the determination was caused by a coach who 48:00believed in me and inspired me to do great things. He's older but he's still inspiring as a friend. I got more responsibility when I was in ninth grade to be the leader. I lead the team to a championship--the school.
Also, I would drum. I was on the drumming team, which would perform when thepresident would come to the villages, or high dignitary would come and we'd play drums. I got a chance to see, really, the country. That was the best moment.
SLOAN: And these also gave you chances to be a leader or practice leadership.
TUHABONYE: I did. In fact, in track and field, I was the coach. I had built theteam, because we had only coach--was a PE coach. They moved from season to season. Basketball to soccer--handball. Wahebo(??) has handball. Do you know 49:00what Olympic handball is?
SLOAN: Yeah, I've seen it before--yeah.
TUHABONYE: It's not the one you hit the wall, okay? No, handball is likefootball--American football except without a helmet, without contact, and it's fast. It's played in a field, like a tennis sized field, and then it's so fast. It's like one, two--you can't hold a ball for three seconds. You can't run the ball like you do in football. That was eye coordination. It's good cardio, and coach was busy doing those. And I'd be coaching track. I built the team from scratch. By the time we go to championship in four by four, I remember going to the headmaster, "I need shoes, four [pairs of] shoes." He's like, "No, we have two." We bought two [pair of] shoes. Can you imagine four by one--four by four relay wearing two pair of shoes? So I would start. The first and second would 50:00wear shoes. I would start and give the lead, and I'd give the shoes to the third person. And the second person gives [it] to the fourth. We won. You got to get the job done. Here, man, when I see kids whine, I don't get it.
SLOAN: Yeah, the competition--did it also give you a chance to travel even morein the country?
TUHABONYE: Yes, um-hm. I was able to go to places. I remember going to North,and I was the only student from my school. It's like you make state they go like Baylor pick someone, A&M pick someone to be, because it's paid by state. And I remember staying, and I made friends. I was very good at making friends, especially people in my event, people doing distance. It's really good.
SLOAN: Well, I know it's while you're in the school in Kibimba that things startgetting worse as far as the tensions in your country. You talked about early on 51:00not really experiencing the difference. When did you begin to experience a difference between or increased tension between the tribal groups?
TUHABONYE: I think the conflict was always there. I was just [on a] differentroad. I was just playing sports, enjoying them. Because when you're playing, you don't pick and choose. You're good? Come on. You're fast? Come on. It doesn't matter who you are. That was me, but deep inside there were tensions built up. I just ignored it. I didn't pay attention.
There was one time, I think before '93, we were sleeping. "Get up! Get up," someof the Tutsi come to wake me up. I go, "Hey, what's up?" [They say,] "The Hutu are about to kill all the Tutsi's." I'm like, "What? What are you talking 52:00about?" [They say,] "Yeah, get up. Do not sleep tonight. Stay alert." Of course then in the night, the headmaster heard it, and he would kind of walk around to see if any trouble happened. The headmaster, what he did at the school was the one that really held the school together, really that was in control. I mean, there was no way to get out of any situation. He was in charge at the time. He had a student--I was one of them--by the way, ninth grade I was given the privilege to serve in the library. You know how privileged it is to be a librarian? You know what that entails? I was guarding the books. I would know where the books are--math--I mean, all the books. And then John and Rene, they trusted me. So I become a librarian. What that means is I have the privilege to study in the library, not with the kids. They would go and take attendance and 53:00make sure everybody's there, and I would go to library. Have the key for the library for teachers that are coming to read the magazines. For me a quiet place to study, get privilege to books, get privilege to magazines. It was incredible. All these tensions, I didn't get a chance to see. Grouping? I would group with the people who shared the same passion in sports and drumming. So it was building up.
SLOAN: Did you notice it in your classes with your teachers--because you hadHutu teachers and Tutsi teachers?
TUHABONYE: I didn't really, but there was one teacher that--'93.
TUHABONYE: You're talking about '93? You're talking about whole--
SLOAN: I'm talking about as this built up, as you begin to notice a change. Ifyou noticed things getting worse between the different groups.
TUHABONYE: The thing started getting worse '92--'93. We were on a break. When54:00the summer break '91, and when the village got attacked was north, and then they heard the Hutu came to kill the Tutsi. They killed a lot of people, but the army intervened and was able to finish that. Then it started building tensions. You'd hear rumors, "They're here. They're coming here." It started to build up. During the election 1993, that's really when things started getting out of hand, because the slogan people were saying. There was nasty slogan, "We Hutu have been enslaved for many years. It's time." And they would say, "If we don't win--" I mean, this guy on the TV, Melchior Ndadaye, who was the first democratically elected president, was the one who was like--he came out with 55:00some signs that we saw in apartheid in South Africa, "Using hands we will win." I'd never seen things like that--I'd never witnessed an election. Those slogans are kind of hate slogans. But I was like, You know what? I have to focus on my studies--we'll go through that--until, one day--we probably have a few. If you're ready, I'm ready to tell you. This is very emotional, because I remember living that moment.
