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ISSUE 120 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/2/2007

Rusesabagina shares story

By Kirstin Fawcett
Staff Writer

Friday, March 2, 2007

Paul Rusesabagina is internationally touted as being the “real-life hero” of Hollywood’s “Hotel Rwanda.” However, many forget that he, too, also faced losses and hardships in the midst of the country’s 1994 genocide. Although Rusesabagina managed to save the lives of his wife, children and 1,268 Tutsi refugees, the horrific carnage he witnessed in the streets, not to mention the murder of both his parents, his brother and sister-in-law, had to have irrevocably altered his view of humanity forever.

Aware of the ordeals he faced 12 years ago, I attended Paul Rusesabagina’s lecture anticipating harrowing accounts of affliction and suffering. But Rusesabagina remained charismatic yet stoic, impassioned yet unruffled, as he explained how tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic tribes had escalated to result in massacre.

Despite his fame being partly derived from accounts detailing his own life, such as “Hotel Rwanda” and his autobiography “An Ordinary Man,” 40 minutes of Rusesabagina’s speech explained the origin of the centuries-old conflict between Hutus and Tutsis. Rusesabagina then segued into a personal narration of the role he played in the Rwandan genocide, which, save a few exceptions, closely mirrored the movie of his life.

Having first watched “Hotel Rwanda” a mere three months ago, the images of despondent Tutsi refugees, strife and slaughter were freshly burnt in my mind. Therefore, I unconsciously arrived at Boe Chapel expecting to hear the speech of a man who would radiate the indelible melancholy of unseen horrors, a speaker who would draw upon his own tragedy to poignantly affect the emotions of others in an effort to inspire activism and change. However, Rusesabagina did not employ ethos-evoking detail and imagery to manipulate the audience’s emotions, and chose instead to keep his speech informative.

At times, Rusesabagina referenced the terror he and his family had felt amidst east Rwanda’s collective chaos. Nevertheless, despite the recollection of these traumatic past events, his mannerisms were devoid of stray tears and furrowed brows.

Throughout Rusesabagina’s speech, I tried to detect a sense of mourning for the past. Rusesbagina, however, seemed more intent on using his experiences to hinder present and future genocides in Africa, as opposed to merely memorializing the murdered. He made it clear that his new purpose in life was not to be a walking testimonial of history, but instead, to use his experience to spur transformative activism. In an effort to make this mission clear, Rusesabagina concluded his speech by instructing the audience, “Tomorrow is yours. You are tomorrow’s leaders. Shape tomorrow like you want it to be.”

Rusesabagina’s theme of preventive activism carried over into the subsequent question and answer session, in which various students asked how they could change the current situation in Darfur or make a positive difference in a seemingly uncaring world. Rusesabagina urged the student body to raise awareness amongst their peers, as well as to push government leaders to play a more active role in enforcing international peace-keeping policy.

As Rusesabagina talked with the audience, he shared his belief that conditions in Africa would never be alleviated as long as combat replaced conversation, stating that “[Africa] did not learn a lesson. There is no negotiation without dialogue, and there is no dialogue going on.” However, Rusesabagina claimed, the international community had learned from the Rwandan genocide that global dialogue was imperative for the peace process. Now, it was up to today’s future generations to set such dialogue in motion, but with words instead of guns.

Most of Rusesabagina’s contemporaries and admirers, including myself, unintentionally focus mostly on the brave actions of his past. However, the Paul Rusesabagina of today, the man who tours college campuses to prevent the repetition of history, proves to be just as admirable as “Hotel Rwanda’s” award-winning portrayal of a certain determined and valiant hotel manager.

Staff Writer Kirstin Fawcett is a sophomore from Bowie, Md. She majors in English.

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