In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder: Two Decades Later!

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It is undoubtedly hard to believe that it has been indeed twenty years since you left us; the world will NEVER be the same without your beauty in it.

It truly still feels like it was yesterday when everything was normal, a happy big family of 8, when your love surrounded me to keep me safe and assured. It is extremely difficult not to weep. It is not easy to accept that I will never see you again on this side of heaven. There is not a single day that passes without thinking about you. You may not be here physically but your memories are alive and rich in our hearts, eternally.

But I also know that our dear GOD loved you so much that He wanted all four of you by His side. If I could ask Him one impossible thing though, it’d be to give me wings to fly over where you are, in a peaceful heaven, to hug you so tight and tell you that I love you, and that it is for always!

Although if that happened, I am afraid that I’d never let you go. So, until eternity, God’s mighty hand will keep me under the shadow of His wings. Only then, death won’t separate us anymore. Our tears will be wiped away, our hearts will cease to be heavy, for good.

A Treasured Garden of Fame!

A Treasured Garden of Fame!

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My dearest little sister Marie Claudine “Magnifique”, you were an angel and died like one.

It is still heart-wrenching to know that you were among the first 3 people that were killed in our entire village after the genocide broke out on Wednesday night; what wrong could you have possibly committed? I am so thankful that I at least got to say goodbye to you, after you died with your arms wrapped as if in a prayer. Although I still remember blood pouring down from your throat as if a knife had sliced it, I hold onto God who loved you way more than I did.

You went like an angel, and I know that lots of them gathered to welcome you home early morning that Thursday, April 7th. I can only imagine the party that was held in your honor! You will tell me more about it in heaven, after I complete the reason my life was spared this very same month 20 years ago. I will catch you up on everything you have missed, okay? I will love you all my life!

Magnifique2014

***

Daddy, you left so soon but the confidence you always had in me, as a little girl, keeps me going.

I vividly remember the day you surrendered your final breath, on Sunday afternoon, April 17th. That is when we overheard the Hutu interahamwe militia boasting that they cut you into 3 pieces and they were looking for us (my Mom and 5 children) to finish the whole family. How could anyone on this planet possibly harm you? You may have been tortured in the flesh, but I know that your sweet soul is safe with the God you taught us to pray. Do you remember how you always beamed with pride when I did well in school?

Well, I know you’d have been proud to know that I finished all the way to grad school. I also landed my dream job and work for a great company, in a far away foreign country that has become my new, comfortable home. Can you believe that you were not present to be proud of me? I miss you but Jesus, my Savior and King, is always there on yours and Mom’s behalf. I don’t feel alone. He comforts me when I am scared and applauds when I do well. He also still loves me when I fail too.

By the way, I had a dream shortly after 1994. In it, I made a promise to you that I will love your surviving children as you’d have done if you were alive. I’m very humbled to say that I’ve never withheld anything from your son & two daughters, within my ability, even if it meant starving myself for their well being. And they will never need anything, as long as I shall live! When Jesus will return in his glory to judge all the nations, I will not be ashamed to stand before him and the heavenly congregation that you, Momma, Marie Claudine & Jean Felix will be part of. The Holy Spirit himself bears me witness.

I’d love to tell you so much right now but I will let God tell you everything, okay? I miss you Daddy, but I am strong because of who you raised me to become and the God you always worshiped. P.S: Thank you and Mama for giving me the name “Alphonsine” or a “warrior“. I have become one; you surely prepared me for what lay ahead. Rest in heavenly peace. I will love you Papa, eternally!

Papa2014

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Dear Mommy, when I remember our final moments together, it reminds me how you were always honest even if it’d cost your own life.

As we waited for our death sentence by the mass grave, I recall when the blood-shedders asked you if you had more children not with us so they could hunt them down and bring them to die with us, on Sunday afternoon, April 24th. You didn’t lie. Because you were ready to walk into God’s heaven. I remember pleading to the merciless killers, as if they’d listen, to not kill you before I came back with an armed soldier as an escort, to bring Eric, Alice & Mireille: my plea was my final words with you. Miraculously, all 3 of them and I survived.

I am their Mom now, and I love them more than anything in this life. I do everything that I can think of that you and Dad would have done for us. Them and God are my witnesses. I wish you could see them now. They’re all grown up, beautiful and incredible. Can you believe that Alice and Eric will complete their Master’s degrees this year, and the baby Mireille will finish college? Those three are the best thing that has ever happened to me!

