‘Ordinary Man’ Recounts Extraordinary Tale in Rwanda

Posted: April 12, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Paul Rusesabagina
Paul Rusesabagina

Paul Rusesabagina, the man who saved 1,200 lives during the Rwanda genocides and whose actions are portrayed in the movie, “Hotel Rwanda,” told his story to an attentive crowd in the Concert Hall Monday evening.

“In 45 minutes or an hour, or even two hours, I can never recount the 100 days,” he said.

But he tried. Discussing the ways in which he, as a hotel manager, kept refugees from being slaughtered for 100 days, Rusesabagina also pointed out the instances in which the movie was true to what actually happened and where it took liberties.

Using his skills as a negotiator and constantly thinking on his feet, Rusesabagina was able several times to convince generals and other military officials to spare the lives of innocent men, women and children. He talked about an incident in the movie where he convinces men not to kill dozens of his neighbors by giving them money from his hotel safe.

“In the movie, the negotiations took two minutes,” he said. “In reality, it was after two hours. But I learned the best lesson I ever learned in my life that day: how to deal with evil.”

The story of his 100 days in the Hotel des Mille Collines, where he prevented 1,200 refugees as well as his wife and four children from being slaughtered by rebel forces, is also told in his autobiography, “An Ordinary Man,” published by Viking Adult this month.

“I am an ordinary man. But it takes an ordinary man to raise awareness in a community,” he said.

His talk came with a heavy political message: that the international community didn’t do enough to step in and help the people of Rwanda. In the movie and in his talk, Rusesabagina criticized the United Nations for its role, or lack thereof, in the crisis.

“They were not there as peacekeepers. They were not there to stop the killings. And when they abandoned us, they sent the killers a message that they were winning.”

Rusesabagina established the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation to provide support, care and assistance to children orphaned and women abused during the genocide in Rwanda. In 2005, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Now, although he says he still has faith in the human race, he is more cautious and less trusting of people. Pointing to events such as the current genocide in places like Darfur, Rusesabagina’s message is grim. “Have we learned from history? No, not at all.”

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