SLOAN: This is October twenty-first--
TUHABONYE: October 21, 1993. I was going to class thinking it was going to be anormal day. My parents gave me a radio, also to listen and to keep up the news. Every five o'clock I would turn it on to kind of get updated. That day it didn't work. I thought the battery was off. I changed the battery, and it didn't work. 56:00It was just static noise, which [means] the radio has been disconnected. Usually, when you hear those it's a coup, and that was a coup. I knew the day was going to be longer because I saw the signs during the campaign, you know. "We will win. We will win. We Will Win. Victory is coming." But at the same time I was like, This is not going to happen. This guy's not going to happen. I've never heard of this guy, but he's been coming from Rwanda. He's been living in Rwanda. That's where he's really learned all these nasty things. So I'm like, That's not going to happen.
That night also, I didn't sleep. It was Wednesday. I didn't sleep. I had so manytests. I had physics, chemistry, biology to study for--was ready because it's a selection. My class, you know where I was, to go to university it's not like 57:00everybody passes if you do the test--unh-uh. Maybe 20 percent go to the next level, so you have to fight to be in that top 20 percent. So I focused on getting good grades, and there was a guy who hated me. He was headmaster and was also my teacher for chemistry. I was good in chemistry, but he proved me I was wrong. I mean, he'd say, "Equation," and give us equations to solve. And I would solve it, and he would pick anything a little bit just to fail me, because he said, "You have--" and told me some nasty word that we're drinking his blood. I'm like, "What? What do you mean?" He was just a very angry man. He was given that job, the headmaster, because they-- 58:00
Going back to 1993, that October twenty-first. Going to class, I didn't sleep.I'm going to do the last reading because they didn't turn the lights on in the dormitory until they would turn on the school, even in the school. The school was locked up, but in our class, because they know we have a lot to do, they would leave the door open. As I'm studying, as I'm going there, I mean, the radio didn't work. I'm worried about that, but I'm ignoring it.
SLOAN: You're worried about your exams.
TUHABONYE: Yeah. I walk to class. This guy, who lived off campus a coupleblocks, ran into me. He's like, "Today." He didn't say anything. He just said, 59:00"Today is this. I'm going to cut your throats." I'm like, "What the heck? Why?" Because he said, "You know what? The president has been killed by the Tutsis. And there's a plan that we're going to kill the Tutsis." I'm like, "Oh my gosh--really?" And I ignore it. So they rang the bell to go eat at the cafeteria at seven o'clock--seven. I mean, from my class to the cafeteria, we walk a distance and look at the highway--trees. These people, they took all the trees. The trees were laying so no car would go by.
SLOAN: To block the roads.
TUHABONYE: To block the roads. The people are walking, and they are singing, andthere was another group coming to school, but they get stopped. They were stopped because they were told to wait, to go get their neighbors first before they come to the school. The school will be last. Went to the cafeteria, man, 60:00and I didn't eat. My stomach was sick. Then we went to--before class, you have to salute, what they call salute the flag. It's like the best way to check if everybody's there. They have a place to gather everybody, so if you're late, you get--
SLOAN: Is this like out in a courtyard?
TUHABONYE: Yes, in the courtyard central, so they know nobody's in theclassroom, nobody's in the dormitory, nobody's in the cafeteria. We have to be in one place. If you are somewhere else, you're in trouble. That happened every day. Seven thirty, everybody's supposed to be saluting. It's like an army, and the headmaster didn't show up. There are rumors everywhere. "They killed the president. We're going to be killed. What are we going to do?" [Someone says,] "Let's go to class." And someone is like, "The teacher didn't show up." And it was like eight o'clock in the morning. We were waiting. There's no teacher. 61:00We're wondering. There's rumors everywhere, a group [of students] here, a group [of students] here. I'm like memorizing the formula. I can't wait. I hope he shows up because I'm ready. I hope he shows up.
Then the teacher is running. One of the teachers is running, being chased. Theywant to capture him. He refused. He ran away, and he's running towards the school. His name was Dumas, and I knew him. He was my technology teacher, and he said, "They took all the professors away to burn them. And they said we're next. They're going to take the teachers. They're going to take all of the seniors, and then juniors, and sophomores, and so on." Then a group of us got together. I 62:00was school representative, well respected senior. We have to step up and do something.
Finally the headmaster showed up. This is, like, around ten o'clock. We're like,"Let's go ask what's going on." Because this mob, they want to come attack the school with a machete, with a big stick. They want to come attack the school. Still, we don't have any idea. We heard the president of--somebody was able to capture the radio from Rwanda that states what happened. Not in Burundi, but the radio of Rwanda was announcing that the president was killed. He was killed by--and there's mass killings going to happen. It was Hutu that went on the radio and said, "Revenge. Everywhere you see a Tutsi, a child, a baby, a grownup--eliminate." That was the message. The head message--it was on Rwanda radio. I heard those, but at the same time, I'm still waiting for our teacher. 63:00The teacher came to teach, man. They followed him, and they were chasing him. He resisted. He said, "We come together. We stay together." We said, "Let's go ask the headmaster. At a school that is supposed to be protected, how in the world is the headmaster letting this happen?" We went and stood up to him, and he said, "You killed our president." He looked me in my eyes, man. He said, "You are going to see what Jesus saw on the cross." What does that mean? This is the guy, every Sunday he was in charge of the church and leading the church, leading the prayer. I'm like, "No, you're not. To me? No you're not going to do that." Sure enough, the mob got really angry. After we heard what the headmaster said, it was time to organize a getaway. 64:00
SLOAN: Yeah, but where do you go?