Oh, by the way, your youngest son Eric is marrying the love of his life and the most incredible woman on this planet, late this year. You’d have loved his fiancée, too. GOD and I will take care of every single detail in the wedding. We’re very sad that you and DAD will miss it! And also, Mireille doesn’t really remember how any of you looked like :(. But it’s okay; she has me now. She will always be a princess and spoiled as long as I breathe. This is my eternal promise to you and Daddy!

Did God tell you for me that He has blessed me with another Mom? She is just like you. You don’t look alike on the outside but she may as well be your little sister because she just sounds and does things like you did. I have so many amazing friends in this foreign land that I am honored to call my new home. They make me feel loved and special. I know you’d have been proud to know and see all this!

Although I have only known you for just few years, your love was so real and true. I still feel your comforting voice when I am sick and remember how you used to ask me how I was doing. Then I’d simply break into tears instead of responding as a result of being overwhelmed by your caring, spoiling nature and love. I will tell you so much when we see each other again in heaven. I will love you Mommy, always!

Colette_2014

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My dear big brother “Nkeke”, I’ll never forget that you were my bodyguard at school and no one would come close because you were there, tall and all.

I am so sorry that my last memory of you is not good. I wished I was stronger to stop the infamous Hutu interahamwe militiamen who beat you with sharp wires and blood poured down your beautiful face. The film “the Passion of Christ” reminds me of our last moment together. Jesus was beaten and killed when he indeed didn’t do anything wrong; and in the movie, his broken face reminds me of yours.

You didn’t do anything wrong to those who hurt you, and that is why I know beyond the shadow of doubt that, on Sunday afternoon, April 24th, Jesus welcomed you and Maman in his beautiful heaven where you all belong. I cherish those memories, and knowing that you are no longer in that pain brings me hope and courage.

I know that I will see you again with Mommy, Daddy and Marie Claudine, when I finish the work you all started and accomplish the tasks God entrusted to me. That is the reason God didn’t call me to heaven with you, okay? Rest in God’s peace. I miss you so much. I will love you, all my days!

Nkeke2014

***

Dear loved ones: Jean Eric, Alice, Mireille and I, twenty years later, our memories of you are intact and daily watered by your love that keeps us strong. They are forever engraved on the pillars of our hearts. You are our heroes, and we hang onto your word and pride. As we celebrate your lives cut short this month for the 20th time, we again choose to forgive your perpetrators who hacked you to death, your crime being your physical appearance that you didn’t ask God to be born with.

We pray that they will find God, and repent their wrongdoing; otherwise they will face the Redeemer & Father of the Fatherless, because vengeance belongs to Him, and He will repay. We are stronger, your legacy remains. Our goal is to make you proud everyday. We miss you with deep sorrow! Feast and dwell in heaven where amazing people like you deserve to be, we will finish what you started. You are all our heroes, and alive in our hearts as long as we shall live. We will love you forever and always!

Jean Eric, Alice, Alphonsine, Mireille Noella

Jean Eric, Alice, Alphonsine, Mireille Noella. 03/10/2014

She Is A Pure Beauty. And A Woman of GOD!

I am very privileged to know this stunning woman and eternally honored to call her my sister. It may sound silly to say that about your little sister, but if I was asked about someone I know who is wise and rich in knowledge, she would be the first one in my mind. She is so many years younger than I am, but it’s incredible how she is full of wisdom. She always reminds me of our mother Colette; all my Mom’s good qualities got passed onto my little sister. The love she has for God is truly outstanding; she is a prayer warrior, a woman of faith. She inspires me and challenges me at the same time.

Alice is a very good planner and someone who makes everything look normal and organized in our family.  It’s not unusual to hear her friends entrusting their whole wedding plans into her hands and resting assured that everything will be perfect, because Alice is there. Unlike me and the rest of our two siblings, she is very outgoing and gets along with everyone she meets. She makes friends in public transportation, churches, public market, everywhere she goes. I definitely find it impressive because the last thing I would be comfortable doing is to talk to strangers in random places.

She is a very good cook, too, a skill that I certainly don’t have. She makes everyone feel welcome. You may find yourself too comfortable to leave; it happens often with her friends. On the other hand, I am not good at hosting parties or knowing what to prepare when I invite people over. I must admit that I have to think so hard when I have friends over :(. It doesn’t come naturally I guess!

Ladies and gentleman, allow me to introduce to you the most amazing woman on the whole planet, Miss Alice.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you the most amazing woman on the whole planet, my little sister Alice.

I am not the only one in our house who thinks Alice makes things work; recently we had a conversation about an upcoming big family event, trying to piece things together. Since Alice is currently away in grad school, our youngest sister Mireille said that when she comes back, she will fix this and that. None of us objected to that, we nodded in agreement. She doesn’t even know we volunteered her during her absence.

