Oprah Talks to Paul Rusesabagina
Paul: It was complicated. If you want to control someone, you've got to keep him close, talk to him. That's what I did [with the armed men constantly threatening to take over the hotel]. The people inside were frightened. There was no water, no electricity, and we were cooking any corn and dried beans we could find with firewood. But it's surprising how quickly people adapt to a situation, however dangerous. Women were giving birth, young couples were getting married by a bishop from St. Michel Cathedral next door.
Oprah: In the middle of a genocide?
Paul: Yes. The hotel became a home, a lifestyle. People got used to sleeping in conference rooms and corridors.
Oprah: Was there fighting?
Paul: No. Everyone was so respectful.
Oprah: Were they aware of the slaughtering?
Paul: Oh, yes—but they weren't always aware of the assaults on our hotel. I didn't make them aware. But on April 23, when I awakened to find soldiers with guns at my head, everyone was informed. Three days later, I got a call saying that we were going to be attacked again. That's when Thomas Kamilindi, a Rwandan journalist staying there, managed to ring Radio France International. He described how the rebels were advancing and asked for help. I saw a colonel come up to the hotel just as the journalist ended his plea. From the main entrance, the colonel shouted that he'd come to pick up that "dog"—meaning Thomas. I took the colonel to my office, offered him a drink, and convinced him that it wasn't the job of a colonel to run after a dog. "Small boys are supposed to run after dogs," I said, appealing to his ego. "Leave that dirty dog to others." I talked with him for hours. He finally left without the journalist—but he promised that others would return to kill the man. Thankfully, that never happened. Thomas is now at the University of Michigan.
Oprah: He owes his life to you, as do 1,267 other people.
Paul: They owe their lives to their God.
Oprah: Where was God in all of this?
Paul: That's a big question mark for Rwandans. In our tradition, we say that God wanders around the world before returning to sleep in Rwanda in the evenings.
Oprah: Because the sunsets are so beautiful?
Paul: Everything was so beautiful. But since 1994, we ask ourselves, "Where is God?"
Oprah: God was in all the so-called serendipitous occurrences. I don't believe in happenstance. In your story, I feel the power of something bigger than you or me.
Paul: That's how I see it. But after Rwandans watched a million of their people killed in 100 days, they asked, "Did God do that—or did people? And why us? Are we the most criminal in this world? Why did God let people suffer this way?"
Oprah: I understand the questions, and there are others: Like where was the rest of the world?
Paul: The world simply decided to close its ears and eyes, stand back, run away. Maybe the world didn't think Rwanda was worth an intervention. Maybe that's because Africa is far away from America and Europe. Perhaps it happened because Rwanda did not have oil. Or maybe it's because people were focused on South Africa. [At the time, Nelson Mandela was being elected president in South Africa's first democratic elections.]