A Rwandan Single Mother's Bitter-sweet Journey

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Love, what a feeling! Olive had known it when she met Patrick. She was happier and felt to have a great weight off her mind. She could find herself smiling without a reason. Patrick was the love of her life, there was no doubt. Since he told her that she was beautiful and intelligent; she felt beautiful and intelligent.

 Love, that feeling had stolen most of her habits because of the sensation of well-being it procured. Things that mattered to her became less essential, almost futile. Her appetite had reduced, smelting at the same time some grease that had hid the natural shape that God had graciously presented to her.

Olive was now more careful about her look; ironing her clothes twice, polishing her shoes with the popular Kiwi shoe shining cream. With a smooth sponge, she put on a thin layer of Exofene powder that made her skin rarefied.

Sensing Patrick’s appreciative regard falling on her gave her the feeling the she got wings and could fly. The first time when this man’s hand touched her tender and delicate cheek, she trembled with pleasure.

Olive had been raised by her two big sisters who meticulously taught her good manners. She was an exemplary girl in her community so that people referred to her as a nun. She freely advised her friends and her sisters were proud of their youngest sibling. 

She had freshly graduated from secondary school with a good grade and her glowing beauty gave rise to lots of flattering comments….. till the absence of her period.

She was bearing Patrick’s child. Patrick, the love of her life. She was terrified by her sisters’ reaction. The three siblings were orphans, their parents had died of AIDS twelve years earlier. Fortunately, both of her sisters got married without any premarital pregnancy. It was a silent victory as no one in their entourage had got an opportunity to gossip behind their back.

But on the other side, the love that Patrick, as a man, had for Olive put her mind at rest about her pregnancy.

As she has always done, she sought advice from Solène, a good friend that she considered as another elder sister, who had recently married Joe. Solène told her to entrust her secret to her sisters. She was only three weeks pregnant.

At the beginning, her sisters supported her and she felt automatically soothed.

-          “It happens; we are all behind you”. Had said Thérèse, the eldest.

Back in 1991, Anne-Emmanuèle Calves, the author of “Marginalization of African single mothers in the marriage market: Evidence form Cameroon” clearly stated that because young African women and men postpone first marriage but do not wait for marriage to become sexually active; premarital pregnancies and births are on the rise, especially in urban areas and among educated youth.

Olive had dreaded her sisters’ reaction that she was so much relieved and light-hearted she went to see Patrick. His reaction left her flabbergasted when he said:

-          I can’t believe it! What tells me that you only slept with me??

Heaven knows that Olive had heard so many pregnancy stories, including Solène’s and she had heard the saying “the wall came tumbling down”.  Was it even conceivable that Patrick had a heart of stone? Patrick, the love of her life, could he possibly say those words? Was it him speaking or someone else was operating inside him?

Curiously, Patrick’s reaction irritated her sisters. Thérèse who was hosting Olive was constantly wondering what they would do now that Patrick, his brother-in-low to be, had disowned his child. They were about to experience shame. From there, she started resenting her sister for bearing that baby. What had Olive missed to dishonor them despite the good education they gave to her? That resentment slowly grew into deep anger. How could she?

On her side, Olive could feel that she had lost the sympathy of her sisters. One day, a market day, Thérèse told her:

-          Bintera isoni kugendana nawe. I feel ashamed to walk with you. People are judging us.

As days passed, their relationship deteriorated. Thérèse asked her to stay inside the house most of the time, to calm down the gossip. At home, motivated with guilty, Olive was killing herself with domestic tasks to avoid pregnancy or laziness accusations.  But unfortunately, her sisters were not that much satisfied.

-          Nta bagore babiri mu nzu! There can’t be more than one lady of the house!

While her sisters were manhandling Olive, Patrick had promised to support her as he was afraid that Olive would ask local authorities to intervene. He was also obliged to accompany her to the prenatal consultations because the health center insisted on the fact that pregnant women should come with their partners.

But what Olive needed the most was the emotional and moral support and Patrick had cruelly deprived her of that. In a kinder clime, she was his chérie but now Olive was nobody’s Dulcinea.

At the hospital, she delivered with the help of a midwife, her sisters and Solène.  Patrick forgot to show up or even call. Olive’s phone remained stubbornly silent that whole day.

Solène tried to console her young friend but she knew that it was not easy and the worst was ahead. Her own marriage with Joe had its own challenges but she was sure of one thing: the warm smile of their baby consoled her from everything. And Solène was hoping that the new-born baby would bring the same joy to the fresh mother, Olive. She prayed that the innocent angel would dissipate the after-effects of Patrick’s rejection. But Solène was also very certain that no matter what happened, Olive’s life would never be the same.

Once the baby reached three months, Olive decided to leave her sister’s house. She was tired of the daily tensions that she faced. Solène helped her to find a small job as a cashier in a cyber café.

She had named her daughter Umulisa, avoiding all those names that parents give to illegitimate children: Iranzi(God knows me), Irankunda (God loves me), Rukundo (love), Mugisha (Blessing) or Keza (the beautiful). Since the birth of Umulisa, Patrick has just came to see her once and the rest of the time, he was irregularly sending money to Olive via MTN Mobile Money, a money transfer service provided by the telecommunication company MTN.