If there is a new project to be proposed for our family, Alice is somehow always the best one to bring it up, and she does it so amazingly that you can never argue or say no. When something major needs to happen, my little brother Eric and sister Mireille always put her in front and say that it’s her idea. She is very reasonable in what she says and very well articulated. My little sister especially slows me down when I am needlessly in a rush or being unreasonable, and reminds me that I can relax, after all, even parents need to chill sometime.

She is someone I can trust with all my heart; I can always rely on her words of wisdom. They lift me up. She is very creative in so many ways, brilliant and a very hard worker; for example, she initially went to grad school with the expectation to get one Master’s degree. When she arrived there, she decided to double major. She is now expecting two Master’s degrees this year. Alice also gets nominated for leadership roles everywhere she is, always. I often wonder how I am possibly related to my 3 siblings who are all way beyond talented and so beautiful!

There is not a single day that passes by without praising God for putting an incredible little sister in my life. I doubt that our parents ever got to know how amazing and special their little girl is, in only 6 years they had known her. I am glad I am there for them. I treasure everything in my heart and ponder on it often; I cannot wait to tell my parents all about it, in heaven.

Alice is an astonishing young woman, and I am very very honored that she is indeed my sister. She is beautiful inside-out, and I am forever proud of the marvelous woman my beautiful baby has become. I know she will do great things in life, there is no doubt about that; I am equally excited and looking forward to it all with great anticipation and gratitude.

Only God knows how much I love her, her sister and brother; because my love for them came from above!  They are my treasure all my days!

Glory be to you GOD, always!

Inconceivable Heroism Amid Horror

My siblings and I grew up in a large family: two boys and four girls. I am the second and oldest girl; but this post is not about me. I want to share with the world about the fourth child, my little brother Jean Eric Claude. I vividly remember when he was born, I was almost 5 years old. He was a big baby (about 10 pounds), extremely beautiful with chubby cheeks and so much curly hair. I asked my mother if I could hold him, but I was unable to because he was too heavy for me. I am sure you are wondering if I am describing the right person basing on the below picture. By the way, that makes two of us! I am not sure how he grew up to become thinner than the rest of the family.

When Eric was young, him and I used to fight a lot. I am sure I provoked him but he was not that easy either. He played outside always, and was injured all the time from different utensils he collected or perhaps some fights he may have been involved in. He was a stubborn little guy.

On Sunday afternoon, April 24th, 1994, exactly 17 days since the genocide against the Tutsi began in Rwanda, everything changed! God must have stirred something unimaginable in this 8 year old’s heart after my Mom, my old brother Jean Felix, my cousin and I were led by the infamous interahamwe militiamen to the mass grave in the lower Kanombe, suburbs of Kigali, to be killed.

Sparing you the details for now, I miraculously survived but my Mom, brother and cousin didn’t. Although death was everywhere, I undoubtedly cherish that afternoon because God gave me another chance to life. However, the same day I got separated from my brother Eric, and sisters Alice and Mireille, who were all under 10. At this point, they were so certain I was dead, and I thought the same for them.

My handsome brother
My handsome brother, now a grown up man! I’m eternally honored to be called his sister.
With no instructions on what to do next or a moment to think about it, my baby brother immediately assumed the role of a big brother and a parent. Fleeing amid rain of bullets, blood thirst machetes and hiding in unfamiliar areas, he tied up a piece of blanket around his neck so his two sisters could hold on to it.

Sigh…

I often wonder how the blanket didn’t choke him or how he figured out that this would be the best approach for his dear sisters. Few times, the youngest Mireille who was 3, got separated from them; unable to decide what to do, she would simply stay wherever she was left. Was she scared? When you are aware that death awaits you any minute, the sense of feeling becomes numb, even at such age.
As soon as my brother realized that she was missing, when parents left babies to cry to death and everyone was just running for their life, my brother turned around to look for Mireille. No wonder why their hearts have been knitted together ever since!
Also each time they found something to eat after days, my little brother would let my sisters eat first. After they have had enough in their little tummies, only then he would grab some.
Their stories after we got separated still wound my heart greatly. It certainly is where my forgiveness is tried the most. But I praise GOD, for keeping them safe, allowing me to be part of their precious lives, and His amazing Grace!

The spoiled brat quickly became a MAN at that young age, a selfless one. I doubt I would have been able to put my life in danger to find my little sister or keep them safe, when sounds of terror and weeping voices of sorrow rang across all corners of the country. Only extraordinary, rare people would do that. I often wonder what was in his mind, but the LOVE he had for his little sister sure overcame his fear and selfishness of saving his own life. God Almighty knew well that I was incapable of doing such a heroic act and led me alone.

