I am in love with Mr. Pen
The first time Ange heard this term, she thought about an actual shower that was given to a bride-to-be. But bridal shower was a slightly different notion to an actual shower. It was a showering of gifts and affection at a ‘bridal shower party.’ By 2016, these parties had evolved into elaborate events where attendees had to match clothes and look their best. The only think lacking was a legion of paparazzi and a red carpet. Indeed, Rwandan bridal showers have been imported straight from the American culture.
When Ange finally attended her first bridal shower, she knew that it would also be her last. She hated it. What hit her was the way these parties were organized: The gift gathering was coordinated by the bride’s close friend, also referred to in contemporary lingo as BFF. She would snoop around for other young bridal friends, young female family members and would add them to a WhatsApp Group named Bridal Shower – Bride’s name.
In the first days, the messages would be courteous, polite, well-mannered and femininely suave. Then slowly, as if the bridal shower attendants pulled by an irresistible string, would start sharing the most up-to-date, insane, sometimes riotous jokes of Kigali, stolen from other WhatsApp groups. And finally would come the ultimate mission: The Best friend forever who was also the Group admin would share a list of items, as long as the Nile River, to potentially offer the bride.
It was as if all of the bride’s friends dreamt the previous night about offering gifts and they were waiting for an extra push. The list would comprise a mountain of domestic items as if the future Mrs had no plans of equipping her house with stuff she would personally choose. The catalogue would be made of numbers sometimes ranging from 1 to 100, including items like kitchen utensils, bed sheets, dustbins and cleaning soaps. Then the friends would play the friendly game of being a good friend by dividing between themselves different numbers. In order to motivate others, the admin would launch the mission by typing:
“Njye, I’ll take number 6, 18, 37 and 65.
Dies were cast. It was very important to pick up your numbers right after in the brief time-lag when affordable numbers were still available. And you would gain a bonus of likability that might push the BBF to recommend you as a faithful friend and a potential bridesmaid. The admin would send polite but gently aggressive reminders that the bridal shower date was coming soon as if they did not know! The list numbers had to reduce, girls had to generously prove that they were true friends.
Few days after the initiation of the compte-à-rebours, the admin would send tenacious reminders, sharing the vacant numbers. That would put too much pressure on the ladies’ purses but they would give up although they had other pressing needs and hadn’t budgeted for this in their tight economical lines. They would create tangible reasons in their minds that would permanently blow away the depressing, gloomy sentiment of guilt:
“We’ve been friends since high school.”
“Yarantabaye papa yapfuye!!”
“Elle ferait exactement la même chose pour moi!”
They were too afraid to dare to show up to the ceremony without an offering. Otherwise, they would be disqualified as friends; no one cared whether they had to borrow money or whatever sacrifice they had to make. No one cared that they had planned to offer a different and more meaningful present to the future bride. The bridal shower admin would never get discouraged which would make Ange believe that she had a real mission. A few days before the actual gathering, which had now become key in Kigali marriage celebrations, the best friend would send at least three reminders:
“Ladies, here are the free numbers, please pick them: No 11: Fridge. No 19: Water dispenser. No 21: Rice Cooker. No 83. 12 kg Gas cylinder. No 92: Bread toaster.”
Expensive utensils that sometimes could be indispensable for a house to function; at least in the African, Rwandan kitchen. That’s why Ange hated Kigali’s Bridal showers; wondering if Kigalians- female Kigalians, did get time to surf on websites such www.WikiHow.com to get an idea of how to organize a successful American bridal shower.
The upsetting part of it that would piss her off was the lack of minimum originality and creativity. was Ange remembered how Melanie Trump had been severely ridiculed for plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech. Yet most bridal showers were similarly guilty of zero originality!
Ange thought how it was much easier to call others duplicators and ignore similar imitation on ones part. But Ange was still open to the idea of offering a financial contribution to a person-to-marry, because this is something that resonated with her values, with her Rwandan culture. That culture that had its own version of pre-wedding gatherings where old women would give marriage tips to young females. If not, Ange would rather prefer imihuro, evening gatherings before the wedding where sometimes young people would devote themselves to fleshy, sensual, immoral pleasures.
As these thoughts ran through her mind, an online survey reached her laptop screen. The question was simple – what do you think about Rwandan bridal showers? Her answer was even simpler. She simply clicked on ‘dislike.’ With no regrets.
Ohh respectful Africa, my mother, my love, my land, my blood, my dust, my vein, my paint, my shape, my home, my comfort, my peace.
Ohh beautiful Africa, my sorrow, my pain, my tears, my nightmare, my war, my fight, my battle, my blood, my unrest, my discomfort, my agony.
I am your child, the blood of your blood, the darkness of your soils, the warmth of your sun and the end of your cries.
I was born here; I hold all my hope in my red hands as my ambition. I work for you till blood stops running in my veins. I dedicate every single thought of my mind to your re-beautification. You are as beautiful as your children are. As beautiful as I am in my blackness, in my darkness and in my shyness. I did not learn how to love you as children naturally esteem their parents. I am among your last-borns, but not among the latest, not among your bastards. I am your child of honor. I inherited your beauty and ugliness.
Mother Africa, I heard from the father you gave to me telling me that your richness is your ugliness. Your golden richness attracted your damnations. You are cursed with plenty of abundance. Such as any beauty, you have so many dredgers. You have been sold, assaulted and raped in front of your noiseless descendants.
Your richness I mean your ugliness is tremendously copious, inexhaustible, infinite, eternally renewable. It unwillingly seduces capitalistic souls who are not necessarily your own children’s spirits.
The 2016 African Union summit Followed 26 other precedents.
Do these Summits offer you Hope, Africa?
Does your whole heart rejoice that the ugliness will be kept inside your territories without reinforcing and creating another format that elects you as a dumping ground?
How do you feel Africa, are you joyfully moved as a newlywed woman?
Are you worried as a sterile female concerned that her husband will search progeny elsewhere? How do you feel Africa?
How do you feel when your children follow the American or European dreams as if you are not an equal continent?
Do you feel betrayed, indifferent or tired of these struggles?
Talk to me Africa, my mother! Murmur in my ear your dream for me, for all your children so I can start dreaming. Comfort me before I worry, talk to me it’s urgent don’t just send me to God, don’t just confront me to my rough present.
My time is running. Gun and racial violence are taking another step in the US, England has exited the European Union and elected a female Prime Minister, France is hit by another attack, there are unending fights in the Middle-East, more and more farmers on your land are suffering from a new, easily overspread, uncountable, uncontrollable, unstoppable disease. Experts call it climate change. My time is running and I can’t catch it. It slides between my fingers; it tears through my black body. My time is rushing as your children drown in the great Mediterranean. Aren’t you tired that their blood dilutes the cold waters of yesteryear warm sea?
Wake up and don’t be lazy, mother. Wake up and share your views. Don’t be a hard-hearted, unpitying, merciless and ruthless mother. Speak for yourself, for your children. What are your hopes for the African Union Summit that happened in Kigali and those that will come in later years? What is the dream you dreamt for all of your children?
Talk to me mother, Mum I want to hear your warm voice in these uncertain times. I can’t hear your nearly snuffed voice. Wake up Mama, talk to your daughters and sons. What is the African dream that your sons and daughters should claw at?
Well, if you dare to remain silent. I will think for you as it is my responsivity, our responsibility as your intellectuals.
I see the African dream at the horizon. The horizon looks like the endless beauty of the Indian ocean from the Tanzanian side. The horizon is a warm sunrise that reflects a smell of magic on this ocean and burns my black feet as they sink in the soft shore sand and darkens my skin color. The horizon is what I want now and not a random promise in the future. I want to craft a contemporary, attainable dream for you, mother Africa. Not the projection of statistics that create false hope in the desperate hearts of your children. I don’t want to dream of the Agenda 2063 because I am not sure if my life expectancy allows me to see the 63 sunrises. I want to dream now because in few hours my eyes will close again in deep sleep. I want to wake up tomorrow morning with a dream painted on the mirror of my soul. I want an African dream made of discernable letters, real words, short sentences and a meaningful paragraph that defines this common dream for African sons and daughters, a paragraph that my heart can easily memorize and above all believe.
Do all of your children feel represented when they observe the High Officials you sent to African Union Summits to discuss important issues, issues that matter for politicians and their political interests? Talk to me Mother Africa. Because I want to know your expectations, your anticipations, your highest predictable outcomes when the whole Africa meets in these summits. I know you can fathom the hope of your children and guess if it’s achieved. Do they impatiently follow the news on TV and await the resolutions from the summit? Or do they sneer in front of the tinted expensive cars carrying the Officials? Do they feel that their taxes are wasted in long discussions without concrete conclusions where satisfied stomachs fall asleep in the afternoons, missing the opportunity of painting the African dream for me?
