Noela Rukundo is a ghost. Or at least that’s what her husband Balenga Kalala thought when she arrived at her own funeral after he’d been told that she was murdered by the Burundian hit men he had hired to kill her last February.
Five days earlier, Rukundo, a Burundi-born Australian woman, was kidnapped from her Bujumbura hotel (she’d returned to her native country for a funeral) by a group of gunmen and taken to a building where she was tied in a chair, yelled at, and slapped.
As Rukundo told the BBC:
“They ask me, ‘What did you do to this man? Why has this man asked us to kill you?’ And then I tell them, ‘Which man? Because I don’t have any problem with anybody.’ They say, ‘Your husband!’ I say, ‘My husband can’t kill me, you are lying!’ And then they slap me.
“After that the boss says, ‘You are very stupid, you are fool. Let me call who has paid us to kill you.’”
Rukundo’s kidnappers then called her husband on speakerphone and she heard him confirm the worst with a brief, cold “Kill her.”
“I heard his voice. I heard him. I felt like my head was going to blow up,” she recounted. “Then they described for him where they were going to chuck the body.”
But in a fortuitous turn of events, these kidnappers happened to have a moral code. As their ringleader told Rukundo, “We’re not going to kill you. We don’t kill women and children.”
They then left her on the side of the road and gave her 80 hours to leave Burundi, but not before extorting an additional 3,400 Australian dollars from her husband. (It’s oddly hard to feel bad for him...)
Rukundo contacted her pastor in Melbourne—where she lived with Kalala and her eight children—and begged him to help her return home without alerting her husband. He agreed and paid for her plane ticket so that Rukundo could wait outside her home on the day of her own memorial service, watch mourners arrive and leave, and ambush Kalala on their front lawn.
From the BBC:
“When I get out of the car, he saw me straight away. He put his hands on his head and said, ‘Is it my eyes? Is it a ghost?’”
“Surprise! I’m still alive!” she replied.
“Surprise! I’m still alive” is a phrase that few of us will get to use in a lifetime and Rukundo—shero that she is—has set a pretty high bar for the best time to roll it out.
“I was stood just looking at him. He was scared, he didn’t believe it. Then he starts walking towards me, slowly, like he was walking on broken glass.
“He kept talking to himself and when he reached me, he touched me on the shoulder. He jumped.
“He did it again. He jumped. Then he said, ‘Noela, is it you?’… Then he start screaming, ‘I’m sorry for everything.’”
Police were contacted and Kalala was ordered to stay away from their house while law enforcement obtained a court order against him. In a recorded phone call a couple days later, Rukundo got her husband to confess to everything and Kalala pled guilty to one count of incitement to murder in September 2015. Later that year, he was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Rukundo, who’s BBC interview was published today, says things have not been easy since the dramatic ordeal. Not only has she been left with eight children to raise on her own, but she’s also received threats from and been ostracized by some members of her community for reporting Kalala to the police.
The silver lining, however, is that Rukundo is determined to persevere.
“I will stand up like a strong woman,” she says. “My situation, my past life? That is gone. I’m starting a new life now.”
Once you come back from the dead, you can get through anything.
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Image via the Australian Broadcasting Corp .