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When the American dream becomes a nightmare

By September 23, 2013June 6th, 2023No Comments

Sunday 22 September 2013

Isn’t life a jacka–? Me, I think sometimes it can be one tricky, nasty piece of irony. Think about it. You are a youth who’ve heard rosy stories about the famed “American dream”. And so you tell yourself: why torture myself with endless class-work when I can go pick dollars on trees, as they do in USA? And so you play this online lottery until cows come home – only in your case, they don’t at all! – and give up. Then one day you get an invitation from a friend in the US and bingo! You’ve nailed it and you jump for joy!

Alternatively, you are an ambitious politician who’s been craving to join government. Then one day as you are grieving over the drudgery of your “neither-poison-nor-boon” salary (Kinyarwanda: neither killing nor saving you), your phone tickles your waist. On picking it, your ear’s assaulted with an excited, shrill voice: “Have you heard? Now you are ‘you’, plural!” And you jump for joy!

The plural “you” in Kinyarwanda, when addressed to you as one person, means you are now a big fish, like a cabinet minister. And so, as “Hon” you sit in an office whose desk struggles to swallow up your office space but fails miserably. So you sit at ease, even if almost chocking on your tie, approving tenders and signing contracts. Then one day a contract worth billions of dollars excites that itchy hand of yours and you sell the idea to the contractor: we can together eat a wee bit of “ubugari” of the road and no one will ever catch on. You tell yourelf: After all, even if this no-nonsense government were to discover me, I’d always blame its democratic deficit and an American visa will be mine.

“Ubugari”, you’ll’ve noticed, is preferred here for its double entente of “width” of the road in this case, as well as “stiff maize porridge” that forms part of a common African dish. So, Hon and contractor carve off a few cm of our road and haul the loot in million $s. But this is Rwanda, where the vicious arm of the law is not long but so short that even before you celebrate, it is closing in on you. So you cut and run before it claws at you. You pick a mattress, fling it into your car boot and you’ve made a bed, so you lie in it. Your driver slams back the boot and takes off faster than a bullet.

You know that, once out of Rwanda, many have sold the lie that they escaped lack of freedom of speech and have been received with open arms. A US visa is a guarantee, so you jump for joy!

Slothful youth and thieving politician, both of you are now in the land of the “American dream”. But the dream remains just a dream, as you’d have had at home, and in the end you resort to odd jobs to make ends meet. Those ends, however, don’t meet however hard you stretch.

Then an idea strikes. Jalopies on the cheap are a dime a dozen in this place and so, why not, you buy yourself one, the easier to do more shifts and stretch those ends.

It’s in the pursuit of those shifts that one evening you are driving home, hazy of eye and dull of mind, that you hit the kerb of the road and the car lurches downhill until it hugs a tree for breaks. You jump out pronto and make a clean escape before it bursts into flames.

Unfortunately, rescuing your body didn’t include its life partner – the mobile phone. But, having grown up in a society where there are no strangers and anyone welcomes and helps anyone else, you don’t think twice and knock at the door of the nearest home. An elderly lady, whose husband worked late, opens the door a crack but, on seeing you, she stifles a scream and bangs the door in your face. Your harmless cries for help and assurances of innocence don’t wash.

In no time, police cars with blaring sirens screech to a halt and officers jump out and crouch behind the cars, their guns trained on you. Arms in the air, you make to move towards them to explain yourself but that’s the last move you’ll ever make. An officer pumps bullets into, and life out of, your body. Your prospects of a rosy future have been dealt a premature full-stop; so much for your “American dream”.

If you think I am talking hogwash, ask residents of Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. Last Sunday morning they woke up to the shock of an unarmed man, fellow resident, who was shot dead while seeking help after a car crash. Jonathan A. Ferrell had tried to seek help after a car crash but the lady who opened the door reported a breaking and entering call. It’s thus that Officer Randal Kerrick emptied his gun into him, unarmed as the latter was.

The above is not an isolated case. The fact that Ferrell was black and Kerrick is white, did it have anything to do with it?

Search me. What I know is that sometimes Rwandans who rush for that “American dream” do it at their own peril.

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