The ultimate dream is … I sit and hesitate to define it. I want it to be exclusive, I want it to resonate with all of your new-borns. I want all Africans to buy, consume, own, believe and love the DREAM. …those who can still believe in it and build it to its ultimate end. I am afraid that our souls are desperate, hopeless and turned into a new oceans of bitterness. Their horizon has stopped shining in the warm mornings since the time you started breaking your word into sinned, sad, irretrievable pieces.
The African dream: The African dream should be that way of living… hesitation is still knocking on my door. I am tempted to dream of the era of my ancestors where abundance, prosperity and family ties reigned but if I shape such dream for you Africa, will you buy, consume, own, believe and love it? I have in mind all of your children especially those who were born after yesterday’s sunset.
The African dream is a temporary dream, a dream that all of the African children believe. Believe in possibilities, probabilities, prosperities. It’s a dream that our all stomachs are fed by the delight they prefer, all their illnesses are treated, all children are properly educated, all adults get dignifying job opportunities. It’s an Africa of joy, family-country-continent unit, collaboration and celebration. It’s an Africa of dignity, pride and generosity. It’s an Africa where a man from Mali can start a small business and believe it can make a living. It’s an African where a woman from Botswana can make and sell her handcraft items, it’s an African where a Kenyan fisher can catch gigantic fishes, sell them on the market and get enough money to re-invest in his business, buy a Tusker beer and dance Nakei Nairobi in his evening. I can paint dreams for all African nations but I want to borrow their thoughts. I want to paint their own dreams.
It’s an Africa mixed with the ancient and the contemporary. It’s an African where a North African man is not feared as terrorist, where a black child is not only perceived as a wretched immigrant or disdained black poor. It’s an Africa of families with manageable children, I would propose three or slightly four. It’s a land of warm sun, hot music, crazy dances, fried, non-fried food, fertile soils, strong friendships, oral and documented stories, unbreakable spirits, real compassion, social gatherings, happy unions, genuine love, real solidarity, local values. It’s an Africa where all African people dream to develop and sustain so they can see their children growing on their own land because they would have dreamed, created and realized a dreamed place. It’s an Africa where we will have fought low self-esteem, self-destruction, mental and metal barriers. It’s an Africa where traditions espouse modernization but both remain distinct entities, contributing to each other but remaining faithful to themselves. It’s an Africa with its own conspicuous mark. It’s a property of respect. It’s a dream of the African warmth shining from inside and outside of Africans’ hearts. It’s an Africa where blackness is not a weakness just a difference, where blackness is not a source of complexes rather a complementarity to humanity. It’s a dream that we just sow that rare seed of believing that Africa matters. It’s about daring to believe that Africa is home, true home for all of us. It’s taking that scary step and starting to test the beliefs of our ancestors, their vision and hope for this marvelous land.
I dream of an Africa that can inevitably hurt but also completely heal. An Africa that mischievously takes but also generously provides. It’s a dream where all children start thinking about changing what needs urgent attention rather than hypothetical plans of running away from home, from selves. It’s a dream of belief. Belief in the red, soft, African soil. It’s a belief in Africa. A belief in Africans. A belief in ourselves. A belief in myself as an entity. As option. As a choice. As a chance. As a hope. As a gift. As a present. As the only present. As a future. As the only future. As a believer. As a thinker. As a speaker. As a defender. As a guard. As child. As a daughter. As a son. As a mother. As a father. As an ancestor. As a god. As destiny. As a creator. As part. Of Africa.
This is my contemporary dream for you Mother Africa. Can you buy, consume, own, believe and love it? Can the African Union summits buy, consume, own, believe and love it?
Talk to me Mama. Talk to me Africa.
The panorama offered by Gisenyi bay beach is a scenic expanse of blue water that ends on the Congolese hillside. Gisenyi town is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Rwanda. In the middle of the Lake Kivu stands a pole. From far, it looks like a giant tree that grew from the deepest lake bed. But it is the methane gas extraction plant.
On the other side of the lake lives a farmers’ community. They raise their children and send them to public schools. Clarisse, 13 years old, is a young girl born in that community. She speaks normal Kinyarwanda tinted with the sweet Swahili accent. She knows the secrets of the water that she has paddled in with her brothers since her tender childhood. But the biggest secret she holds is the marvels of the thermal waters, amashyuza.
When you reach the water source, small children, boys and girls together are taking everlasting baths. The hot vapors that come from underground wrap their tiny bodies like invisible robes. These hot waters provide livelihoods opportunities for Clarisse and her young neighbors. After class, she fervently explains to tourists the curative powers and benefits of amashyuza before offering a massage using local herbs.
From her rural land, she has a picturesque view of the methane gas extraction plant. She doesn’t know the role of that pole in her Lake Kivu but she heard from her big brothers that it generates electricity and that they can’t fish in the 30 meters around it.
With its pacific blue, Lake Kivu itself offers a spectacular sight while its waters provide a meaning as a source of drinking water, for fisheries and a transportation corridor to the livelihoods of more than two million people from Rwandan and Congolese communities, including Clarisse’s family.
The main economic activities of these inhabitants are farming and fishing with the most abundant fish being isambaza, the Tanganyika sardines (Limnithrissa miodon). They were introduced into the lake in the 1960s to fill the obvious vacant niche of Kivu. Currently, only 31 fish species live in this lake compared to 400 species of Lake Tanganyika. This poor diversity in terms of biota is due to the steepness of the banks, age and the nature of the lake’s bottom.
The biodiversity of Rwanda is mainly conserved in protected areas like the three terrestrial national parks but these parks don’t represent the whole biodiversity and ecosystems of the country. For instance even if Lake Kivu’s fauna is poor due to its physical isolation or doesn’t shelter either hippopotamuses or crocodiles; it has several aquatic biodiversity, phytoplankton, zooplankton, more than 200 Afro-tropical superior plant species and vegetation.
Lake Kivu, situated around 100 miles north of Lake Tanganyika is a volcanic Lake of 2370 km2, almost the size of Mauritius or Moscow city, with a maximum depth that can attain 485m. It is located in the East African Rift Valley between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Its uniqueness consists of the prodigious quantity of dissolved gases (carbon dioxide and methane gas) in the deep water and far from the mountainous shores.
Kivu is among the 3 lakes in the world with high dissolves volumes of CO2, the two others being Nyos and Monoum from Cameroon. But contrary to them, it contains a considerable amount of methane gas and if not exploited might erupt within a century.
On August 21, 1986, Lake Nyos emitted CO2 and suffocated fauna, flora, livestock and caused a loss of around 1800 human lives.
To shun such a disaster, Rwanda has started the extraction of methane from Kivu. The origin of this gas is not yet very well known and there have been hot debates around the subject. Scientists don’t agree on its origin, some assume that it is caused by earthquakes and volcanic activity. However, according to Dr Klaus Tietze, a German scientist, this gas is a result of bacterial reduction of the magmatic CO2 that leads to methane but along with bacterial fermentation of acetate in sediments.
Currently, there is no imminent danger of explosion in Lake Kivu that threatens Clarisse’s community because gases are trapped below 260 meters. Up till now, these gases are not harmful to the biodiversity although they hinder the development and expansion of numerous species accommodated inside the water. The surface water is totally isolated from deep water where carbon dioxide and methane gas are located. The living organisms and biodiversity, especially fish species, are found in the biozone comprising only between the first 50 and 60 meters from the surface. Biozone is the part of the lake provided with sufficient oxygen to support life.
As the risk of “bang” is relatively low, Clarisse will still be able to earn some cash from amashyuza and contemplate the lonely triple-colored national flag fluttering on the methane gas extraction site. What prevents Kivu’s methane gas from exploding is the presence of several layers with different densities in addition to the fact that the water pressure is twice higher than the total of partial pressures from the gases. The bigger hydrostatic pressures from the water block the methane gas and CO2 from ascending to the surface and to have a calamitous effect on the lake’s biodiversity.
In order to reduce the accumulation of the gases in Kivu, the Rwandan Ministry of infrastructure and the Congolese Ministry of hydrocarbons operate hand in hand to ensure safe, environmental friendly and economically sustainable extraction of methane gas in the lake.
