I can’t remember the misery that has touched my African childhood yet there has been some. I realized that I was an African child later on when I was studying geography and learnt that the globe has 5 continents including Africa.
Our teacher, a kind round woman with a perfect light skin complexion told us that since we were born on this continent, we were Africans. For her, we were true Africans with local color and behaviors. So because I believed her from the beginning my 4th year of my primary school, I believed her again. I was an African child.
That same day, after the break, the teacher taught us the countries that comprise Africa. I think they were 53 at that time. And we were more than amazed to recite them with their capitals and memorizing those countries helped me to win the popular country game that we loved to play.
The first thing that enthralled me about my continent was its superb shape. That shape that, once I became an adult, I could elegantly and proudly wear as earrings, on clothes or shoes but more than that the shape that I have engraved on my heart and that I could draw even in the middle of a deep sleep. Now that I was an adult, I had the feeling that my heart had taken the African continent’s shape because every time I see this refined image of Africa, my heart beats, sometimes of ultimate sadness but mostly of an intimate happiness.
But let’s come back to the fact of being an African child and the joy that this engenders. My African childhood is that era when boys wore khaki school uniforms and us blue dresses, writing our first words on a slate as notebooks were for older students. But the biggest joy of that time was having “les copines” (friends), those game companions who competed with me to recite prayers or gracefully stretch our arms to dance our traditional dance “Umushayayo”.
To be a young African girl for me was playing games like mabigibigi, jumping the rope, picking up small stones. It was also the time of gathering firewood, fetching water and learning how to cook. It could be also imitating how mothers carry babies on the back. As I didn’t have a doll, I used to carry a cloth folded in a vulgar form of a baby.
Family was also important. I always wonder what being I would be today if my parents had never taught me the values of a family.
The first family value that I learnt was equitable sharing, principally the share of food. We used to sit on a traditional mat, umusambi, and eat from the same tray using our fingers that we had first washed in a green, blue or red plastic basin with tembo soap. Since that time, I share everything, almost everything, with my siblings.
The joy of my African childhood was also watching Cinderella and imagining that one day; I will be a princess and will meet a Prince. It was also to feel the hot earth burning my bare feet or the pressure of small stones on them.
It was going to pray and learning religious values that have shaped my sense of morality.
For my brothers, I believe their joy was running behind a football ball and dreaming of becoming Ronaldo, always going to play in the middle of the road despite parental prohibition.
For the rural kids, I think that their happy moments were to pilfer fruits on their way to school, to fetch water or chase firewood, on their way to everywhere. It was roasting a fresh sweet potato in hot ashes and eating it with a ripe avocado.
Years later when I grew up, I was shocked to see that our African childhood is so often summarized on a global image that displays a dark child who embodies destitution. A child with a bony body, nasal mucus, naked, empty eyes and who suffer from chronic hunger.
I wonder why those pictures of ourselves don’t show those joyful moments, why don’t they show the songs we sung, ibisakuzo (the riddles) we asked each others, and the stories we heard and shared while cooking? Why do those pictures want to take away precious memories of our African childhood? Who benefits from them? Us or them?
Of course. Of course. If someone had photographed me just after the 1994 tragedy in Rwanda when almost all Rwandan were in temporarily camps, sheltered in white tents with the word UNHCR in blue; If someone had taken a picture of me at that very instant and published it; people would have exclaimed:
-“Oh my God, what poverty in Africa!”
But what that picture would have missed to capture was that even in truly or apparently tough moments of African childhood, there is also joy, sharing, games, songs, poesy, friendship, hope.
Come on! Misery is in everyone, everywhere. It just takes different forms.
This June 16th, 2015 and every year, instead of focusing on hungry African children, let’s celebrate happy African children.
In 2000, the ‘African children choir’ from Uganda released an album called ‘Still walking in the light’ so are African children.