By Guillaume Lambeets
As a neighbor of Paul Rusesabagina, I would like to tell you about my experiences. These are the stories I have lived with Paul and his family.
One evening in 1998, when I was 6 years old, I was sitting at the table with my siblings and my parents. Until we heard a bang on the slope of the garage of the house next door. One of the drivers of the van had miscalculated the descent and had run into the door!
We curiously looked out the window. The new neighbors were moving in. This is where OUR story began; the story of Paul’s family and ours.
Since they moved into the neighboring house, we have been able to get along very well: Me, my brothers and sisters with Paul’s children; Lys, Roger, Diane, Trésor, Anaïse & Carine. And our parents get along too. It was with the 3 youngest that I had the most contact because we were the same age.
It was fun to play with Trèsor, Anaïse and Carine. We all spoke French, which facilitated contact between us. As a bilingual family, we taught them a bit of Dutch, a few words and other little tricks. We laughed and played together. We went to different schools; we went to a Dutch-speaking school and they went to a French-speaking school. Sometimes they came to see us for their Dutch homework and we’d help them.
My twin and I were playing soccer in a club, when Tresor heard this he wanted to join us. As a little guy, he had more talent than us! So on Wednesday afternoons, he came to play football with us. Over the years, we have come to know the rest of Paul’s family. Including Jean-Paul, a funny young man!
Before high school, they went to study in the United States. Then we saw each other less, but we kept in touch through social media and with their parents. They came home from time to time and meanwhile, we watched over their house.
Paul then traveled extensively to lecture on his experience in Rwanda. In 2004, he released the movie Hotel Rwanda and I watched it with my family. I probably didn’t understand much then. Maybe I was too young?
Later, I understood the story better, after the first burglary in the fall of 2007. I went to my neighbor’s house. When I arrived at the top of the stairs, I saw the picture of Paul with President Bush on the sofa, I quickly realized that this was no ordinary burglary. They had broken almost all the doors, emptied the cupboards, turned everything upside down and left with some documents from Paul. When I think about it, I still see these images in my head! And not only this burglary, the other ones too. It happened multiple times.
Since then, Paul has tried to protect himself and his family. Wherever he is, here in Belgium or in the United States. Trèsor, Anaïse, and Carine have found their way in the United States in recent years. And that’s how they became what they are today. It’s always nice to see them again when they’re in Belgium. Even though we follow each other through social media, It’s great to see each other again after so long and to make up for lost time.
At the end of August, I learned that Paul had been arrested in Rwanda. I was surprised because I had always understood that if he went there he would be in danger. A lot of questions came to mind. How did he end up there? Why did he end up there? Didn’t he see it coming? I read about it in the media. That same evening, I called Carine, who kept me informed of the events.
Since then, I have seen the children fight for their father. Through all the ways of social media, newspapers and other channels, they shared calls and interviews in the hope to free Paul. I see in the children and their fighting strength. I see the weight it represents for them. But even through this, they remain strong, for themselves and the family.
But one thing is certain, they will achieve their goals and keep fighting! Also because, like their daddy, they believe that all over the world we share the same principles of basic freedom of expression, free access to health, political participation, and social justice. They want to help people as much as they can.
This is what Paul did during the period of the 1994 genocide. As Trésor would say, he never met anyone willing to do anything like his father. Paul Rusesabagina is willing to give everything for the good of mankind, in particular: the vulnerable, the oppressed, the powerless. The absence of a voice breaks her heart. Paul is the vulnerable one now. Trésor explains that his father is the one who is now oppressed. He is the one who has no voice.
In Trésor’s voice, I hear emotion: “Daddy, we’re coming, we’re here for you, we are not going to fail. We won’t give up. We are not giving up. We will not let you down. We will continue to fight for you. Every day is a struggle for you. Because that’s what you would have done for us.” Thanks to the words of Tresor, his brother, and his sisters, which touched me very much, I remain convinced of the innocence of Paul, of what he is accused of.
And I try to fight with them for his release. They get little help from Belgium! What is Belgium waiting for? These are bad times for us, Covid-19, which brings all kinds of things with them and reduces real contact. We can exert less pressure because of it. Paul, we are coming to you!
He remains Paul, as I know him, as I have always known him. A person with the right values and the right principles of life. And who saved many lives in 1994.
My words to Paul: “Don’t worry! The children are coming for you and will keep on fighting for you. With the support of family, friends, and colleagues and everyone around them.
Together, they will come and get you! Hang on!