The Rwandan government has contracted private investors to start the degassing process. Since 2008, the extraction work has been ongoing on a government funded pilot project called Kibuye Power Ltd (PK1) under the Rwandan Energy Company. This company is currently extracting methane and produce electricity in Gisenyi, generating 3.6 MW. The KivuWatt is another project that is supposed to start in a near future with a potential of producing 100 MW, almost equal to the current national power consumption. Captivatingly, in addition to its other numerous benefits, Lake Kivu has an opportunity of producing 700 MW of power over the next 50 years.
It’s worth noting that Rwanda has established Lake Kivu Monitoring Program (LKMP) to circumvent negative impacts of a wrong extraction technology to the surrounding environment. This unit is mainly in charge of overseeing the plant inspection, near plants and lake wide levels. According to Mrs Augusta M. Christine Umutoni, the LKMP Programme manager, LKMP ensures public safety by maintaining the stability of the lake and preventing any potential gas eruption, thus avoiding any hazardous impacts on the environment and people as well as maximizing the socio economic benefits.
The effectiveness of Kivu Lake Monitoring Program to prevent environmental hazards will enable the few fish species to evolve in the waters of this small and young lake of East African Rift valley. The local people will keep fishing in Lake Kivu; will continue to offer tourism boat tours and to trade with the neighboring Congo. But also Rwanda has gained another source of power generation that gradually will help to reduce the gap between national electricity demand and supply.
Even if Methane gas is being extracted and averts the outburst risk, the volume of electricity produced under KP1 is still insignificant considering the national consumption and Lake Kivu neighboring communities do not yet benefit from this power that their natural resource breeds. Clarisse is currently using the tadowa, a kerosene traditional lamp, to do her school homework. She is hoping that that electricity produced in Gisenyi and channeled in the national grid, will one day reach her house through the national rural electrification program.
But s long as the methane gas extraction prevents the detriment of the ecosystems, Gisenyi local communities gain from the surrounding biodiversity to earn their livings. Clarisse’s parents will still be able to farm their lands and pay her school fees. Her older brothers income from fishing will allow them to build their future households and she will keep making pocket money from the massage and satisfy her adolescence basic needs.
 Acetate is a salt or ester of acetic acid especially used to make fibers or plastic.
Not many people know that Rwanda has an island. But it does. Nkombo Island, which sits squarely in Lake Kivu.
Located on the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lake Kivu is delimited by five districts from North to South: Rubavu, Rutsiro, Karongi, Nyamasheke and Rusizi. Nkombo is one of the multiple islands of the Lake with merely 22 km2 and around 18,000 inhabitants living on the one spacious and two smaller islands. Felix is a young boy from Nkombo Island. He sees Rwanda as another country, a country where he would love to live. He has recently started primary school and is learning Kinyarwanda language at Gihaya, one of the four primary schools on the island. Before joining school, he only used to speak amashi, the native local language in his neighborhood.
For 40 minutes, a semi-traditional motor boat transports, from Rusizi town back to the island, local Nkombo men and women who came earlier to sell fish. During the ride, they intone songs in amashi accompanied by a stench of decomposing fish from their baskets. On the other side of the strand, Felix and more other kids are excitedly waiting for adults to return from the city with nice things, maybe.
Just like many other Rwandans, farmers on the island plant soybeans, climbing beans, cassava, banana plantation,….and their soils slowly run-off in the Lake.
Felix was born in April 2008, just after the earthquake that ravaged the island. He has experienced Nkombo’s transformation over the years. He has seen engineers installing electric cables. Every night, he has light in his house and he has seen adults map out the roads even if no car has yet driven there.
In his free time, the young boy imitates men by fishing and capturing fishes from Lake Kivu. Afterwards, he hides the breathing fishes in his jacket pocket and tries to sell them to strangers who come to his land. With other boys of his age, they bargain and set the prices in amashi language so that visitors don’t understand. The fishes that these boys sell are among the 40 species of fish that were inventoried in Rwanda but only 4 are of economic importance; the Lake Tanganyika sardine Limnithrissa miodon (locally called isambaza), the Nile tilapia Oreochromis niloticus, the African catfish Clarias gariepinus and Haplchromis sp. .And today, Felix’s catch is of course isambaza.
This Tanganyika Sardine is a small pelagic clupeid living in Kivu as a non-native species. L. miodon was voluntarily introduced in 1959 into Lake Kivu, where no planktivorous ﬁsh existed before. Adults live in the pelagic areas while reproducing populations and juveniles inhabit bays and shores. This species becomes omnivorous at the adult stage, feeding on diverse preys: zooplankton, insect larvae and adults, other small ﬁshes and their own young stages.
Since its introduction in Kivu, it has slowly been delivered on the Rwandan and Congolese fish markets with other species. According to Rwanda Development Board, the fish market demand consists of 90% of tilapia, 5% isambaza, and 5% of other spcies like cat fish.
Nkombo island inhabitants supply isambaza to Rusizi town and cook the rest with peanut oil in their households that are densely settled and scattered on the island.
As in any other part of Rwanda, Nkombo’s biodiversity is also threatened by population increase, land use changes, destruction of habitats and natural disasters. In Africa, while Rwanda has one of the biggest population densities, Nkombo’s demographic pressure is even more alarming as 818 people live on just 1 km2 compared to the national level of 450 persons living on the same surface.
This large population on the island is using natural resources at an alarming rate. They were used to cultivate all land till the banks of Kivu, overfish isambaza for market supply and family consumption as well as using various trees for fire wood.
The Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) calls for the protection of Lake Kivu’s shores as well on Nkombo islands. This denotes that 50 meters from the lake shores and 10 meters from the river banks have to be protected from human exploitation.
Nkombo islands have already started to implement the EDPRS target of planting 320,000 agroforestry trees and to creating 50 hectares of progressive terraces to prevent soil erosion. A special tree nursery has been established on the island and more than 140,000 seedlings of different species have been produced.
And to valorize the biodiversity, a hotel is under construction at Nkombo as a way of developing tourism potential of the area that local community can economically benefit from. As the beauty of the nature attracts an increased number of tourists, local people will be more motivated to protect their source of revenues: biodiversity. According to REMA, Rwanda Environment Management Authority, Kivu islands are not hotbeds of island endemics because nearly all species found there also exist in the mainland. However, in a recent study, 14 islands  of Lake Kivu were surveyed and the results clearly showed that 142 plant species, 80 species of birds, 52 invertebrates, 6 mammals, 6 reptiles and 5 species of amphibians exist on these islands.
Additionally, these islands shelter 3 migratory bird species namely cossypha natalensis, milvus migrans as well as bulbucus ibis and some endangered species like marsh mongoose, water birds and snakes. It’s worth noting that half of birds registered on Lake Kivu islands are on the IUCN red list. Furthermore, this research for the conservation plan of Kivu Lake islands clearly shows that these islands comprise the key zones in Rwanda for biodiversity conservation, tourism and recreation.
Felix notices several inquisitive sightseers coming to Nkombo; although they don’t usually buy his fishes. They give him hope that the island has something particularly unique to offer that attracts people from Kigali, the capital, and other countries. Local kids always shout to those visitors, in either amashi or Kinyarwanda:
Ompe ehyo hicupa hyaminji ,wampaye agacupa. Give me the water bottle, Give me the water bottle.
The belief is that tourism development with all associated facilities will create and generate more jobs and income for Nkombo residents and local children will get a better access to clean water and more water bottles. Currently, they mainly fetch the Kivu water for domestic use.
Nkombo’s residents desperately need new opportunities. Most of them fish in a lake with poor fish reserves with the national fish production from Rwanda’s 24 lakes estimated at only 13,000 tons, annually. According to the ministry of Agriculture and animal resources, the low fish production is generally caused by increased fish pressure, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, and increased unmonitored fish movements, all driven by higher fish demand, inadequate fisheries and aquaculture management framework. This fishery sub sector has potential of contributing to 2.7% of the GDP if a total of 115,000 tons is produced by 2017.
In the Rwandan Kivu, which consists of 48% of the total Lake surface, Nkombo fishers are not allowed to fish all the time. They have to stop one week in a month and they are not allowed to fish on the Congolese part of Kivu. During their free time, some cultivate their lands but this year kirabiranya (Xanthomonas wilt) has invaded their banana plantation and this disease constitutes another whack to the island’s agro-biodiversity already menaced by overpopulation and climate change.
In 2014, agro-biodiversity has contributed to national economy with a share of 30.5% of the GDP. But Rwanda being reliant on rain-fed agriculture is still extremely vulnerable to climate change. This phenomenon is not only a threat to the agriculture industry but also the biodiversity of the Lake Kivu islands and little is known about the economic cost of biodiversity loss.