TUHABONYE: He had a radio. He had this real radio. He was an awkward professor,man. This guy was awkward. He was a chemist--really awkward. He was listening on the radio. Then we had to find a way to escape. We found--lunch. It was lunch. We said, "Look guys, we're going to eat this. It's the last supper. Let's eat it. We don't know what we're going to eat later." We also organized a way to escape. And the way to escape is like--go find everything you have, and no bag. We're going to leave everything behind. We're going to take our clothes. Try to wear three clothes if you can. You need shorts, pants--two pants because you never know--and shoes. We're not going to take anything that is going to prevent you from running. Do not take a bag. So we leave everything. Now we're going to march in a peaceful walk to go to a camp. It was twenty-six miles. 65:00
SLOAN: This is an army camp?
TUHABONYE: Yeah, called Mwaro. On the way to Mwaro, which was the camp--the mobstops us, "Where you going?" But we were stupid. Instead of getting armed, we [could have taken] a javelin, we took--one of the students suggested we take a javelin, so we could--stuff that we have for the school to protect ourselves. There was a storage for a javelin [and we thought,] Let's take those stuff. We're going to protect ourselves. [But we decided,] No. It's a peaceful walk--nothing. No stone in our hands, which was a bad mistake. And we started walking. Someone called to the mob that we were leaving. They went ahead. They cut us off. This is two miles we're gone away from the school. Then they find 66:00the--what do you call--the people to come to reinforce the group. It was--the group grew from two hundred to three hundred, so they're like, "Stop." We were like close to six hundred kids, and I am kind of in the back watching because I was like, You know what? I don't want to see this. I know these people. I've done so much. I ran for this school. I ran everything. I did everything for--I don't want to [be seen by] them. Sure enough, someone spotted me in the group, "Gilbert is in the group!" Stupid as I am [I say,] "Yeah." I thought they were going to save me, but they wanted to identify me. They had a goal because I was the fastest kid in the village. It was like, if you don't get this kid, he's going to run and get the police and the soldiers. We have to catch him first. I had people guarding me, people watching to make sure that I don't escape. 67:00
All of a sudden they draw a line on the sand. "You pass this line, you're gone."Well, some of the guys crossed the line. We were forced to go because the pack was dangerous. The group is growing. They're probably going to find a way to hold us hostage, so they can--and all of a sudden this woman took a spear and threw it in the group. It poked one of my classmates. It went straight, and we pulled it out. And from that time, everything went to chaos. I ran, and I was chased by a thousand people. I mean, "You move, we'll shoot"--arrows. "Don't move. We'll shoot. Don't move." I got terrified, so they took me to a hospital. They took me in front of the headmaster to judge. The thing for the headmaster 68:00was to make sure everybody they're taking--the whole idea was to put everybody in a burning building--but before they go in the building, they want to make sure that everybody who goes there is a Tutsi. It was like a checkpoint. "This is [a Tutsi.] Go. Go." Before we go, we were roped together in a death march. The headmaster spotted me, and I'm like, Man, he's going to help me. He looked me in my eyes. That's where he repeated again, "You are going to see what Jesus saw on the cross." He's like, "Take him in that room." An isolation room--there was a room that was the dean of students. [He said,] "Lock him up."
Man, I don't know if you've ever been in a situation where you're really,really, really scared. There's no hope. There's no way to get out. It's like they lock you in a building. How do you go? I look how I can--there was no way 69:00to go. Outside, they are screaming. They are chopping off the ears of kids. They are hitting machetes in their necks. They are beating the kids. I'm terrified.
What saved me was one of the professors starts saying, "No, we have to do thesame thing for Gilbert. We have to burn him like other kids." [The headmaster] is like, "Nope. I have a special torture for him." [The professor is] like, "Nope, we're going to get Gilbert." These pygmies, they knew who I was. They're like, "No, we want to have him like the other kids. We're going to burn him." [The headmaster is] like, "No, no, no--I'm saving him for myself. I'm going to crucify him." [The professor is] like, "No." After battling, [the headmaster is] like, "Get out of here." I was roped. They took a rope, here--go behind my back and it would be back here. I was put in the middle. He's like, "Make sure he doesn't get away." I was guarded by men with machete and arrows. They took my 70:00clothes. They took--I had nice jeans. They took it out. I had nice shoes. They took it out. I was in shorts, tiny shorts. It looked like underwear. In the shorts, I had $1,000 in Burundi Francs money that my parents sent me to go home. I was like, You know what, if something happens, I would go and get this money and buy a Fanta or bus pass. It gets me somewhere.
