Sunday 19th May 2013
Gina deJesus was a 14-year old pupil who was walking around after school, as she usually did, in 2004. Unknown to whoever saw her, however, that was the last time in 9 years little Gina’d be free.
The familiar driver of her school bus offered her a lift but, instead of taking her to her home, he took her to his house. There she found two other girls tied up with ropes and chains. She was tied up with them and, at that tender age, hers joined their lives of daily abuse; beatings, rapes, forced miscarriages, a catalogue of horrors. No, this was not under the canopy of Africa’s jungles. It was under the glittering lights of USA.
Luckily, that house-of-horrors beast, Ariel Castro, is now in police hands and the rest you’re following in the news. But, after ten years of such monstrosity, are there pieces to pick and live again? In Cleveland (Ohio) alone, it’s said there are more than a dozen girls in similarly brutish custody.
God knows what atrocious predators like Castro are doing to them. No, the global community must come together and fight any evil, small or big, as one.
In Rwanda, even with your solid security after having gone through worse, are you totally out of the woods? In towns where every resident has chosen to live in impregnable enclosures, who knows what such psychopaths can do? If one were to snatch any of your daughters and disappear behind those walls with her, how quickly would she be rescued?
It’s a point to ponder. This modernity that you seek to embrace comes with challenges that you should be careful not to fall victim to.
Imagine it. Modern you, father and mother, are out working while kids are under the care of a house help. Being modern, you don’t interfere in the lives of your neighbours, so you don’t know them. But the house help does not share in the strength of your parental love and can concentrate on house chores, forgetting the kids. That’s how one of the kids can slip out through an opening in the gate. Once out in the street, the kid is up for snatching.
There are other cases of lifts from strangers for teenagers and adults. Castro-like predators are on the prowl everywhere and that’s why, as you embrace modernity, you must never lose sight of your traditional values.
Castro cases can only be fought by strong communal bonds. Luckily for Rwandans, when you meet regularly in umuganda to do communal work, or ubudehe to fulfil a communal project, you are interacting with your neighbours. For having many such interactions, you’ll know when any mishap is visited upon any family.
Still, though, you need to go further than that. You can abandon those impenetrable fortresses all together and even do away with doors, like in the truly good old days.
In the old days, a fence around a compound was a low-hedge affair and not a tall, concrete wall. Whatever happened on the compound was open to the view of any passerby. And if there was somebody on the compound, no one passed without paying their respects. Which respects meant appropriate greetings, which greetings meant asking after the head of the family and all his/her charges. This kind of lifestyle had its own inconveniences, granted, but better those than being prey to psychopaths on the loose.
Of course, inconveniences were many and varied. For instance, you are back after a long day tilling your land or herding your cattle. Nyina-w’abana (mother-of-children), who’s been at home, brings out your round stool and sets it near the doorway and hands you your blackened-brown calabash (agacuma). You sit and happily sip the precious now-souring brew, as you admire the view of your crops or the long horns of your cattle.
Then, before even three sips have wet the throat, from the back of the house someone calls out: “Yemwe abo mur’uru rugo (ye of this household)!” You quickly pull the sack of beans – strategically put and unfilled for such hazards – and push in the calabash, keep your sack even nearer and look as if you’d not quenched your thirst for a week. But, sucker that the intruder is, he has spied you and knew when the calash’d come out. So, after due greetings, he pulls the sack and makes as if to sit on it.
With a groan, you blurt out: “Don’t break my sack!” Poor you, the intruder has beaten you at his game. You can only wear the inevitable sheepish grin, pull out the calash and agonise as you watch him make long, hard pulls, partaking of your ‘inkangaza’ brew. You feel like puncturing those strained veins on his neck to cut out those loud gulps but, what the heck, you sigh, thirst never killed anybody. After a pretence at conversation, he contentedly whistles his way home.
Well, again you sigh, at least your brew is not gone exactly for nothing. When you are not there, you know you can count on ‘Intruder’ and others not to allow any harm to come to your family.