Apart from the worst worldwide water hyacinth, there are other invasive species that affect the Lake Kivu islands biodiversity and these led to the extinction of some species in the past and threaten more that are endemic. But again, even if invasive species are the core current menace, climate change is predicted to be the key threat to islands in the future.
To prevent the detrimental consequences of the degradation of ecosystems, Rwanda has set 16 new major policies, laws and strategies to promote biodiversity conservation and socio-economic development. Despites the existence of these, the value of biodiversity is not yet reflected in broader policies. However, the first needed step which is to recognize the importance of conservation has been made and established measures help to raise awareness about the protection of the country’s natural capital.
With this national will, Nkombo hopes that the biodiversity conservation and tourism expansion will contribute to the sustainable socio-economic development of the island. so that while Felix and his age mate friends grow up, they will be able to understand that there is a future on their native area, that they can conquer the rest of Rwanda or neighboring Congo or any other broader land. But above all, Nkombo residents dream to have a young generation that always remember that their beautiful Nkombo have choices to offer to its children. To achieve this dream, they first have to grimly preserve, conserve and protect their biodiversity so that natural resources keep providing them a source of economic, social and nutritional benefits.
 Mapfundugu Islands Complex, Karugaruka, Nyanamo, Karinga, Nyamunini, Mbabara, Mukondwe, Shegesha, Amahoro, Nyenyeri, Mpangara and Nyarugaba, Ishyute and Ireba Islands
 International Union for Conservation of Nature
It was a calm afternoon with a cool breeze blowing away the hair of women. It was around 3pm in Kigali and the sun was still gently shinning and sliding towards the western mountains.
Nina, a 32 year young woman took time to feel the signs in her womb, she knew that she was going to go through the same monthly pain, as other women in the world. That afternoon, Nina was still at the office.
She checked her handbag and found what she was looking for: a tablet of Ibuprofen. She swallowed the pill without any liquid.
‘Sheet!’ Nina hissed at the wrong timing of her periods.
She cursed in her heart of hearts. As if this wasn’t enough, she was also pissed off because their office neighbor displaced a beehive from one tree to another, unintentionally allowing all the bees to escape from it. They were violently rioting outside, suspended in the air like dozens of military helicopters and everyone was bothered by that crazy bee agitation.
Nina was working for one of USAID projects in Rwanda; she had landed in the country seventeen months earlier. This new job was her dream-job because she had always wanted to work in the development sector, preferably on the African continent. However, the job had separated her from her fiancé Jim in Minnesota leaving her suffering from loneliness, sultriness and painful periods. Although Jim was not the kind of man to make women heads spin, the American young woman had fallen in love with his charming personality and soft blond hair.
She was so attached to him that her friends didn’t understand her choice of taking a job that would consign her to a long-distance relationship. In addition, how could she leave her comfortable life in the US and go to fade in Africa? Although Jim had supported her decision, Nina could read silent incomprehension in his magnificent blue eyes. At the airport on the day of her departure, he had hugged her for long seconds and swept tears from his eyes with the back of his hands before saying:
“I am happy for you, sweetheart.”
They had promised to call each other every day and meet at least four times a year somewhere on the planet. They had kept that promise till daily calls started delaying, sometimes due to different time zones, other times due to impossible work schedules. Nina could call and wake Jim up in middle of a deep sleep, apologize, and murmur a hurried ‘I love you’ that she wasn’t even sure he heard. Such situations left her with a constant feeling of guilt that she could no longer narrate her day to Jim as she used to.
Living on the other corner of the city was Kathleen, a Rwandan nurse. She worked at Kibagabaga hospital, one of the referral hospitals in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
On this particular night, she was on duty, assisting Dr Mujeyi at the emergency wing of the hospital. While waiting for emergencies, she sipped a cup of sweet tea. Then, she heard the siren of an ambulance and stood up rapidly, causing the small spoon to fall down from the teacup. Its resounding noise as it hit the tiled floor disappeared under the loud siren of the white ambulance.
Kathleen slipped on latex gloves and ran to the emergency main door. Dr Mujeyi joined her just a paramedic opened the ambulance’s rear doors. The patient was a small boy hit by a crazy motor rider who was driving at breakneck speed. The skull of the boy was injured and he had a serious hemorrhage. The nurses transported him on a stretcher. Sadly, the young life passed on before the medical team could stop the gushing blood that had already turned the stretcher’s white sheet into a bright red.
Though Kathleen was a well-experienced nurse, every death affected her differently. She had never learnt how to recover from a child’s passing. And there was something in the look of that boy that broke her heart.
She resented accountants, agronomists, tailors and everyone for not experiencing the pain of an Emergency room. She resented them for dealing with their own lives while she was struggling to save others lives. But mostly, she resented Pascal for being away in another hospital, in Europe. She had dated the young man for five years since the time he was in medical school at the University of Rwanda. They had met during an international conference on Kangaroo Mother Care that was held in India. It was a special gathering for the couple-to-be because both were Rwandans and they were in a foreign country.
Now, Pascal had obtained a scholarship to specialize in cardiology at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium. It was a golden opportunity for him so she couldn’t be happier for Pascal. Around the time he was about to fly to Bruxelles, her friends started telling her that if the young man was going to Europe, he would surely marry another woman and forget Kathleen. They advised her to trap Pascal with pregnancy, which would oblige him to marry her before moving to Belgium. Kathleen told him the whole story, they had laughed and then kissed.
As Kathleen was poking around sweet memories, the pain and the solitude of Nina were worsening. She couldn’t wait to be home in her bed. When she reached her expat house in the fancy neighborhood of Kimihurura, she parked her car outside, ran into the house and took a hot shower. Right after, she drunk a burning soup prepared by her housemaid Rose then slumped into her large bed.
Although she knew it wasn’t fair, Nina resented Jim for not being around to hold her in his arms. She wished she could revenge by inviting another guy to comfort her. If she ever cheated on Jim, would it be with Todd that she met at Soleluna Restaurant while playing Trivia Games on Monday evenings or would that be with Gasana the attractive Rwandan researcher who also working for another USAID project? Instead, she read again the Diary of Anne Frank. It was 2:48 pm in the US, so she couldn’t call because Jim was still at the office.
At Kibagabaga hospital, together with the nurses who worked in the mortuary, Kathleen brought the dead body of the young boy who had perished in the moto accident. She felt sick. She went back in the nurses’ office; her foot hit the small spoon that she had dropped down a couple of hours before. Tears ran down her beautiful face. She missed the comfort that Pascal gave her during tough moments. Yet she couldn’t call him because he was in a tough exam period and she knew he needed to focus. She couldn’t dare to disturb him.
The next morning, a Saturday, she lazily woke up from her bed, showered and put on tight dark jeans, a bright blouse and leather jacket. She carefully applied make-up and went to Liza’s house in Kimironko. She had promised to help Liza prepare snacks for guests. Kathleen had met Liza during a primary healthcare meeting in Kigali. Since then, the two women had stayed in touch.
“Thanks for coming Kat, I don’t know what I would do without you!” Said Liza as she openined the gate with one hand and held a glass of white wine with the other hand.
She then thanked Kathleen for stuff she bought from the nearby Kimironko market.
“You look tired, Kat” Liza observed after spending few minutes with her friend.
“We lost a child last night!”
Liza took time to listen to the story of the child who died in a moto accident. She consoled her friends and then made a small joke. They laughed and Liza took that opportunity to ask:
“My sixth sense tells me that something worse is happening! Am I right or wrong?”
Kathleen sighed and confessed:
“ Nothing but…I just miss being with Pascal or just being with someone”
“ I have the feeling that you had a very interrresting night, last night”
“ Don’t Joke about this Liz, it doesn’t mean that I cheated on Pascal and I wouldn’t forgive myself! When I think that I was the one worrying that he would find another doll in Belgium! Shame on me!”
She sighed again. Liza’s eyes were turning red under the influence of wine. Liza could make fun of her friends because she had decided to be an independent woman. She knew it would be heartbreaking to leave a serious relationship and fly all over the world as her job obliged.
She couldn’t remember the last time she had a stable relationship, perhaps at high school! That was the price she paid for working in the development world. In her younger days, she had already played the role of mistress for married husbands, one-night-lover for single, immoral and independent men and kisser for some women.
“It was just a feeling you had, nothing to dramatize about!” she said emptying another glass of wine. I am sure you will be able to wait for Pascal. He is a great guy. Don’t give up easily.
