A Long Way from Paradise: Surviving The Rwanda Genocide by Leah Chishugi
In recent times, Rwanda has made headlines for the wrong reasons, from an alleged attempt on the lives of exiled Rwandese in London, to a protest, led by Paul Rusesabagina, whose story inspired the film Hotel Rwanda, against President Paul Kagame in Chicago. And most recently, reports of another foiled plot to kill former Rwandan army chief, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, exiled in South Africa and survived being shot in an ambush back in 2010. It seems remnants of the 1994 genocide will always find a way to remind us of history’s bitter days.
Nevertheless, there are many, whose story still strikes a chord because their experience of the genocide has spurred them to become agents of change as they speak their truth. This is what Leah Chishugi does with her memoir, A Long Way from Paradise: Surviving the Rwanda Genocide, as she recounts her journey to safety during the 100 days that would redefine the history of the nation. Chishugi, a Tutsi, was on a modelling assignment at Kigali’s airport on April 6, 1994, the day the killings started. She writes: “We have been told that you have ‘inyenzi’ in here. The word ‘inyenzi’ was no longer hurtful to me. It had become a word that meant ‘my people.’ If I see a cockroach scuttling across the ground now I cannot kill it because I feel like I’m killing a member of my own family.”
Realising life would never be the same, after what she witnessed, Chishugi and her son must find away to stay alive when it becomes clear that the UN and its peacekeepers were in no position to help anyone. Her determination to survive takes Chishugi on a journey that will see her go from one roadblock to another, hoping this is not the moment she dreads. At other times, Chishugi and the company she picks up along the way go through the bush, believing this was their best chance of staying alive, until they come face to face with the unthinkable. Forced to grow up before she was ready and barely escaping the snares of death, thanks to the generosity of those who remembered their humanity, Chishugi lived to tell her story. A powerful and courageous story, it stays with you for days un-end.
A Long Way fromParadise: Surviving The Rwanda Genocide is published by Virago Books.
This review was published in the New African magazine, August-September, 2011.