I am a woman. A Rwandan woman. I was born in the eighties so I am young enough to be called a youth but old enough to counsel youth.
I finished primary school but never started secondary school. Not because I didn’t want to but because I couldn’t. My father and mother had wanted me together with my four brothers and two sisters to finish secondary school and study up to university. They did their best but there is only so much that you can do with a small scale farmer’s revenue.
My mother sold beans in the Rukira market. But she didn’t earn much because everyone planted beans and thus didn’t have to buy them. Sometimes I wondered why she even bothered to walk five kilometers to the market with twenty kilos of beans balanced on her head. But hope kept her going. Hope that maybe, somehow, she would be able to sell the beans and earn some money for her family.
My father sold bananas at the same Rukira market. He fared better because people came from as far as Kigali to buy bananas from this market. The little he earned always ended up on or in one of his seven children as clothes, medicine and food.
But when it was time for me to go to secondary school, they simply couldn’t raise the money that was needed for school fees. My father left it to my mother to give me the tragic news. She looked at me directly in the eye and said simply that, ‘am sorry we are unable to raise your school fees.’ That’s all she said. Nothing more, nothing less. Then she disappeared from the kitchen, where I was cooking porridge to the refuge of nearby banana plants. I knew she had gone to cry.
I didn’t cry that day but I cried three years later when at the age of seventeen, I got married.
I wasn’t forced into the marriage because I loved him. Pierre was three years older than me and worked as a messenger in the local district offices. He was tall and slender, like those giraffes I used to see in Geography books in primary school. And he had a smile so big and warm that there was no way I could have said no to his proposal.
Deep into the night, my first night at his place, I cried. I cried because I should have been in my final year of secondary school, studying for my final exams, on the verge of joining university. But there, I was, a teenage wife on the verge of parenthood.
I cried when my first child was born. They were tears of joy and tears of sorrow, trickling from my red, puffed-up eyes. It was a daughter. And as I held her in my arms, watching her fragile beautiful body, nestled in my quivering arms, I cried, wondering if she would also end up like me. I wanted her to study all the way to university and become the mayor of Ngoma District. I wanted her to buy one of those big black cars that I saw in Kigali. But I knew that if my circumstances remained the same, the she too would be a teenage wife and mother. So I cried.
I cried on the days that my three other children were born. Always for the same reason – joyous at their births, but worried about the lives that awaited them.
I cried the day that my husband slapped me. I don’t even remember why he did it. He apologized profusely after that but I didn’t feel like forgiving him. I didn’t feel like sleeping in the same bed with him. But I had to.
I cried the day that my husband came back home drunk and staggering with bloodshot eyes that looked at me menacingly in the darkness of our bedroom. He demanded for his conjugal rights and although I wasn’t in the mood, I feared another beating so I gave in. I cried when this became a routine occurrence and not an isolated incident. He had fallen into the arms of alcohol and I had fallen into the arms of my four children, seeking from them the same comfort that they were seeking from me.
I am still living with my husband. Where would I go if I left him? He still has that big, warm smile but I no longer see it much because he doesn’t smile much when he is with me. I also don’t smile much. What is there to smile about? I am almost certain that my two daughters will turn out like me because we can’t afford to ensure that they get quality education.
But I cry more for my two sons, because I think that they will turn out like their father. How can they turn out differently when all they know about being a father and being a husband has been learnt by observing their father?
But every day, I pray for a miracle. I pray that somehow, my four children will make it to College and find good jobs. I pray that they will find loving husbands and wives and that their marriages will be happier than mine.
But even as I pray, I continue doing what my mother did. I hope and do the best I can. I sell beans, vegetables and whatever extra products that I can get my hands on. I even sold the three wrappers that my mother gave to me when I got married. I do all this with the hope that I will be able to save enough money for at least one of my children to go to proceed with secondary education.
Every morning, my hopes rise with the sun. I see the faces of my four children reflected in the river as I scoop water into my bucket. I hear their laughter as I till the land and drop in it brand new bean seedlings. I feel their heartbeat as I wash their clothes and cook for them. It is for them that I keep going. For them that I cry. For them that I smile. For them that I am still married. Hoping. And praying.