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Old Posted Nov 15, 2009, 4:20 AM
sirkingwilliam's Avatar
sirkingwilliam sirkingwilliam is offline
Loving SA 365 days a year
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: San Antonio
Posts: 3,709
‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero at home in S.A.

Didn't know this. Pretty cool him living here. Great movie btw.

‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero at home in S.A.

Given Paul Rusesabagina’s unassuming air, you’d be surprised to learn he single-handedly saved more than 1,000 refugees in 1994 and later dedicated his life to bringing together the rival parties that caused the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s.

But his heroics garnered international attention when Don Cheadle portrayed him in the Academy Award-nominated 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda.” He since has created the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation to prevent future genocides.

You’d also be surprised to learn that Rusesabagina and his wife, Taciana, moved to San Antonio in March to be close to friends.

Ushering a guest into his spacious home, Paul Rusesabagina apologized for how sparsely furnished it is. But the lack of furniture is understandable since he barely has spent two weeks in a row in the house.

In the past month and a half, Rusesabagina’s humanitarian efforts have sent him jetting between five states and four countries.

But he’s back home to accept the second annual Bob Krueger Public Service Award in New Braunfels today.

In an interview this week, the 55-year-old recounted his experiences during the conflict, which began when the Hutu president of Rwanda’s plane was shot down in April 1994.

Through July, an estimated 800,000 people were killed in the genocide. Bloodshed that began over conflicts between the Hutus and Tutsis reached a death toll larger than the population of Austin.

The number massacred would have been 1,268 higher if Rusesabagina hadn’t taken action to protect a hotel full of refugees.

Rusesabagina, who’s a Hutu, said that though this event was unexpected, genocide doesn’t develop suddenly. The hatred between the Hutus and Tutsis had grown over time, stretching back to the colonial era.

On the night the plane was shot down, Rusesabagina was dining out with a brother- and sister-in-law. Taciana, who’s Tutsi, was at home near the airport when she heard the plane crash and called Paul to come.

Upon parting, Rusesabagina remembers telling the couple he’d see them tomorrow. But the genocide had begun and he didn’t see the two alive again. Ultimately, Paul and Taciana adopted their daughters.

Soon, neighbors began showing up on Rusesabagina’s doorstep looking for help. Twenty-six neighbors sought refuge in his home.

“Sometimes people ask me, ‘Why did you take such a risk?’ ” Rusesabagina said. “If I come to your house, you’ll never push me away.”

The government that formed after the president’s death set up headquarters in the hotel Rusesabagina managed. Because he had the keys to the bedrooms and cellar, soldiers came looking for him. Rusesabagina said he convinced the soldiers that he needed to take his “family” of more than 30 people with him to the hotel.

But the soldiers soon discovered many of Rusesabagina’s family were Tutsi and therefore considered enemies of the state. He spent the next two hours negotiating with the soldiers to keep his family and neighbors alive.

After negotiating, Rusesabagina went to the hotel’s safe and paid off the soldiers.

“I was very much scared,” he said. “But that day, I learned one of the most important lessons I have learned in my life. I have learned how to deal with evil. I had just crossed eyes with evil for some hours. I think that lesson helped me throughout the whole genocide.”

Within a few days, Rusesabagina and the refugees traveled from the hotel housing the government’s headquarters to another operated by the same company called the Hôtel des Mille Collines.

Rusesabagina called in favors from many of the acquaintances he’d made while working in luxury hotels and procured security for the Mille Collines.

During the 76 days Rusesabagina spent managing the hotel/refugee camp, more refugees flooded in and eventually the water and electricity were turned off. The hotel was repeatedly attacked, but Rusesabagina’s stockpile of favors and diplomatic skills helped the refugees avoid several very close calls.

In June, representatives from the Rwandan army, the U.N. and the rebels decided to evacuate the refugees from the hotel to safety.

From Africa, Rusesabagina and his family moved to Brussels and lived there for more than a decade. But in Belgium, his life was threatened again because of his humanitarian work and his home was ransacked.

In the Rusesabaginas’ new home, Taciana said she feels safe.

Paul also said the couple moved to Texas so Taciana could enjoy warmer weather and to be near good friends, such as Bob Krueger of New Braunfels for whom the service award is named.

Krueger is a former U.S. senator and also served as U.S. ambassador to Burundi, a country neighboring Rwanda.

Krueger’s wife, Kathleen, who’s also a New Braunfels city councilwoman, has become Taciana’s godmother since her own mother was killed in the genocide.

In dealing with his experiences, Paul Rusesabagina initially kept his memories to himself. But he eventually changed his mind, speaking out against the situations in Rwanda, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We can never change the world without getting involved,” Rusesabagina said. “So I decided then to be involved.”
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