And so it goes….
There I was, my pumpkin (you’d call yours a head) atop my neck again, for the seventh time in search of a tent. I’d been to Rwanda, I’d been to Uganda, this repeated in rapid succession. Then I’d gone to Congo (D.R. Congo), there to be unceremoniously tossed out. And I’d hightailed it to Uganda again, hopefully there to stay. But it’d proved an illusion, as wishes always will, for a refugee who thinks they’ve found a home, away from home, and I ended up in Kenya.
Mine pumpkin then, I was taking home now, for the gong’d sounded: “Rwanda liberated!” Thirty-five depressed years and a home seen only as a sapling, and now I was at the gate. And what a gate, if a stench can pass for a gate. I was at the Gatuna border, borne by a taxi from Kampala, having been offloaded there by a Kenyan bus. Now the genocide stink was pushing me back and I needed the will of a lion to press on. Press on I did, though, and in the evening I was deposited near Radio Rwanda, in Kigali.
Leaving my carry-all – and a scooter whose safety and deliverance to Kigali a Kampala friend had charged with me – in the care of the driver and his tout, I stepped down from the minibus taxi and looked around in the pitch darkness. No electricity anywhere in the vicinity, only a few buildings blinking weakly, generator feebly announcing what powered the bulbs.
The Kampala friend had assured me I was bound to meet somebody I knew in some Tamu Tamu Restaurant. But even if I didn’t, he’d confidently said, I’d have no need to worry as I could approach anybody for accommodation after explaining that I was new in town. Problem was, he’d not counted on me arriving in the thick of night. In this pitch darkness, which direction was I supposed to take?
Then I saw a thin light and heard music and the drone of a generator that was wafting towards me. I made to go there but then: “G-r-o-w-l!” I froze, waiting for the beast to lunge…. I remembered the stories of how dogs had become wild and were feeding on genocide corpses…. Luckily, it did not attack. I turned round and tip-toed along the tarmac road until I saw another dim light and heard a generator. When I pushed aside the threads hanging in the doorway, voices around a table full of green bottles shouted in unison: “Eh, that it should be Iyigihanga also!”
After hugs, I sat and was handed a Mutzig beer, amidst rowdy accounts of what transpired during the war and genocide. By the time my nephew and his friends said it was time to pack it in, it was late and my nephew took me to his newly-acquired house to sleep. But after what looked like only a few hours, the fellows were at the door of my room, shouting to me to get ready for, they said, we were going to get me a house.
We all trooped from house to house as they insisted we had to get a house that was ‘befitting’ of me! Finally, we got the ‘appropriate’ house, and went in search of its ‘appropriate’ furniture, which meant picking furniture from shops and houses that had not yet been pillaged. After fitting the house up ‘appropriately’, we locked it up for use later when I’d bring my family from Kenya. Then we secured the gate with a big padlock and emblazoned it with the words ‘Yabohojwe’ (it has been liberated)!
The following day afternoon, we were in the village to ask for the hand of a girl in marriage for one of the boys, in a ceremony known as ‘gusaba’. It is normally a long-drawn affair, but by six in the evening we were almost through. Before we started our journey back, however, I thought I’d answer the call of nature and excused myself.
From the clearing, I walked into the bush, with that permanent stench in the air getting stronger the further I pushed into the bush. When I took a step further, I seemed to cannonball into space. After what felt like an eternity, my body made connection with what must have been metal sticks and I thought I’d exploded. The stench was overwhelming and I could hardly breathe. This must be hell, I thought, and yelled what must be the mightiest scream of my life.
In a few minutes, from up I heard excited voices telling me to be calm and by their torchlight, I could see that I was lying in a deep pit on pieces of human skeletons. A ladder was eased down and somebody came down and helped me up.
The deep pit had been used as a genocide mass grave, it was explained to us. I was helped into the pick-up and we set off for Kigali.
Back in Nairobi after three days, I was relating my ordeal when I heard an announcement on Radio Rwanda: all those occupying premises illegally and/or in possession of looted material must surrender them immediately!
And so it goes….