Kathleen sighed again.
“It’s hard, Liz…. It’s really hard!”
The gate bell rang and Liza ran to open. Nina who had promised to mix the cocktails arrived with several bottles of alcohol that she took from the trunk of her USAID Ford.
“Kat, meet a new friend of mine: Nina. She is in charge of cocktails and all beverages!”
She smiled at her two friends.
“Nina, meet a person dear to my heart, she embodies the Rwandan beauty and she spends her life saving lives. She will be preparing all snacks for tonight. And… she is wondering if she should replace or cheat on her fiancé. Don’t be shocked, it was just a thought!”
Kathleen wanted to strangle Liza for telling her secret to Nina but her friend was already a little bit drunk. How could she blame her?
“And I will be in charge of jokes and hooking up with all handsome men at the party, while the two of you will be serving guests and crying for your men who are not around to offer you a dance!”
Kathleen and Nina looked to each other and laughed. A new friendship was born as the women could share their international love stories.
That night when Kathleen talked to Pascal, it was with a sweet and soft voice, full of love and remorse.
Bélise se leva, déplia sa jupe kaki et alla demander la permission de sortir de la salle de classe pour aller se soulager. À vrai dire, elle s’ennuyait de son cours de chimie, qui devrait durer deux heures. Elle avait l’impression d’y avoir passé une éternité. Mais Mr Cyuma, son professeur de chimie lui refusa la permission.
« Tu dois attendre la récréation ». Argumenta-t-il.
Ses camarades de classe se moquèrent gentiment d’elle. Ils la connaissaient bien pour deviner ses intentions. En retournant s’asseoir, la jeune fille bailla sans retenue. Elle n’aimait pas la chimie, elle n’aimait pas les sciences enseignées en classe, elle préférait les découvrir de sa propre manière, à travers les livres.
Bélise s’asseyait au troisième banc en rangée du milieu. Sa classe de 5e secondaire était constituée de trois rangées qu’occupaient 28 élèves. Elle contempla sa classe peinte d’orange et blanc, les autres élèves étaient concentrés. Elle ne voulait pas papoter car le dérangement en classe était sanctionné et la punition était le balayage de la cour de recréation. Bélise partageait son pupitre avec Mahoro, une jeune fille de 17 ans tout comme elle. La seule différence entre les deux adolescentes était qu’au contraire de Bélise, Mahoro était une passionnée de sciences.
Bélise rouvrit le roman qu’elle lisait ; Marc Lévy l’entraînait dans un univers de fous. Elle voulait changer de distraction mais elle avait peur de prendre une bande dessinée de Tintin car vu sa taille. Le professeur la remarquerait plus vite qu’un roman. Bélise mâcha machinalement le chewing-gum en comptant les minutes qui n’avançaient guère. Mr Cyuma se retourna du tableau où il notait la leçon du jour, ses mains étaient salies par la poussière de la craie. Il annonça d’une voix nette :
« Aujourd’hui, je ne vous donnerai pas une interrogation improvisée, mais je ferai un contrôle de cahiers de notes ! Chacun sera côté ! »
Un murmur se fit entendre dans la salle, le professeur leva sa main pour imposer le silence et arrêta le brouhaha.
« Ça, alors », pensa Bélise, paniquée par le fait que ses notes étaient irrégulières.
Mr Cyuma fit la ronde de la salle de classe, en notant individuellement chaque cahier. Bélise n’osa même pas présenter le sien, tellement il était plus vide que rempli.
- Monsieur, commença-t-elle, je l’ai oublié à la maison…. Au fait pour être honnête, on me l’a volé.
De sa main tachetée par la craie, le prof de chimie colla un zéro bien rouge à Bélise. Il ne goba pas les mensonges de la jeune adolescente. Sous la menace d’être définitivement suspendue du cours de chimie, Bélise présenta son cahier.
« Est-ce un cahier de notes ou juste un brouillon ? » demanda Mr Cyuma en montrant le cahier de Bélise au reste de la classe. Va m’attendre à la porte.
« Ca craint ! » commenta Thierry Muhire, un élève de la même classe. Chauffe-toi car une fessée t’attend.
Sur le pas de la porte de la classe, Bélise guettait dans toutes les directions craignant que le directeur du Lycée ne passe et l’interpelle. À la fin du cours, elle fut amenée dans le bureau du préfet des études. Elle était avec Bosco, le footballeur et Marine, la fille qui sortait d’un congé de maladie. A l’exception de Marine, les fautes de deux autres élèves furent jugées graves. Le préfet convoqua leurs parents.
« Foutaises de foutaises » Se lamenta-t-elle, n’osant pas imaginer la fureur de ses parents. Ils allaient la tuer!
Sa mère Véronique se présenta à son école le lendemain. Le comportement irresponsable de sa fille l’avait surprise et choquée.
« Tu es en 5e année ! Pense un peu comme une fille de ton âge ! »
Bélise se sentit incomprise. Sa mère ne voyait donc pas qu’elle n’aimait pas étudier !? C ‘était pourtant simple comme bonjour. C’était à peine si elle réussissait ses cours ! Il n’y avait que les langues où elle excellait. Ce qui désenchantait profondément ses parents. . Ils la voulaient scientifique, elle se rêvait artiste.
Son père décida alors de la prendre en main. Chaque jour, il rentrait plus tôt pour surveiller ses heures d’études ainsi que ses devoirs et il contrôlait ses cahiers. Petit à petit, ses résultats s’améliorèrent. Elle remonta la pente, s’efforçant d’aimer les sciences et le plan marcha ; même si au début, c’était comme boire umubirizi, une plante médicinale reconnue pour être particulièrement amère. L’année suivante, Bélise réussit son examen national et obtint une bourse d’état pour aller à l’université où elle brilla sous l’œil satisfait de ses parents.
Les années passèrent ! Les unes après les autres. Belise se remémorai de ces instants en souriant mélancoliquement. Elle avait fini par suivre la voie que ses parents avaient choisie pour elle. Elle avait fini par s’entendre bien avec eux. Grâce à ses études en gestion de projets, elle avait décroché un boulot en gestion de petites et moyennes entreprises. Elle avait appris à ignorer cette petite voix qui, incessamment lui rappelait sa passion pour l’art. Son cœur rebondissait à chaque fois qu’elle entendait parler des noms des femmes artistes. Elle enviait les peintres, les chanteuses et les écrivaines car elles, vivaient leurs propres rêves. Un rêve qu’elle avait seulement caressé du bout des doigts, puis enterré sous l’effet de la pression familiale. Elle avait toujours senti un sentiment de culpabilité l’envahir et avait appris à se raisonner.
«On est à Kigali , ma grande ! Lui conseillait Marlène, sa meilleure amie depuis l’enfance. On est pas à Paris, il ne faut pas trop rêver. Tu as regardé beaucoup de films, c’est tout.
Ce soir-la en rentrant Bélise ouvrit un vieux carton où elle avait gardé toutes les nouvelles et histoires qu’elle avait écrites. Elle toussota sous l’effet des résidus de poussière que les vieilles pages dégageaient. Elle sourit tristement en époussetant ses cahiers de poèmes qu’elle avait tellement chéris dans le passé, et qui désormais sentaient la moisissure. Une larme s’échappa et un doigt l’arrêta au beau milieu de la joue. Elle ne comprenait pas. Elle ne se comprenait plus. Pourquoi pleurait-elle alors qu’elle avait un bon travail et du talent que les autres lui enviaient ? Pourquoi cette soudaine tristesse face à un sentiment d’absence ? Elle passa la soirée en nettoyant soigneusement ses anciens cahiers. Elle les relut et se sentit revivre. Elle admira son innocence d’antan, sa pureté et sa naïveté. Elle sourit encore et son cœur se remplit d’apaisement. Elle écouta enfin sa petite voix, celle qui lui chuchotait d’oser. Elle prit une feuille et les mots se déversèrent tous seuls.
De cet instant, elle décida de raviver cette flamme. Elle fut surprise par les cloches de trois heures du matin. Elle avait encore vidé son cœur, couchant son contenu sur un arbre transformé en papier. Elle savoura ce simple plaisir de la vie. Tant pis si elle avait tord ou pas. Durant les jours qui suivirent, l’élan restait toujours présent comme un amour retrouvé. Elle écrivait, écrivait et écrivait. Son boulot devint secondaire et sa performance chuta.
