My dad, my hero: Finding strength in memories

BANG! BANG! BANG! There was a loud sound at the door.“Honey, they have come for us this time… Take the kids and go out through the back window and onto the roof and see if you can sneak into the neighbors’ house. I will try to distract them and hold them off as long as I can.

BANG! BANG! BANG! There was a loud sound at the door.
“Honey, they have come for us this time… Take the kids and go out through the back window and onto the roof and see if you can sneak into the neighbors’ house. I will try to distract them and hold them off as long as I can.

They are after money but there’s no telling what they would do to you and the girls. Be quick, go, everything will be alright. I will see you later.”

Those were the last words I heard my dad say. Little did I know that it was the last time I would see him alive…the last time I would ever see him.

Some memories never fade, no matter how long it’s been. I remember that day like it was yesterday and yet today it’s exactly 13 years since it all happened.

October 28, 1996 started as what we called a normal day, with shot guns and bombings from left, right and center.

They started at night and lasted till early next morning at 7am, when all gun shots would cease before we went to school. We woke up early in the morning and got ready for school, then sat and waited; never sure if it would be a school day or holiday; classes depended on how long the gun shots and bombings lasted.

Being kids this was so much fun but it got irritating when we really missed school.

That same year on Monday October 28, as we waited, we were really anticipating a school day -- but that day was very different. The noise from the firing outside was deafening, it went on until around 10a.m., another holiday declared.

After a few encounters with rebels on the road, my dad had stopped going to his workplace and was working at home. It wasn’t safe anymore for any Rwandan or anyone to walk in the streets of Congo.

The country was turning upside down and anything could happen to you. All this time, we never thought that the danger would be brought to our doorsteps.

My mom was five months pregnant and was sitting in the living room sipping tea. The rest of that day was quiet and we did not expect any more trouble. Together with my four sisters, we felt like prisoners in the house.  My dad kept himself busy ironing our clothes while chatting with us and our aunt.

Suddenly we heard a noise. Silence fell into the room, we all stopped what we were doing, we couldn’t breathe, and we listened.

Someone was trying to force the door open downstairs. Then they started banging and we knew the moment we had all feared was finally here. I felt cold chills run down my spine.

I knew if these were the wrong guys, no one would be left alive and I can’t tell you the horrible ways they used to kill people. My mom panicked and suggested we all got on the roof and find a way to get into the neighbors’ house.

It seemed like the only option and my dad had to think fast.

He said, ‘if they are just Congolese soldiers, all they would want would be money and anything valuable, but being ladies, it wouldn’t be safe to stay. And if they are rebels and had come to take us away, they would catch up with us in no time if we all run away.’

So he decided that he would stay and try to hold them off for as long as he could but that we had to escape. Mom pleaded with him to come with us but he said he couldn’t risk our lives and he needed to know that his family was safe.

We hurriedly went onto the roof to our first neighbors’ window and knocked. They looked at us and refused to open. There we were, standing on the roof, a pregnant woman, my aunt, three girls and two toddlers, 4 and 2 years old and this person didn’t feel sorry and left us hanging there.

We were so afraid that someone might see us and alert the rebels. We rushed to our second neighbors’ window and we had to cut through a thick net covering it to be able to sneak in.

They took us in and we sat in their living room.
In the meantime my dad had gone downstairs and was dealing with the soldiers. Our neighbors were looking out of the window and telling us everything that was happening.

They said they had taken him away. Sitting in the living room wasn’t safe anymore so they hid us in the bathroom. We sat on the floor and listened to the noises coming from outside. Then we heard that they had brought our dad back and were asking for money.

My mom had about $150.00 and gave it all to the neighbors. Suddenly, we heard a lot of noises like people were fighting, then very loud gunshots and my neighbors’ started screaming.

“They are killing him!” they shouted.
We started crying. My mom was hysterical and almost got out of the bathroom.

Everything calmed down for a while and our neighbors assured us that there had been some fighting but everything was ok now but they looked unsure about my dad. We sat in that bathroom for four hours, with no other news from my dad.

Around 8pm, they told us they were taking us down to the church behind our house. They said it was safer but all we wanted to know was if dad was ok.

They kept giving us vague answers, no one was really telling us what was going on. They took us down to the church in the middle of the night into a dark office where we sat and waited. Finally my cousin came and told us everything that had happened. They had killed him.

I later learnt that they had asked him where his wife and kids were because that was all they were looking for. They said they would leave him alone if he told them where we had gone but my father would not tell them anything.

All the horrifying details of what they did are better left unsaid because I cannot pen them down. All I can say is that no guns were used and they killed him right in front of our house and left him there.

Later some of his students came from the University that was close by and carried his body into the church-- the same church we were hiding in yet we never knew he was there.

That night, they took us to an upper room next to a garage and locked us up. They covered the door with tables and stones in such a way that no one would have guessed that there was a door behind.

We spent days there and a funeral service was conducted the following day for my father. We couldn’t attend because they were still looking for us and we had to remain in hiding.

By the time they took off for burial in the afternoon, the gunshots and bombings started again and people run in every direction and the body was left with the Red Cross. Everyone run off, we were left alone.

Eventually we got out and survived. To this day, I have no idea where my father was buried, or if at all he was buried.

The last memory I have of him is of a father trying to protect his family to the end. He gave up his life for us and that’s the most precious memory a child can have of her dad, merely knowing that even through the chaos we were safe.

We can never get over his death because we feel, he was cheated out of his family and his life but I only have sweet memories of him.

The way he loved my mom and taught me that true love really does exist. He helped around the house and showed me how to clean plates and cook rice, he helped us with our school work taught me what good parents are supposed to be, he taught me what a real man is.

If I had to describe what a hero is, I would talk about my dad. Not only because of what he did on that day, but for all the things he did throughout his life, fighting and standing up for what was right and in all of that, he was God fearing. That was the hero, my dad was.

narukatsi@yahoo.fr

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