UK
05/02/2016 11:09 GMT | Updated 05/02/2016 11:59 GMT

Noela Rukundo, Wife Who Crashed Her Own Funeral, Shares Inspirational Message After Ordeal

ABC

"Surprise! I'm still alive!"

These are the words Noela Rukundo never thought she would have to say.

Five days earlier, Noela had been visiting her native Burundi from Australia when she was taken by a group of masked men, who said her husband had ordered her death.

Tied to a chair in a rural warehouse, Noela recalls the moment she heard her husband's voice echoing from one of the men's mobile phones.

"Kill her," Noela recalls him saying. "I heard his voice. I heard him. I felt like my head was going to blow up."

At that point she passed out.

noela rukundo

Noela Rukundo moved to Australia in 2004

Noela's story is an extraordinary one, and one which has captivated people across the world since it came to light last year.

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in December, Noela spoke of her ordeal and the subsequent trial and sentencing of her husband Belenga Kalala, 39, for nine years for his part in attempting to have her killed.

Her ordeal began when she left her hotel in Bujumbura. She told ABC: "A man, when he come close to me [I see] he have a gun."

"He pointed it at me and then he said 'see that car there? Go slowly by yourself and enter the car'."

After being blindfolded she was taken to an unknown building and tied to a chair.

"I hear the men and they said 'you woman, what did you do for this man to pay us to kill you?' "I said, 'What are you talking about?'

"The boss says 'Balenga sent us to kill you'. I say 'You lie. My husband can't send anyone to kill me.' They laughed and said 'You're a fool, you're stupid'," she recounted being told to listen to a phone conversation confirming the hit.

"I fainted because I heard his voice."

noela couple

Belenga (right) and Noela (left) on their wedding day

After coming to, Noela realised that she was still alive and that the men might not carry out her murder.

"I said to myself, I was already dead. Nothing I can do can save me," she told the BBC on Thursday.

"But he looks at me and then he says, 'We're not going to kill you. We don't kill women and children.'

"He told me I'd been stupid because my husband paid them the deposit in November. And when I went to Africa it was January. He asked me, 'How stupid can you be, from November, you can't see that something is wrong?'"

bujumbura

Noela had been staying in Bujumbura, Burundi

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, Noela's concerned brother contacted her husband in Australia and asked him to send money to aid a police investigation into her disappearance. He agreed.

She was eventually freed by the men after around two days in captivity. They had held up the pretense that Noela had been killed to her husband - she claims they were even able to extract even more money from them, on the promise of covering up the killing.

"'We give you 80 hours to leave this country,'" Noela told the BBC the gang told her.

"'Your husband is serious. Maybe we can spare your life, but other people, they're not going to do the same thing. If God helps you, you'll get to Australia.'"

melbourne

Noela returned to Melbourne to confront her husband

Three days later, on 22 February 2015, Noela was back in Australia, close to her home in Melbourne.

She quickly learned through a trusted local pastor that her husband had declared her death to the community - even soliciting donations and organising a memorial service.

In the knowledge her death was very real to her husband, Noela staked out her own sham funeral to deliver the perfect revenge.

Spotting her husband among the crowd of mourners, Noela bravely walk towards him.

“Is it my eyes?” she recalls her husband saying, “is it a ghost?”

melbourne court

Balenga Kalala arrives at the Melbourne Supreme Court for sentencing

Noela continues to suffer nightmares and has since been ostracised by many in Melbourne's African immigrant community, painting a somewhat bleak picture for her - and her eight children's - future in the country.

Speaking after his conviction and sentencing, she has issued a remarkably inspiring message, despite the horrific situation.

"But I will stand up like a strong woman," she told the BBC.

"My situation, my past life? That is gone. I'm starting a new life now."

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