Finalement, Bélise prit la décision de démissionner. Mais elle s’avisa et prit d’abord son congé annuel : Le temps de réfléchir. Durant ce temps, elle nourrit son esprit d’histoires car elle lisait et écrivait. Quand elle lut le roman de Callixte Béyala, « c’est le soleil qui m’a brûlée », elle éclata en sanglot. Elle ressentait un tel immense bonheur de découvrir ce qu’elle appelait son semblable. Au bout de ses jours de congé, elle décida de ne pas abandonner son travail car il lui inspirait à écrire. Elle décida de le conjuguer avec sa passion. Elle ignorait si un jour ses écrits seraient partagés au reste du monde, en tout cas, en attendant, elle écrirait encore et toujours !
All Nicolette knew about this city mega-city of Dubai was that it personified world-class tourism and business. She had dreamt about it and soon, her dreams would come true. In the Rwandair airplane that carried them to Dubai, Nicolette felt soothed by the thought that the company was a property of her country. Her heart billowed with pride, as if her father held shares in the business. But this just meant that Nicolette felt secure with people from her homeland. They belonged to the same motherland and spoke the same mother tongue.
At Dubai International airport, the pilot landed more smoothly than on the Mombasa touchdown a few hours earlier. They descended and entered the airport hall. A humid air and Arabic words everywhere received them. Inside a police or military guy in a greenish uniform showed newly arrived travelers the way to the passport control desk.
Nicolette took a couple of long seconds to admire him, he was very elegant in his uniform, and he embodied kingdom class. She couldn’t explain why that conclusion crossed her mind. Perhaps because his uniform was ornamented with golden decoration and he wore a tight belt of similar color to his uniform and a claret head-cover.
She queued in front of a blue metal sign displaying 'All passengers' in huge blue English and Arabic characters. While the young woman was waiting, she discreetly stretched her shoulders and observed other passengers who were mainly Asians although she couldn’t tell their nationalities. She also saw many black Africans. They were mostly Nigerians and Congolese. She recognized them thanks to their English and French accents. They looked like business people and were making unnecessary noises that attracted the attention of other passengers.
Nigerians wore a lot of golden chains around their necks and arms while some Congolese had their skins lightened by unsuccessful bleaching products.
There were many control desks and everyone was waiting in front of whichever desks seemed to have the shortest queues. Passengers were separated by several crowd control barrier tapes that looked rather helpless to Nicollette. She took time to observe the security guards, they were incredibly elegant in their traditional clothing, which were composed of a kandura, an ankle length, loose-fitting white robe. Their heads and soft hairs were covered with a headscarf called ghutrah that was kept in place with agal, a black tight band.
They looked like those Arabic princes that she read in Harlequin books. She was traveling from a small, low-income country massively Christian and was heading to a rich Muslim nation. As much as she tried, she just couldn’t stop thinking about those Hollywood movies that link Arabs with terrorism.
The Rwandan tourist was wondering if a gunman would drop from the sky any moment and start spraying bullets at hapless travelers.
Nicolette was also watching those men wearing light kanduras and wondered whether such attire made it easy to hide a bomb. But she urged her mind to move away from such diabolic thoughts and focus on the delights that awaited her in the megacity of Dubai.
Two security guards were seated in one box separated by a low compartment. They were laughing merrily as they chatted in Arabic. Nicolette felt guilty at not speaking Arabic and laughing with them. When it was her turn to present her passport, she stepped forward and waited for the veiled man to scrutinize her face and her passport photo.
She felt shy as he scrutinized her face three times. She instantly wondered what deence to use if he decided the photo in the passport did not match her face. But although she had gained weight, she knew that her rabbit ears remained the same. He finally reached the same conclusion and asked her to look at a wall camera.
“Should I smile at the camera?” Nicolette enquired jokingly. She just wanted to hear how is English accent would sound like.
“It’s up to you!” He replied with the indifference of a person who has gazed at thousands of unknown faces.
He stamped a printed copy of her visa. Now she could walk through and have her first ever taste of the Dubai that lay beyond the airport.
It was still early morning on a Friday, the humidity of the city covered Nicolette’s entire body. Strangely, she felt welcomed by that warmth. A friend of a friend who was also Rwandan had come to pick her up. She couldn’t describe the nice feeling of meeting a fellow citizen in a foreign country.
He was driving a Mercedes Benz, a far cry from the old carina that she drove back in her country.He explained to her that Friday was a day of prayers. All businesses and offices were closed. Roads were almost empty expect for a few cars that were cruising along perfectly paved roads. Lining these roads were big buildings interspersed with giant advertisement signs that evoked images of New York. The only thing that was missing that Friday morning was the multicultural crowds that would normally fill New York streets.
In the afternoon, some shops started to open as people, mostly male, slowly filled the streets. Nicolette’s female eyes were searching for Dubai women. Where were they? Were they all in their homes cooking and taking care of their children and husbands?
Her stomach started rumbling with hunger and she entered the first fast food cafe that her eyes saw. Nicolette took a thick mango smoothie that had a miraculous effect on her hunger.
The rest of the day, she strolled around the city and met people from over the world, probably searching for a better life. She could feel money in the city. She met many African eyes scrutinizing her in order put her in tourist or businesswoman category.
Dubai looked like America to her, but things were newer in this golden metropolis. Although Dubai was a fancy city, it had simplicity in its extravagance that made her feel at home.
Shops were incredible; they were full of affordable things that she could buy for her family and friends. There was:
Shoes for her sisters perhaps they will find good husbands
Wallets for her brothers so they would save their meager income
Lamps for the house her father had never been able to finish
Creams to keep her mother’s skin smooth like a baby’s
Clothes for her cousins so they could stop being jealous of each other
There were many nice things to bring home from Dubai
That whole evening, she took a train to the Dubai mall, one of the biggest in the world and the most expensive. She had no money to spend but she had eyes to contemplate the marvels of Dubai.
She loved the luxury of the mall.
She loved seeing people from everywhere with different pocket sizes.
She loved watching the crocodile in the mall aquarium.
She loved getting lost in a false galaxy above the aquarium.
She loved observing the water falls in the same building.
She loved touching the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa.
She loved hearing random people speaking her language and others speaking totally strange languages.
She loved her first taste of Dubai
On September 14, 2015, I lost a friend. Actually I am ashamed of calling him a friend because the only thing I took time to know in the 5 years we frequented the same university was that he liked playing football and his nickname was Drogba. It was a sad coincidence because on the same day that he died, I started my masters program in Global Health Delivery in the brand new University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda.
At the beginning of the day, I was as many of my classmates, excited about the day’s lecturers. They were to be delivered by some of the most influential leaders in global health including: Dr Paul Farmer, the co-founder and Chief Strategist of Partners in Health (PIH) and Kolokotrones University Professor at Harvard; Dr Agnes Binagwaho, the Rwandan Minister of health and a professor in the same prestigious Ivy league and the oldest university in the United States.
When I read the agenda of the day, I knew that I would write this article but as I was drafting its first paragraph during the 10AMbreak, I didn’t even know about Drogba’s illness.
The title of this article has remained the same but the first passage was “In the current world, we no longer consider health as a job for trained health practitioners, but we have reached that era where every single human being, despite his discipline, should reconsider his share of responsibility in achieving equitable global health”….
I wasn’t sure about what would come afterwards as our next lecturer of the day, Dr Joseph Rhatigan, came in and I hurriedly closed my notebook to focus on his presentation. I wasn’t sure if my editor would like that introduction but I was certain, at that particular moment, that Drogba would not be part of my article’s introduction.
What do I remember about him? That nature granted him with a beautifully light complexion. He was an athletic, handsome man and he loved to play football wearing the blue Chelsea jersey.
I didn’t know that he was suffering from blood cancer, till I opened my undergraduate university classmates’ Whatsapp group. I was chocked to read that he was in a coma in the Butaro Hospital that is specialized in cancer treatment. I wasn’t aware that he experienced chronic abdomen suffering while in universitys and that he had been diagnosed with cancer a couple of years earlier.
Messages from my classmates were popping up so quickly that I didn’t have time to read every single comment, digest it and comment back. In less than ten minutes I knew that Drogba was suffering from blood cancer, he was hospitalized and in a coma. I learnt that he had gotten married and had a daughter and …. He breathed his last.
Drogba. A young man. An intellectual. An amateur footballer. A Chelsea fan. An agronomist. A father. A former classmate. A Facebook friend. A lost life.
I was trying to define what I knew about him and realized that I didn’t even know his family name and I had to search on Internet. Drogba was lucky as he was diagnosed five years earlier and had time to accept his destiny.