Then we're pushed. It started pouring rain--took the shoes. Most of the peoplewere naked. And as we go into the holocaust, the place they were going to burn alive everyone. I mean, it was, like, humiliating. You go through stage. People would be like, "I know him. I know him," but they can't help. They [can't] speak up. I'm guarded among twenty-two people. We get there. We get in front of the 71:00building. They want to make sure that everybody who went to the building gets hit in the neck. They brought the strongest guys in the village to make sure they don't miss--hit here [indicates back of neck]. They had a code, and it was inimbo nugutwie, which is paralyze--is the best way to say it--paralyze. So by the time you get in the fire you won't breathe. You won't be able to do anything. As we're getting there, everybody was shocked. There was a rope coming here. You know, the drumming and doing a lot of pull-ups and pushups, my upper body was ripped--strong. So when they put a rope here, I went like this. It was loose, but I was scared to get out because they were going to kill me with a machete. They were going to kill me bad, so I didn't want to do that. And I heard a voice--the voice was strong telling me I'll be okay. I didn't know what it was. 72:00
So before you enter the building you had a choice. They were asking you if youreally want to be burned alive, or they'll kill you in front. So one of the kids, his dad was a general in the army, he said, "No, I don't want to go in the fire." So they chopped him into pieces. My eyes--for the first time in my story for me to be able to see that was incredible. I mean, it's just--I jumped into the building. When I jumped they tried to bring me back, because that rope was loose, so--but instead of hitting me here [on the neck]--because the guy went up front, and it was--I don't know a miracle happened. He hit me here [on my back]. I kind of bled for a couple of weeks, but I was okay. And then once we get in the fire, man, the headmaster was a chemist. He brought some chemical. They would spray some chemical in the fire. I mean, up on building. Then, they would 73:00use gasoline. They'd spread gasoline using the eucalyptus branches, and then light the building. I witnessed my friends dying, and I was waiting for my turn. After air I was fighting--so as you can see, this is like twenty-two years ago. Think about it. Also, as you can see, my back--so like my back right here--all the way. So my leg, right--my leg. The fire was coming from the roof, so what I would do, I would cover like this--cover head with some people, because I was strong and pretty much they were half dead or dead. I had to fight for my life. They were outside chanting, celebrating. I had to get out, and there was no way 74:00I would be able to get out.
At 3:00 a.m. they want to come in and finish it. They take spears and poking oneverybody to make sure nobody is still alive, but I was in the corner hiding. I yanked the spear from the guy, and he's like, "Someone is still up." Someone says, "It is Gilbert who went in. There was another soldier. It's either the soldier or it is Gilbert who went in with no--" [gestures to back of neck] because they didn't beat me here [on my neck]. They're like, "We have to go in and finish him." First they would throw some stones to kind of give someone a chance to enter. I was in the corner and I'm dying, I'm dying, but I have to defend myself right now. There's no help. This is in the middle of the 75:00night--determined to escape.
Finally, they heard the soldiers [knew] what was happening. They start leaving.Only the diehard people stayed. I heard a voice. The voice was really strong telling me that I'd be okay. I didn't know what the voice was [that was] talking to me, but it was confident. It was like, "You'll be okay. You'll be okay." But as a teenager, I started accusing myself. Man, everybody would go to church. I'd go play. When everybody would go here, I would go run. Man, I'm getting punished. How in the world am I in this fire? I was the fastest kid. The slow person is not here. Why? Why? I mean, I couldn't find a solution. Finally, I said a prayer. I said, "God, please forgive me." Man, I came up [with the] idea that--after I said that prayer--I came up [with the] idea. Some idea started 76:00coming up that I've got to get out, because they intensified the fire. Now, they [the mob outside] go on the roof, they spread the gasoline, then they release a chemical. The chemical was to see if anybody is still awake. You know what is--the people would go--tss--it's a sign that [they were still breathing]. The smoke was too bad, chemicals too bad. And for me, I would go [covers nose with hand and holds breath]. I would breathe using my mouth and nose, and because of the endurance I could hold [my breath] longer.
And finally, I'm like, You know what? I'm going to die outside. If they kill me,if they chop off my head, fine. At least, my parents when they come to to see a piece of me, they'll be able to see a piece of Gilbert. So I have to get out. I took a dead body, broke the window. The window was made of bars, like one, two in the middle. So I stick my head out. Usually when your head can get out, your body can fit. I learned that a long time ago. So my head went through. I'm like, 77:00Man, I can do this. But if I break the one in the middle, it's even more room, so I broke the one in the middle using a dead body. No, I didn't have a choice. As soon as I broke the window, I look outside. They're waiting. I threw the person that I used to break [the window with], I threw outside, was half dead. Maybe she was like unconscious--woke up! As soon as she woke up, they threw a spear here that [went] through all the way up here. That scared me. It really scared me because if I go out, they're going to kill me bad. But you know what? I said a prayer: "Please God, help me." I grabbed the top [of the window and went out] legs first. I was like, If they cut my leg, I will be able to see and 78:00testify. And this is really a miracle--I land in the midst of them. When I land in the midst of them, they didn't see me. You know, I've been like in hell, and now I'm in heaven, because breathing nice air it took maybe ten seconds to realize that I'm in heaven. Man, I'm like, waiting. They're going to cut my head, but I'm not--I'm not waiting for anything--nobody.
