It’s April of 1994 in Rwanda and the stench of fear is overwhelming. There is no escaping the sickening scent as Hutu tribesmen wielding machetes hunt down the Tutsi, another tribe, which eventually culminates in a three-month genocide in which nearly 500,000 to one million Tutsi are slain.
For Immaculée Ilibagiza, a member of the Tutsi, fear has no smell. Rather, it takes the form of the constriction of breaths as she struggles to control her terror every time the perpetrators of the genocide raid a local pastor’s house in which they search for her while she hides in a veiled extra bathroom with seven other women. Incredibly, Ilibagiza survives the nightmare but not without having had her entire family viciously killed in the genocide.
Leslie Lewis Sword’s emotional one women show, Miracle in Rwand, is based on Ilibagiza’s NY Times bestselling memoir, Left to Tell. Lasting an hour, Sword transforms herself into eight different characters as she recreates Ilibagiza’s 91 days harrowing experience for the audience.
On Nov. 3 and Nov. 4, Sword will be performing Miracle in Rwanda at the Mondavi Center. The event is in co-sponsorship of the Office of Campus Community Relations, the Kittelson Charitable Foundation, The UC Davis Human Rights Initiative, as well as other local contributors.
Students and the Davis community will get the chance to watch Sword’s performance, which has been touring worldwide for the last several years.
Afterward, there will be a panel discussion with Sword, Ephrem Rukundo, a Rwanda Genocide survivor and international agricultural development graduate student, Andrea Dooley, an expert of the Rwandan Genocide, and Professor Keith Watenpaugh, Director, UC Davis Human Rights Initiative about the play and the Rwandan Genocide.
“It has a lot of depth. It is a message of the power of faith and hopefully of forgiveness and the confirmation of the human spirit which can survive even the most horrifying of events,” said Craig Reynolds, one of the organizers of the performance.
Reynolds had seen the show last year with Rukundo in Vancouver and was inspired to bring the show to Davis so that students could have a firmer grasp in not only understanding Rwanda but also the examples of how prejudice can lead to such horrific acts.
Dr. Watenpaugh shares Reynolds’ sentiments.
“What this play also explores is how, or even if it’s possible, to achieve reconciliation after mass violence,” Watenpaugh said. “Students interested in the question of human rights will find this a compelling exploration of those issues and problems.”
Rukundo believes that this will be a vital opportunity for students to gain perspectives into their own lives.
“It gives an idea to people who were not there of what was happening in Rwanda,” Rukundo said. “It is important for people here to know that the basic human rights they may take as guaranteed in everyday life – sometime it’s not the case somewhere else.”
Tickets are still available for the evening performances of Nov. 3 and Nov. 4, both of which start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $28/$14 for students. The proceeds of the tickets will be going toward the funding of education in Rwanda and give the chance for Rwandan youths to not only heal their divided country, but to also rebuild it out of the ashes of its past.
MICHELLE RUAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.