A block away, in the same Butaro hospital, Muhoza, a 15 years rural girl lies alone and forlornly in bed, waiting to die. She has intestinal cancer. When the first persistent symptoms appeared, her aunty who was raising her concluded that Muhoza had been poisoned by one of the witches in their area. It was only a few years later that a community health worker, who saw Muhoza’s case worsening, convinced the aunt to take her niece to the nearest health center and then a referral hospital…
During the session on introduction to Global Health Equity led by Dr Paul Farmer, he shared the story of two really young medical doctors from Sierra Leone who had recently died while treating Ebola patients in their country. He showed us the pictures of these two smiling African men who were someone’s brothers, friends or neighbors. They died because there was no adequate staff, stuff, space and systems for them to survive. They died so that others might live. A tear surprised me and rolled down my cheek. Unfortunately, no tears in the world would ever bring life back into these gallant sons of Africa.
Same case for Muhoza, the fifteen year old girl. There were no available and accessible facilities for discerning her illness till it was too late. When we talk about delivery of healthcare, we don’t only refer to the supply of medicines at health facilities in general but we also mean availing disease detection methods as well as prevention.
If Muhoza’s cancer had been detected in 2012 or 2013, she probably would have been treated on time and her imminent death would have been prevented. As a young girl, Muhoza would have lived longer to proudly bring the dowry to her aunt at her wedding.
Muhoza is just one example of millions of preventable deaths. According to Dr Joia Mukherjee, the Chief Medical Officer at PIH “the world has enough resources for everyone to live a healthy life.” But where is that money? What are health priorities and who defines them to ensure that every individual’s life, including Muhoza’s, counts on the agenda?
Currently, Rwanda’s life expectancy is estimated at 65.7 years. Drogba died 36.7 years earlier than what statistics granted him. For Christians, the simple way to deny this deplorable loss was to think that God needed his son more than we did. When a person dies in Rwanda, the most respectful words that are often invoked are “Kwitaba Imana” literally meaning responding to God’s call.
I do understand that this is one of the resilient ways Africans accept tragedies like death.
But on the hand, as a health equity fighter, I believe that we have to acknowledge that we need to make more efforts to improve the way healthcare systems are delivered all over the world and create a space for Muhoza to survive.
Drogba was a bachelor’s degree holder who died prematurely despite early detection of his cancer. A young life brutally cut short. Muhoza may still be hanging on but only barely. We must help her to at least have a dignified sunset even as we fight for early detection amongst those like her who live in the remotest corners of Rwanda.
We all have an individual and collective responsibility to ensure that health equity becomes a global human right. This responsibility is not a preserve of the ministries of health. We must all step up to the plate so that we can achieve health systems with less or no disparities and inequalities.
It’s about creating a world where an agronomist will help farmers to grow nutritious food to reduce the malnutrition prevalence thus reducing the global burden of disease caused by this issue. It’s about raising awareness about the role of an accountant to manage every single penny and ensure that all financial resources are spent on the real health needs. It is about a human resource manager hiring qualified staff that will positively impact the health of our people. It is also about the role of a famous journalist sharing information about the best health practices for preventing certain diseases.
That’s why we should all be global health warriors as our behavioral actions can positively or negatively impact others’ lives, mainly the most vulnerable. We are in this global world where my life is intimately interconnected to a citizen of Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Free Town or Bangkok. It is a collective fight and we must win it for the sake of other Drogbas and Muhozas out there.
My name is Rose, I am the single daughter of my mother and I happen to be a mother too. I was raised in Kimisagara neighborhood near Ntaraga road. It was the narrow road that linked Nyabugogo to Nyamirambo, all being busiest and most crowded neighborhoods of Kigali. My life has been funny because I chose to live a simple life and due to the influence of my community, Kimisagara. The philosophy around was “hakuna matata!” No worries! Once we got food and a place to sleep, why should we complain about life?
I never liked school very much as I felt an eternal laziness and no curiosity about words that our teacher scrawled on the dusty blackboard. I didn’t see the reason why I should hurt my buttock seating on a wooden desk and learn. I preferred to seat on the roadside and admire Nyamirambo taxis that were decorated on all sides with large posters of famous people mainly numerous American celebrities like Eminen, Shaggy, Shakira, Ciara, John Cena and Arnold Swharzneger. I was equally fascinated by other stars from other places and loved the P-square taxi particularly. I struggled to remember in which country the twins were from, hesitating between Ghana and Nigeria. Apart from feasting on the spectacle of passing cars, I also loved eating amandazi ashyushye, hot sweet doughnuts.
The P-square taxi driver was my best. I noticed that he struggled to choose if his minibus would be P-square or John Cena. I believe that he avoided duplicating the catch entertainer but he loved to look like him. Even his physical look appeared like a miniature version of John Cena. Back when I was 15 years old, he was the first male to ever touch me with his grimy hands.
My mother was shocked that I was in love with a taxi driver. I remember that day as if it was yesterday. We were having supper, it was a delicious cassava ugali with a thick, oiled dried fishes and peanut sauce. Mamma heard the news of my love story from Monique, the best gossiper on entire Ntaraga road and our closest neighbor.
Mamma screamed at me and told me that Nigga would never bring anything positive into my life, except dishonor. It was a rainy evening and my angry mother looked like a male devil as she predicted how Nigga would destroy everything she had spent 15 years building. With her hands resting on her hips and her legs slightly parted, she reminded me of a dark-skinned cartoon character.
Apart from schooling, another thing I have always disliked is tough discussions. I found life easier and less complicated than most people. I had embraced our Kimisagara thinking of Hakuna Matata!
I wished we could eat first then argue later. but my mother wasn’t about to grant me my wish. In the middle of the quarrel, she said that I was not listening enough as I kept swallowing ugali. We ended up exchanging bitter words and awkward blows. The sauce fell on the floor, drawing a shapeless pinkish map while the dried fishes looked like desert trees on the map. From that second, I rebelled against my mother who wanted me to go to school five days a week and stop loving boys.
Her rules in the house were like contemporary version of the 10 commandments of Moses that Pastor Mugunga adored preaching on Sundays.
“I don’t want to see you wearing that miniskirt at school!” My mother shouted, her face concocted in anger.
And more “I don’t want you to…” would follow.
“ What type of individual do you expect to become if you behave so badly?” She added the following morning, with the trace of the same rage in her voice.
My mother also insisted that I button well my uniform blouse to cover my mushrooming firm and tender breasts.
P-square taxi driver’s name was Sinamenye (I didn’t know). His friends always teased him about the meaning of his name and that he didn’t have a first name. He asked everyone to nickname him ‘nigga’. Nigga was my first unofficial lover and he was the first man to touch my beautifully small breasts. He used to call them his mandarins, the deliciously juicy fruits. During our romantic discussions, he reinforced my early conviction that school was not important and since I met him I dropped out school.
“I didn’t finish P6, but I earn my life! You don’t need to study to get cash!”
Nigga was very proud of his ‘name’ although he totally ignored what it meant. He enjoyed pushing his chest forward to appear important or to compensate for the smallness of his stature. In the first days, I was so hopelessly in love with my Nigga that I found every word, action and move from him totally breathtaking. But I quickly realized that he spread his love among more than five girls. I was the youngest but I didn’t feel proud. I still resent him for not reacting when I left. Instead of emotionally suffering, he swapped me with Aisha, my best rivale.
It seemed that she was kind with everyone and had a perfectly shaped body tied to a sweet voice. She too grew-up in Kimisagara and the whole neighborhood had always repeated that she was the most beautiful girl on the entire Ntaraga road.
I hid my tears under my bed cover; there were cries of deep, very deep anger. With my awkwardly ugly handwriting, I wrote down all the ugliest insults that came into my mind. I wished that imbecile had not advised me to drop out school; otherwise I would be able to be more eloquent in my insults, with a nicer handwriting and spelling. I wanted to paint all these insults on his P-square taxi so that the world could know how Nigga was a bad boy.
Finally, I hated Nigga for confirming my mother’s predictions about his character.
So I replaced Nigga with Obed, the ladies’ hairdresser at one of saloons on Ntaraga road. I wasn’t that in love with Obed but he was an ‘OK’ man who could offer me as many hot doughnuts as I was able to swallow.
Obed was very good in his job and I loved the way he made women looking beautiful by simply doing their hair. He knew how to turn the ugliest women into nicer creatures. He was the father of my first two children. He was taller than Nigga and women loved the way he sunk his long fingers in their relaxed hair and how he massaged their skulls skillfully. Most of them would close their eyes to enjoy the soft feeling that Obed fingers created in their entire body by just dressing their hair. Every day and mostly, every weekend, they queued in front of his tiny salon.