Finally, I saw a path. There was nobody. That place has been [guarded]--nobody.They probably left. It was three o'clock in the morning. I sprint. As I'm going--the fire in my back--because they were throwing gasoline on us. Like, "Gilbert is living!" I was chased. They chased me, but they were drunk. They were tired. They gave up. But I didn't go far. It was at the top of the 79:00mountain, so it's kind of a dip. And these people--when people hear genocide, they think something happened overnight. You know, when you look at the ten stages of genocide, those things are planned. Those things happen before that day. I was just ignorant, didn't pay attention, but it was forming. And so they had to dig up a lot of holes to bury people. Because of it raining that day, it was full of water--I landed in that hole. Man, I remember this leg getting in the water. That's when I noticed there was a huge hole, and I look here was a huge hole. I was so angry, but that was really when I'm starting the journey of survival, because now these people are going to chase me. There were groups of people that were hesitating. "He went this way." [The other group said], "Let 80:00him, we're going to find him tomorrow morning. He's almost dead. He's on fire. He's going to burn until he dies. Let's wait." I heard them. I'm in a dangerous area. So, think about it. The safer area is this way. I am in the dangerous area. I have to get out. I remember putting one leg in front of the other--this is a new body by the way [gestures at scars on his leg]. I remember trying to walk in the midst of a big coffee plantation trying to put one leg in front of the other. It was incredibly, incredibly, painful, taking one leg in front of the other. Then, I was able to make it.
But before I made it, I end up in the--as you walk into the forest there's wind.81:00Every tree would move. [I would say,] "Oh!" and I would stop but it's not a person. Because it's dark. I end up in a group of Hutu. One of them was the guy who was in charge of making sure that everybody was on fire, that everybody was burning. But he went home. He went home right as I was escaping, but it took that time to get to his house. He had moved his family from in his house to outside in the forest, because they heard the soldiers [knew what] was happening, and they feared that the soldiers would come [for] revenge. So they got out of the house. Boom! [I] land in them. They're like, "Oh, no. Here's Gilbert." I said, I'm going to die. What am I going to do here? Run? I can't run. What am I going to do here? 82:00
This woman, she came up to me, and she said, "Do you need water?" I said no. Ididn't trust anyone, because my grandma had taught me that if it's a poison and you put it on the ground, it I will burn. Whoever's going to give you poison in your drink, pour it on the ground first. If it burns, that's poison. So the woman gave me the water, I poured it on the ground, it doesn't burn. She's like, "I'm going to give you a jacket." I'm like, "Jacket--where?" [She said,] "[I'll] get a jacket because you're cold." Because everything started tensing up.
This is like around five o'clock. A man showed up he's like, "Yeah, here'sGilbert. He ran away." I'm like, "No, no, no you're lying. I didn't run away; they let me." Because there was no way I'd say that I ran away. But when in the midst of chaos, you don't know what's going on, so I said, "Hey, do you know they let me go? There was a confusion. They let me go." There was no way you 83:00would be able to explain because everybody--I mean, dead. "There was a confusion." And he was like, "How so?" [I said,] "I am not a Tutsi. I am a mix. In fact, I'm a Hutu, so they let me go because my dad is a Hutu, but my mom is a Tutsi."
Then they started doing what the Nazis did. They started doing something I'dnever heard, I'd never seen. I learned it in the school, but I didn't even pay attention, because we didn't have the measurement. They measured my nose. They measured my forehead. They even measured my ankle. They said, "Show me your hands." I showed them my hands. They come did this, and they measured this. They're like, "He's a Tutsi. Let's kill him. He's a Tutsi." I'm like, "Listen guys, there's a mistake here. I am a Hutu. My mom is a Tutsi. My dad is a Hutu. 84:00Doesn't that make a Hutu?" They're like--some were like, "It's true." Some were like, "No, I saw him. He escaped. Let's kill him. I'm going to bring trees to crucify him."
They're like, "Before you crucify him, let's ask a few questions. Where are youfrom?" Where I'm from, it's--the previous president [had] come from my area. If I said where I'd come from--my province was a--I mean, among the things not to mention was to say my province. That was one--that province--no. I was worried the guy knew who I was because I was in that school from seventh grade to thirteenth grade. That means a lot of time running. They knew. There's no way I would fake it. So I said, "I'm coming from Rumonge." Rumonge, it was a place 85:00where they killed a lot of the Tutsi. There's no Tutsi left, but it's still in that same province. Because I'm like, If they know I'm from that province, at least I got that. It's one of those days, you know, God was with me. I said, "I'm from Rumonge." They said, "Yeah, guys, Rumonge is not Tutsi." The guy came back strong and said, "Nope. I saw him running away. Let's crucify him. Do not waste time. Let's crucify him."
