Thursday, September 29, 2005

Where were you

On April 6, 1994?

I was probably at home preparing for my departure to the next big thing - college. I may be watching tv, or just lazing around reading a book. Where were you on that day? What were you doing?

As for thousands of people in Rwanda, they could be hiding under their beds, hacking a neighbor, listening to the radio in fear, drinking booze or even became the last day of their entire lives. And I had no idea that this was going on.

I never thought that watching Hotel Rwanda would affect me so much. My interest in this movie only lies in Don Cheadle who got an Oscar nomination for his role and the fact that it is a true story.

But this movie has proven yet again that one person can make a difference. In this case, one man's wit and courage made a difference to 1268 people who came to his hotel, the Mille Collines for protection.

Paul Rusesabagina's story is an amazing story. He's been called a hero, the African Schindler. But in real life he's just an average, working man who loves his family. But he has a gift of wooing and charming anyone he sees, be it a politician, soldier, journalist or the common cook. This gift was put to the test when the Hutus waged war against the Tutsis for 100 days in 1994.

The hotel was in danger of being raided at any time during those 100 crazy days. But Paul was able to charm his way with the Rwandan Police General, reached out all the way to Belgium to plead with the President of Sabena, the hotel's parent company. The president managed to contact the French, a main supplier for the Hutu Militia (the Interahamwe), and stopped a possible massacre at his hotel.

Another amazing thing about Paul's story is the great love that he has for his family. If all the events in the movie is true to life, I would say it's pretty amazing. His wife, Tatiana is a Tutsi so she was at grave danger if discovered but Paul is Hutu. There are many times that one of them could leave and take their 4 children to safety but the other would not want to leave the other behind. Paul, being a Hutu could travel in safety but he didn't want to leave his wife.

One time, the whole Rusesabagina family together with a few other families had a chance to leave Rwanda via special exit visas. But at the last minute Paul couldn't do it. he couldn't bear to see the people who was left behind. But the escape mission was thwarted and the UN convoy was forced to return to the hotel. Tatiana refused to talk to Paul and when she finally did she took off her wedding ring and threw it at him.
Take this. I don't want it. I don't want it. You said you'd never leave me and you left me.
They would rather die together than be apart and live. One of my favorite parts.

He finally lost it when General Bizimungu of the Rwandan Police took Paul out to another hotel that Paul used to work with, to collect his dues. At the Diplomate he revealed that the Interahamwe is on their way to the Mille Collines. Desparate and anxious for his family, Paul wanted to go back but the General suggested that he'd be better off at the Diplomate.
Paul: General... these are difficult times. We need to help one another.
Bizimungu: And what help can I get from you, Paul?
Paul: You are a marked man, sir.
Bizimungu: How so?
Paul: You are on the list. The Americans have you on their list as a war criminal.
Bizimungu: Paul, I am sick and tired of your lies.
Paul: Are you stupid, General? How do you think these people operate? You sit here with five stars on your chest, who do you think they are coming after?
The General, not being stupid, went back to the Mille Collines and stopped the Interahamwe from doing anymore damage. But he was tried and convicted of war crimes anyway. Another favorite part of mine.

What amazes me (and the whole world actually) about the whole Rwandan crises is that not one of the great superpowers (US, UK, French, UN) did anything to stop it. Their reasoning - they were afraid that what happened in Somalia will happen again. They were afraid that another 18 Americans will die. Yeah right. To prevent the likelihood of having 18 Americans die they would rather watch 1,000,000 Africans hacked to death.

The irony is, the then US President Bill Clinton actually dedicated a holocaust memorial just a year before the whole debacle started. Citing "Never Again", he said
Our task, with God's blessings upon our souls and the memories of the fallen in our hearts and minds, is to the ceaseless struggle to preserve human rights and dignity.
His office wouldn't even use the word 'genocide' when it comes to the Rwandan crisis.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke, English philosopher

But I guess we couldn't count the US as 'good men'.

But thank God for people like Paul Rusesabagina and other countless, nameless heros who did do something to stop any acts of evil. My hope is I could do the same thing if I was ever in the same situation.

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