Mireille and Alice: My greatest happiness!
My Beautiful Girls, my Greatest Blessing, my Treasure! Mireille (left) and Alice (right).

Only those who have been through the Genocide can understand my inability to describe the cruelty of the humans who became ferocious animals: babies were cut out of their mothers’ wombs and smashed against walls; relatives denied each other, neighbors turned their back on their friends, husbands killed wives and children, hell engulfed Rwanda. Amid terror, my little brother didn’t care about death that surrounded him, and God used him to keep my little sisters alive. He is my hero, my best friend! If I could get hold of the whole world, I would freely give it to him; if I was part of the Nobel Prize organizing committee, he would get at least a few of those!

My brother’s last name “Mudacumura”, means “innocent in both English and French. This truly depicts who he is. He has every quality you can possibly look in a great man: selflessness, humility, passion, compassion, a big heart, brilliant, kindness, funny, sweet, down to earth, loves God, handsome, a true gentleman! Until this day, he puts his siblings’ interests before his. He is the rock of our family, an exact replica of our father.

I CANNOT wait already for the day he will tie the knot with this incredible woman of his dreams, probably the luckiest girl on this planet. No one deserves happiness more than him. And I can’t wait for the day we will again see our parents, so I can narrate all about a little boy they left behind, now the most amazing man in the whole wide world.

I love my brother with everything functioning in me. Him and his two sisters are the reason I am alive, there is no doubt about that.

They will never, EVER, need anything my ability can provide; God and my parents in heaven have my word!

It hurts my feelings when I think that one day I may not be the first person they all run to for help. Of course I work hard for their independence, but it will greatly shatter my heart. They will always be my children, little in my eyes. And they certainly have all my love and attention, all my days!!!

And this, my friends, is the source of my strength and hope: God, the great I am!

“To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power.” — Maya Angelou

“But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.” ~ Mitch Albom

It still bothers me sometime when I meet people who say that they aren’t really that close to their parents or siblings. It also breaks my heart when I read or hear stories about abandoned children by abusive or drug addicted parents and taken away by social services. I understand that some people grow apart; but it hurts because ultimately, children have to pay the price, when indeed they did not even ask to be born. In my home country Rwanda, you are normally expected to stay in touch with everyone who is related to you by blood, all the way to your extended family.

My Mom Colette was a mother who would do whatever it takes to be there for me and my siblings. If she ever had a problem, although being the second children (in a family of 6) and the oldest girl, I never learned or knew about it. She perhaps kept the pain or trouble to herself, and we, children never realized it. If my parents ever had a fight, I never found out. In the nutshell, our world was a paradise. We were given everything they could afford, and if they struggled in any way, we never learned the details.

When I was growing up, it was uncommon for parents to be emotional in front of their children. My parents never told me that they loved me; it’s still the same in many families in Rwanda. Regardless, I knew that they loved me so deeply. While gifts exchanging was uncommon, whenever we achieved a milestone in our lives (doing well in school, learning how to do chores at home), we would get small prizes. Learning how to do some chores was a big deal, particularly because even to this day, many families can afford housemaids/nannies/helpers. When I was little, we had 2-3 workers around the house, and they lived with us.

My Lovely Mother, in 1976, shortly before her wedding.

My Mom, my inspiration! Weeks after her engagement to my Dad (Late 70s)

I was spoiled pretty much. I knew how to do just a few things. It was the same for all my siblings. No wonder why from the day the genocide began in Rwanda (April 7th,1994) to the day she surrendered her final breath, this was my brave mother’s daily prayer: her entire family to die all together in a painless, fastest death possible. I don’t remember if she prayed to be shot instead of being cut into pieces, but I know that her prayer was answered differently, 17 days later (April 24th,1994). Perhaps she thought, and I am entirely sure, that none of her children would be able to survive on their own. She did not have to explain.

Dear Mommy, not only that four of us survived, we also rose above the storms. The God you loved and thought us to pray, Has been everything we ever need! We miss you with deep sorrow but we know that God loved you more than we did, and wanted you by His side. All your surviving children truly praise Him with gratitude! You dwell in heavenly eternal peace. We will finish what you started!

My mother was a selfless mother, everything to us, and an inspiration. She loved and treated everyone like a family, even those who didn’t like our family. Actually, one of my mother’s sisters-in-law had a dream in 1993. In it, a tragedy was coming to Rwanda where she saw many people getting killed. As she was about to die, she prayed that my mother would survive. In the dream, she was convinced that if my mother survived, that she would raise my aunt’s children as her own. That’s the caliber of a mother I am proud to call a woman who brought me into this life! Although I only got to know her for a few years, she remains my hero and role model, all my life!