Men went to get the trees to crucify me, but the women stayed with me. One womansaid, "Go, kid." There's a way they say kid--kibo, which is kid. [She said,] "Get out of here." I'm like, "Where?" [She said,] "Kid, get out of here. Go here--I think I heard that you can go to the hospital." She gave me an idea to go to the hospital. I was going to go get in the woods to end up, because I heard the soldiers, but I went to the hospital. Before I get to the hospital, 86:00there was a group waiting to attack people. I didn't have my clothes back then, and I was running like funny. I mean, tippy toes and I couldn't put my whole weight on my leg. I end up in the maternity room. I'm like, You know what? Even if these people are horrible, at least they will respect the hospital and the maternity room. Sure enough, there was a guy that saw me, and he followed me, but I was fast. He was sneaking around the door. The guy was here. The guy was here. I don't know if you're ever scared. I was in here locking the door, holding the door waiting. If he's going to come in by himself, I'm going to fight him off. He was the only guy that chased me. I saw him. I'm breathing heavy. My heart is like (breathes heavily). I don't even--in a dark room. It's quiet. I'm nervous. My heart was louder than a car passing on the freeway, 87:00"Stop." And finally the guy, "Oh, that was not a guy." I heard him saying to his friends--said, "Hey, that might be a devil because it didn't have clothes. It was running funny. It couldn't be a human being. Let's get out of here." So that saved me.
It took like another maybe thirty, forty minutes, and I heard a gun. Thesoldiers, they came. They heard what happened. They're socked, like, How can you do this? They were killing everything they found in the road. Then they heard that beautiful girls, teachers, mostly women, and some--there was some survivors in the hospital. They came into the hospital. I refused to open the door, and I heard outside, "Let's go. They're taking everybody out of the hospital." Before 88:00they can fight them, they want to take them to the army. They brought a big army car to take everybody. And he's like, "Hey, has anybody seen Gilbert?" I wait and then people were like, "We heard Gilbert was the first one to be executed. We heard that was the first person to be killed." Of course, they didn't know I was hiding. I looked through the window. It was my classmate. You remember the story I told you--the guy that we damaged the land for corn sweet? That was the son of that man. His name is Manirakiza which [means] "God's healing." And I 89:00recognized him. I jumped. I opened the window, because I didn't know if they were going to fire the gun. But I opened it slowly. I said, "Manirakiza, I'm here." He came and hugged me. I'm like, "There's no place to hug." He threw the gun down, weeping, crying. Then he's like, "Let's go." I'm like, "Where are you taking me?" And then they got an order on the radio that says, "Guys, keep the kids here. We're going to come later. There's an issue we have to solve here. We have to go fight these people. They're coming to kill the people at every hospital. Let's chase them."
We stayed with a few armies. There was a room full of student girls. What theyhad done, they would break the ankles, so they won't be able to walk. They had a plan to come the next day. They would select the beautiful girls, and then they 90:00would come the next day to whatever they were planning to do--or they were chopping faces like, "You are a stupid Tutsi. You will never get married. You're so cocky." They would chop the faces--I mean, stupid stuff.
I was so thirsty. I probably drank maybe two to three gallons at once. I lost somuch water. I didn't know if I was going to get food. This has been like almost twenty-four hours no food. I'm dehydrated. I drank the water. And then I--we're taken to the hospital--the army hospital. The news all over was [that] all the kids in the Kibimba--if you had kids in the Kibimba, they're all dead. My parents didn't even try, because they know there's a war everywhere. They 91:00started doing the funeral ceremony. Until one week later, Lucy--that Lucy we went to ask--she's the one who was able to tell my family that I'm alive. In fact, she took care of me in the hospital. She took care of me. She fed me, and she was able to report to my parents how I was doing over the phone. Telephone was not advanced like in these days, but she was able to get a hold of a phone and call my brother. My brother back then, he was already in the army, came and got me and transferred me to a hospital nearby where I had grown up. My grandma came to see me. It was incredible, and she was like, "I'm glad you're alive." They'd never seen anybody that was burned, but it was rejoiceful. It was a joyous moment to be able to see my parents again, because they didn't know what 92:00to expect.
Then I was in the hospital, trying to reflect on what happened. How could [thathave been] prevented? There was a tension that built up that I didn't know, because I was focused on sports. But also, God has a plan, a plan for me to testify, to tell this story to the new generation. Number one, never give up, because I didn't want to give up my fight. Also [since] I was in the fire, I learned the things it's very important that's going on in our society is to be able to move on. I want to find a way to live a healthy life and a happy life. One way is to forgive the enemy that caused such pain to move on, because if I 93:00think about these people that are trying to kill me, it will hold me hostage. I chose to forgive, so I could move on. It was not easy because these people were killing--were still killing. They would go to church pretending that they're Christian. They were going to church. If you're a Christian, why do you go to church with a machete? They had a machete and when the church is over, they go kill people. What kind of person, what kind of Christian is that? I learned that, you know what, I don't have to worry what the people are doing. I have to worry about me and my well-being. To clear my mind, to clear my head, is to find joy in running--start running. The doctor had said I would never run again. Until one day I was able to jog. And when I jog, I was able to--so this was--it was not this big because I couldn't stretch my leg. There was this whole--I mean, it's still--it looks like-- 94:00
SLOAN: Scar tissue.