From the time when Olive moved out her sister’s house, she learnt the true meaning of being responsible. She was at the same time the man and woman, taking all the decisions. The most difficult was that there was no one to tell her whether she was right or not. Whenever she felt tired, she could recall Thérèse saying:

-          No one sent you to be pregnant.

Managing her low salary was also a life lesson. She experienced what it meant to lack money to buy sugar for the baby’s porridge or soap to wash clothes. She didn’t realize that she was maturing at an extremely high speed. But she did realize that she was no longer at the same wave length as her close friends.

They didn’t know what it was to spend a sleepless night because the baby was sick, to save a 100 Frw coin because it will buy soap or tomatoes the next day. They ignored what it was to pay for mutuelle de santé, community health insurance, to start thinking about your baby’s school fees while you too have to go to university.

Her age mate friends did not know all of that because they were still spoon fed by their parents. Their discussions were still around the handsome stars of different TV shows like Dereck Morgan, John, Patrick Jane or Will Gardner playing in Criminal minds, Person of Interest, The mentalist and The Good Wife respectively.

The only show that Olive was watching was her life completely disrupted by the arrival of Umulisa. While Umulisa lived with her mother, the Doha International Family Institute shows that in certain parts of Africa, at least half of children live with adults besides their parents (Democratic Republic of Congo (58%), Ghana (53%), Nigeria (57%), South Africa (70%) and Tanzania (60%).

At the Cyber café, Olive was working so hard that she couldn’t count the number of days thatshe has worked overtime.  Fortunately, her boss Yves, noticed her efforts and promoted her to be the logistics manager. Her salary almost doubled and she took draconian measures of spending after saving.

As she was no longer at the front desk, she had to share the office with Yves. Olive could surprise herself staring at her boss. She was gripped by the warmth of a man’s presence.

Between Yves and Olive, it started with sharing an office, then a cup of Rwandan tea, a dinner and finally a kiss. Olive who had thought that all of her senses were in extinction, found herself alive again. She momentarily forgot all the pain that she had locked inside her heart as Yves offered her tenderness. She was afraid of skimming the love sentiment once more; because she knew how sweet it could be but also how devastating it had been to her.

As usual, Olive sought advice from Solène who asked her to be careful. Now that Olive had a higher salary, she has started saving money because perhaps in few years, she would be able to send her daughter to Kigali Parents School, one of the best private schools in Kigali. Somehow, she was dreaming that Yves would be around to support her. On the othe hand, she was worried that, one day, Yves or Patrick will easily propose her for marriage. Olive’s situation was not an isolated case as in 1991, the Cameroon Demographic and Health Survey proved that premarital childbearing has a strong and negative effect on a young woman’s chances of first marriage.

When Solène heard about and met Yves, her sixth sense told her to learn more about this charming guy. It didn’t take her more than a week to learn that Yves had a fiancée and he was just playing Olive, taking advantage of her emotional vulnerability.

It was around a glass of a cold Primus that Solène told Olive about Yves’s deception. The two friends cried together. For a moment, Olive felt upset to have been so weak, to have opened up to Patrick and then Yves, she felt humiliated, both physically and emotionally.She felt dirty, ugly and small.

While websites like ‘Single mothers by choice’, a platform founded in 1981 by Jane Mattes (a psychotherapist and single mother by choice), provide support and information to single women in the USA, Canada, Europe and Beyond; most of African women like Olive don’t have access to mental health facilities where they can seek support related to the challenges of single motherhood.

She was not even able to pray as she was convinced that her attitudes disgusted God.

It took her around six months to recover from Yves’ lying games. At that time, Umulisa was two years old. She got another job. The average income that she was earning allowed her to enroll in one of universities of Kigali, INILAK. She also got an additional job translating for a lawyers’ firm.

She had the feeling that she had four full-time employments: her formal job, translation, studies and raising her daughter. As her financial situation was rising, her sisters came back in her life and Patrick dared to show up.

He apologized but Olive was not sure if she would be able to love him again, and if yes, she didn’t know how much time it would take her to heal and trust him again. Mean, there was one lesson that she learnt: In life, you first have to count on yourself to solve your own problems. And if you are a woman, always make sure that you will be able to raise every single child that you make before counting on a man. Patrick could or could not come in her life but either way, she knew that she alone would always make sure that Umulisa had everything she needed.

Olive and her daughter had been through so much together that the young mother felt her daughter was the only soul mate that she would ever have.

To celebrate her new job, Solène took Olive to Muhazi beach and the two women played radio from one of their phones. Whitney Houston was singing Exhale:

“Everyone falls in love sometimes, sometimes it’s wrong, and sometimes it’s right. For every win, someone must fail,….”

 

While they were joyfully uniting their voices and dominating Whitney’s, Olive raised her eyes to God and confessed that the only sin she has committed was to love.

Caroline Numuhire

I am in love with Mr. Pen

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