After the genocide ended, I vowed that I would not call anyone mom or dad ever again. I actually despised hearing some fortunate classmates at my high school bragging about their parents. I was extremely bitter. I kept my word though, until August 2008 when I met the most amazing woman at a mutual friend’s dinner, in Rochester, New York. Her name is Glori Lovall. Few months later, she gave me the greatest possible honor: to call her my MOM. To make things even better, she’s only two years younger than my mother Colette would be. For the first time since I lost my parents, someone called me “daughter.” I rejoice everyday!

Maman et moi. Mars 2014

My Mom & I on my birthday: March 2014

In a few words, I raised myself. I never had a role model, or just someone to give me an advice on how things work. It’s ironic how I still struggle to adjust to a life where my new Mom tells me things, and when it exactly turns out as she told me, she says: “may be you should start listening to your mother”. Or something like reminding me to eat, visit some people, print out directions to get to places even when I have both a smartphone and a regular GPS, simple things like that. I can’t imagine a life without hers in mine. I am truly humbled by God’s wonders.

One small town in upstate New York has captured my heart forever! The kind of feeling that overwhelms my soul with joy each time I set my foot on the grounds of its airport cannot be expressed in words!

When I go back home, my new home in Rochester, my Mom always has a calendar of things I would do while there: visiting friends, family and friends coming over to see me etc. I don’t set the alarm clock when I am home. She exactly knows how much time it takes me to get ready. She knocks at my door until she hears my response because she knows how much I love my sleep. She cooks the best food and I eat so much when I am home. My Mom flies in to see me every year around my birthday! She is exceptional!

I know my mother would have done exactly the same. Glori is full of life and very loving. Each day that passes, I’m amazed by how my Mom and I find things we have in common, from physical aspects to life’s passions. It blows my mind, and brings me down to my knees before the Lord. From Colette’s ashes, God blessed me with a new mother, an incredible one!

If your Mom is incredible and still alive, hug her today and tell her that she means the world to you. If she is in heaven with God, treasure your memories of her. Write it down and do never stop talking about her. Colette is my hero, and she is alive as long as I shall live, and beyond. Glori is my gift from heaven, and Jesus’ love on display in my life.

I’m forever thankful to both of them, but more importantly, I praise GOD who loved me so much and honored me with two most amazing Mothers in my life! I am BLESSED!

My Little Sisters

Okay, so, when it comes to talking about my children, wait a minute, my siblings, yes I took the liberty of adopting them as my own, I get super excited. You can blame GOD who gave me the love I have for them.

So, it was my birthday few days ago. How old I am? Let’s just say I was born many moons ago. In Rwanda, at least when I was growing up, we didn’t really celebrate birthdays; people barely remembered it was even their birthday, leave alone celebration. That has drastically changed recently though, and I guess it is because of the western influence through movies, TV, Internet, social networks & media etc. Not to mention that you do not ask a Rwandan lady how old she is, and this is almost true :).

My favorite part is best wishes messages I receive from friends and family. I have some friends whom we normally don’t get a chance to talk often, but they sure know when to drop me an e-mail, exactly to wish me a happy birthday. How thoughtful they are! I keep records of inspiring notes from friends, on paper or by heart, but for the sake of this post, I wanted to share this year’s messages from just my two sisters. Whether they used a dictionary, or Google translate, got a help from our brother or whether I underestimate their English skills is irrelevant here. I just love everything about them and their effort. I was deeply touched. “Ndagukunda” means “I love you” in Kinyarwanda.

Mireille Noella

Mireille Noella

Mireille, above, is the youngest of our family. I just love it when she calls me Mom, it melts my heart. I am sure parents would understand. This  is her message on my birthday:”My beloved sis and Mom, may this day brings and makes your spirit bright and there be many pleasant surprises for u from morning to night. May all your dreams come true  and this day be just right especially for u because u deserve it and all My Love.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY. NDAGUKUNDA.

Alice, below, wrote: “I’m so thankful that i not only have a magnificent sister, but an amazing friend that stands by me and supports me, by giving every piece of her life. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LOVE U SO MUCH.”

Alice

Alice

My brother Jean Eric’s messages, like always, are full of wisdom and beautiful wishes from the heart. His English is far better and I don’t get surprised as much as I do when it’s a message from Mireille or Alice.

I love them more than I can ever put in words. I sometime have silly thoughts when I picture my siblings’ respective wedding day. I wonder if I will be called “the mother of the bride/groom” or just “the sister of the bride/groom”, or later a grandma or just auntie. Either way, it will certainly be my best moments. Even if I had to start over again and raise them, I would do it in a twinkling of an eye.