TUHABONYE: Yeah, and this leg has been giving me trouble over the years. Anyway,I chose to forgive, to live a happy life, so I can tell the story. When you look at the bad things that are happening, the bullying and the genocide happening everyday somewhere around the world--Burundi's in trouble right now. You look at what happened. What can I do on my end to control? I was able to start a foundation, and the foundation is to give back to the people that are trying to kill me--to bring peace. These people--if you look at how these people trying to kill me. Part of inside of them--besides the leader, the politician--the normal people didn't have any business killing me or killing my relatives or my friends. They're easy to manipulate because most of them haven't been to school. Most of them are poor. A little thing will trigger some of this killing. So one 95:00of the things was to bring joy and to bring peace to people is water--water which is number one problem in Africa. So right now, I'm able to give to fifty thousand--are getting clean water to home. I'm still building. We're still--the foundation is changing lives because I didn't give up, because I didn't lose hope, and because I changed to educate the new generation. I change because I had to change myself.
In 2011, I went back to see the place that I escaped. It was an incrediblejourney. I learned so much how things happened event by event, because I didn't know. I met the man who came to rescue us. The reason it took us so long for the 96:00soldiers from twenty-six miles [away] to get to us, it was [because] these people, they planned this genocide. It didn't happen overnight. They dig up a lot of holes, and they were going to mess up the street. Then they would dig a hole, and they'd leave dirt. You're thinking it's a street, but it's a hole and cars would [fall in]. So it would take forever, and a lot of people died--a lot of accidents. So they decided to walk. That's why it took so long, because they were running through barricades. The commander, I was able to meet him. That was a conclusion, to be able to conclude. I was able to go to the place that I almost lost my life. It was incredible. People said, "Don't go," because if you go, it might trigger--you probably know--if you go it might trigger those 97:00[memories], but I needed a conclusion. It's been a great journey to be able to tell this story, to educate a new generation. Yes, genocide happened--what can you do to your enemy? What can you do to prevent that happening? Because it still happens. I'm so proud to be part of this Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission because one, our mission is to educate, to tell the new generation, to prevent so it will not happen again.
SLOAN: You talked about at one point that while all this was going on, you werewatching, wanting to remember what had happened so you could tell the story.
TUHABONYE: You mean in the fire?
SLOAN: Yeah, in the fire--so you could tell the story, so you could tell thefamilies, so you could tell others about what happened. I know this is giving you that opportunity. Also, your book gave you that opportunity, and you still 98:00find opportunities to tell others what happened.
TUHABONYE: Yes, back then in the fire, I don't think I knew I would comethrough. I didn't know, but it came to a conclusion the last minutes. After eight hours of burning, something weird happened. I think it was a voice. The voice was telling me that I would be okay, but I didn't know where the voice was coming from. By the way, I tried to kill myself, by the way. I wanted to kill myself in the fire. I went up, there was concrete, and I landed head first to see if I'd pass out, and it didn't happen. Then that's where the voice was really strong, "Nothing will happen, son. You will survive." But I didn't know what the voice was talking to me. Later on I learned what that voice was. That's the voice that is with me today that is telling me to go out and change the world. Tell the story, so it doesn't happen again. Also, to go change the world, 99:00you have to change--because I changed. You cannot live a life full of joy, if your heart is full of hate and anger. You've got to change.
SLOAN: Well, Gilbert, I want to thank you for taking time today to meet with us.
TUHABONYE: No problem.
SLOAN: Nate, I don't know if you have questions you want answered.
ROBERTS: I have one. I know music and drumming was so important to you, and it'ssuch a big part of growing up, and the songs your grandmother sang, and even now with running, you do chants. I was wondering if you might bless us with a song or chant, just very quickly so that the people who watch this can really get a sense of your music because it's very powerful. It seems like it's such a big part of you, that I think it would be incomplete without some sort of song. 100:00
TUHABONYE: You know, I was given a gift to coach people. This world is full ofstruggle, a lot of struggling with mental health and confidence. I go out and motivate people. When people hear about my story--yes, I went through hell, but I was able to overcome and do great things. I coach high school. I coach kids. I coach at one of the premier high schools in Austin--St. Andrews. When you ask a song, sometimes I do songs to distract people, so you think it's not the end of the world. Free your mind. Sing. Maybe those words don't mean anything, but it's freeing your mind. We overthink about a lot of the things. Some of the songs I like to do--it's all different.
