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.