Since I didn’t care much about him, I wasn’t very jealous because of the pleasure he generously gave to other women. But I truly cared about the generous tips that they would push in his soiled jean pocket.
After few weeks with the hairdresser, I was surprised to get pregnant with Kevin, my first baby, as was my mum who didn’t know about Obed. Soon afterwards, I gave in to Obed’s requests and moved in permanently with him. Kevin came so quickly, weakening my body, disfiguring my face, swelling my feet and not leaving me room and time to love and accept him in the rest of my life. I was 19 years, he came tiny and I was astonished that he knew how to suck the breast with an incredible energy and appetite.
In Kigali, in the Rwandan culture and I guess in the global philosophy, women’s breasts are among the most intimate parts of our bodies. We only exhibit them to intimate people. I accepted this societal rule as a Rwandan woman. Every time, I was breastfeeding the baby, it was mainly in private spaces or I had a piece of cloth to cover my baby and my chest.
I was that chaste. My mother and her friends told me that I should never starve my child for the sake of hiding my chest. This was a weird statement because the same mother who was commanding me to veil my chest at school, was now asking me to expose my breasts and feed her grandchild. I was not feeling comfortable moving from one extreme to another.
“No one will ever blame you for caring for your baby in public. It’s the pride of motherhood”, my mother said gently but firmly.
“It is the baby of the society”! Monique added.
I wanted to reply that Kevin was the baby of my Kimisagara society but the chest that he would publicly suck was a private property that God has granted me with.
“You should start wear a bra! No one is interested to seeing your dropping papayas under your clothes. You are no longer a virgin teen”.
That was my mother’s wicked way of reminding me that since I had given birth to a baby, men were more interested in younger girls than mothers. But she was also reminding me that the Rwandan society was very open to public breastfeeding.
As time sped by, I started feeling less shy of feeding Kevin in front of friends but never with total strangers. I was very intrigued by the fact that Obed was not jealous that his male friends could accidently catch sight of my breasts. I conditioned my son to respect the breastfeeding schedule and he therefore never asked for ‘nyonyo’ out of those times.
But it was a totally different experience with his sister, Kevine. She was very greedy. As time passed I got more used to breastfeed her in the presence of people. I was surprised to find myself giving the breast to the baby in a public area every time Kevine cried.
I was more focused on convincing Obed to legally marry me and keep him in love than about people seeing my chest. I did that once, twice and I was totally fine with that Rwandan mothers’ habit.
“I told you it was normal for umubyeyi” (respectful term for a mother).
Those were ironic words from my mother when she saw me shamelessly with the baby in from of the reverent Pastor Mugunga. The quinquagenarian man came for a special prayer so that God can enrich my mother. But all of us knew that the special reason of his presence was to lug some money from my mother and all other needy women who trusted Pastor Mugunga than God’ intervention.
It was much easier for me to travel with Kevine because I could naturally feed her when hungry than it was with his brother Kevin. I have always breastfed my children, as I couldn’t afford supplementary feeding.
I can’t recall if there was a click in my head that permitted me to breastfeed in public. But I came to understand that once you are a mother, the only main issue that you care about is the wellbeing of your child, if not his survival.
When Madalina was born, her family lived near isoko y’amazi atemba, a source of running water. She used to carry an old pot that her mother had exchanged with a potter for three baskets of taro. Her mother used to half- teasingly tell her that if she ever breaks the clay container, she would never find a husband, but that was before. Longtime before her marriage.
The sparkling water that she fetched was transparent with a pleasant taste and an odorless aroma of purity. Now when she goes to visit her mother, she stops by the source. A million tiny dirt particles cloud it.
Children used to believe that during the rainy seasons, the mountains generously provided a lot of pure water. Madalina could see new little sources from the hills. Children didn’t need to dream of going to Canada to admire Niagara’s Falls. That mountain where their scattered houses were built used to offer its own falls.
Madalina can’t remember exactly when the chemical fertilizers that they applied in their fields started to alter the quality of their water.
According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the increase in population and advances made in farming technology has resulted in an increase of contaminants polluting soil and waterways.
The complaint about water quality is not an isolated case for Madalina and Rwanda, it is becoming a worldwide issue: the price for the technological advance. In the United States of America, the 2000 National Water Quality inventory reported that agricultural pollution caused by rainfall and snowmelt movements was impacting on the water quality of surveyed rivers, lakes, wetlands, estuaries and ground water.
Why did the mountains become stingy with the pure water in their bowels? Madalina always asks herself. The small Madalinas who fetch water these days are students in school uniforms and it takes them longer to fill a7-liter container. They are the new generation, the hope of tomorrow, they are her children’s age mates; those who dream of being secretaries, teachers or nurses. They have never carried akabindi, the clay pot on their heads. Madalina imagines that it would damage their precious brains.
Now civilization has brought new domestic items, only the extremely poor women carry the traditional akabindi as they can’t afford a yellow 20-liter jerrican. These jerricans are oil containers that women clean using ibivuzo, remains of fermented sorghum beer.
Currently, most water in Rwanda comes from its rains. The hydrology is characterized by a dense network of lakes, rivers and wetlands. Rwanda is nicknamed both the heart of Africa and the land of a thousand hills. However, the large number of hills and mountains don’t facilitate access to water especially for communities living in remote rural areas such as Madalina’s.
The current water company, Water and Sanitation Corporation (WASAC), has built a community tap that provides water to households from three hills in Madalina’s village. The water has a chlorine taste and it delays to come during the dry months of July and August. However, according to WASAC, 40% of the constructed water facilities are not functioning due to the lack of proper operation and maintenance.
The tap that the water company has built is downhill in the marshland. When Madalina wants to wash her family’s clothes, she brings them to the tap, cleans them from there and hangs them on the nearby napier grass till they dry. When her little children want to bath, they go downhill as do their livestock when they want to quench their thirst. The water that she fetches, is used for cooking, washing dishes, adults’ irregular baths and washing the faces of the children every morning before they go to school or church.
Madalina lives on a small farm in the rural district of Gastibo. She is not the only Rwandan who struggles with regular and reliable access to water because miles away in the capital of Kigali, during the dry season, long queues always form at pubic water tanks.
In August, it’s a common scene in Kigali to see many people, especially house maids and boys, carrying yellow jerry cans full of water.
While 75.2% of the Rwandan population accesses clean water, only 69% live in the countryside against 79% located in urban areas. THis is quite commendable because in 2004, the nationwide distribution of drinkable water was estimated at 54% with only 44% in the rural regions. This is the result of the Rwandan government’s effort to provide basic services to citizens.
This progress gives hope to Madalina that her grandchildren will have less trouble accessing clean water.
Today, Madalina waits for the sunset before taking her yellow jerrican and going to fetch water; she hears her soul quietly sigh:
With my Head which carried loads of baskets and heaps
With my Hair torn off from my head as an upshot of heavy loads
With my Eyes worn out by sandy winds that are blown away my forty seven years
With my Ears that heard everything and kept all
With my Mouth that ate the fruits of my labor and drunk the tears of heaviness
With my Jaws tightened to hold my tears from flowing on my wrinkled cheeks
With my Teeth that chew sorghum stalk instead of a sugar cane
With my Neck chronically cramped by the ache of the heaviness of a 20 liter jerrican
With my Shoulders arched by my age
With my Belly that carried seven pregnancies
With my Heart tired by insouciance of my husband and the insatiable desires of my progeny
With my Lungs which breathed in and breathed out often-times
With my Stomach that starved itself to feed my kids and ulcerated by a steady hunger
With my Arms that fed and fetched water for my children
With my Fingers that joined in a prayer to get a drop from the tab
With my Hips which endured the pregnancy and the weight of a water jerrican
With my Legs which trembled resisting to the heavy weight of jerrican under gust of rain
With my Feet that ascended and descended a hill searching for water
With my Toes that hooked in the rocky pathways avoiding to glide
With my Skin flayed by unpitying sun rays
With my Husband who has never borne a baby nor a jerrican
With my Children who so often forget to say “thank you mother!”
With my Mother who convinced me this is my destiny
With all of this, I have cried, cried, cried and …… I have smiled
Despite this, I have smiled as it is my role as a mother and I played it well
Despite all of this, I will wake up tomorrow at dawn, take my jerrican, go and fetch water
It’s a holy walk to take
It’s a walk for searching clean water.