One is a song about my grandma. It means a lot to me. We live in a world where101:00it's always, what's next. What's next? What's next? What's next? We don't slow down. Do we ever take time to slow down? Do you ever take time to listen to your family? Do you ever take time to listen to your kids? The song about my grandma, it reminds me how our grandma, again, was not educated but going to church every day. She wanted to share a song to ground us, to unite us. She had a meaning, because we were not privileged to have electricity in the house. She would be cooking. It takes time. How do get your kids, your grandkids, to sing and to enjoy, to wait for the beans you're cooking, wait for the potato you're cooking. You've got to distract the kids. It was very smart, not like, "Don't sleep. Don't sleep," because they're going to do it. She was very smart. 102:00
Nzoririmba igitangaza Yesu Mwami Yakoze
Ndikumwe nabo Mwijuru Imbere ya yantebe
Ndacabona Ibimbabaza ariko yesu arnkiza
Aca Anshira mubitugu anjana iwe mwijuru
Nzoririmba igitangaza Yesu Mwami Yakoze
[O victory in Jesus, my Savior forever
He saved me and I love him
All my love is due to him
He suffered for me at Calvary
And shed his redeeming blood]
One of the songs that I would like to sing before I die is "Amazing Grace."Amazing grace! It's one of the songs that I would like to sing before I die. 103:00When I teach people for running, I believe when you go out running and something hurts, your muscle hurts, we use a chant that I used in elementary school. When I was coming from the school, I was exhausted. I was tired. My mother would say, "Son, do not ask for help from a stranger. You've got to run when you see the rain." To run to beat the rain, there's a song. I was going through forests and was thinking about a chant about lions. All the animals [are] chasing you. The animals is dangerous animals, so you would think when you're running for your life, the lion will catch you. So there's a chant we used to do as a group. It goes like this:
TUHABONYE: So I keep saying the words, and then everybody says, "Iyo ngwe." Canyou do that? Say, "Iyo ngwe."
SLOAN: Iyo ngwe.
TUHABONYE: No, not--you have to do it in the rhythm.
Tuhabonye teaches chant to the interviewers104:00
[In English: The lion is coming; don't let it catch you]
TUHABONYE: You keep adding some good words. Before you know it, you've covereddistance and we attack one another [pass one another]. There's so many that I have in my head that I sing it to my students. There's another one that's called, "Last Forever." [In Kinyarwanda: N'umwanrama]
TUHABONYE: Before you know it, you cover distance. It's amazing. It's a part of105:00me because everything was fun, and that's probably why I still enjoy what I do. I teach when I go with a friend to go run and sing. They're, "I can't sing and run!" No, yeah, you can sing and run. Just free your mind. Think about singing. I do marathons, and people ask me, "Why in the world? What are you thinking when you're running a marathon?" First, a marathon is forty-two kilometers--twenty-six miles. You have to think one at a time. Towards the end, your brain gives up, your body gives up. How do you come alive? I sing. Man, after mile twenty-two, I start singing, "Thank you God. Thank you for allowing me to be alive to be able to do what I do. I almost died. Thank you for giving me a chance. Thank you. Thank you." I keep singing, and I mix it up with "N'umwanrama." I mix it up with "Iyo ngwe." I mix it up with singing. Before I know it, I'm across the finish line. There is the people who are like, "How do you find the joy when you're running a marathon?" Because you know what? The 106:00more you think about the marathon, you focus on the negative. It gets in your head, and your body is hurting. It's like, I can't do this. It doesn't happen to me. I'm strongest in the last part of the marathon, because I dedicate that last piece as a thankful a moment. I'm thankful because I can run. There's someone out there who wants to run, but they can't do it--either they're handicapped, or just don't have the capability of doing what I'm doing.
SLOAN: Well, thank you again.
TUHABONYE: I'm going to teach another one of the songs. You provoked me. (alllaugh) There is one called "Run Fast." It's called "Tigita." T-i-g-i-t-a. Tigita. It goes like this.
TUHABONYE: It means run, run, run. I could have been a musician, don't youthink? (all laugh)
Yeah, thank you again for what you do. That's the reason I volunteered to dothis, because number one, I know how important it is. People are cautious, people are [thinking,] I don't want to give my story because I don't want people to hunt me back. My story as you can see, it's a mixture of--you can summarize my life in three segments. Life at the beginning was awesome fun, guarding cows, getting love from my family, running to school barefoot, having fun with my friends. Then there was a time I really, really suffered and ran for my life. I was put in a burning building, put in the fire. I overcame. I survived. The reason I survived, it was not because I was strong or fast. God had a plan for 108:00me to one day to tell the story, and because of that I didn't give up. Now, I run with joy, and to be able to find joy is because I'm able to let it go. That's history. That's past. The story needs to be told, but it doesn't hold me back. I was able to move on--my own life--my next journey--helping people prevent. It's a privilege for me to be part of the commission, to serve on the commission, to serve on a state level, so we can tell the story. What is the best way for me being on the commission is to be able to tell the story. I think that's where it has to start.
end of interview