Friday night I was going a bit stir crazy, when my host popped his head into my room and said that he was having a few friends over for
beers and that I was welcome to join.
This seemed like a welcome change of pace and distraction. Now up until this recently I had assumed that him and his cousin were born and raised in Rwanda. Turns out they grew up in Belgium.
After I finished up my work, I went inside the main house to
join them. In the beginning of the night
there were only two friends present. I
poured myself a whisky on the rocks and the conversation began. It was a mix of English (for my sake), French
(their first language), and languages from Congo and Burundi. It was nice to be around people and part of a
social interaction, not necessarily to talk to them, but to be surrounded
by words and conversation and know they were intended for you. I looked back and forth between the faces and just listened.
It became apparent that my host had gone to both high school and college
in the US on a basketball scholar ship.
He had only just recently moved back to Rwanda.
At this point a handful more people had wandered in with
various bottles of alcohol. All of them
were born and raised in other countries and had at some point in the last
couple years moved to Rwanda.
I ended up in a long running conversation with one woman. We talked about what anyone
talks about at a party, the nightlife here, the food, boys, the boredom on the
weekends, but we also talked about the history of Rwanda, what it feels like
coming here as a guest, and her masters program. She is writing her masters thesis which is
also on genocide. At one point her
friend joined the conversation and said that her father was the chief of police
and that he would probably be happy to talk to me.
The night continued that way. More whisky was poured, more ice brought from
the kitchen, cokes fetched from the local market. The laughter became louder and the English
less frequent. Most of the conversations
were in French, of which I could follow about 70%. Periodically someone would check in on me
with a “ça va?” And then go back to their conversation.
It felt late and I was exhausted, so I stood up and made my
way to the kitchen, with the intention of saying my goodbyes. The clock over the stove flashed 1:45
AM. I was shocked. I walked in and my host said “this muzungu
went to the bush.” A room full of eyes
turned to me. I explained. And there was laughter. Someone turned to the only
other woman in the room, and said “you wouldn’t last two days in the bush, much
less two months.” We started talking
about my time there and what I had done.
It turned out two of the men had done their schooling in Uganda and had
one parent from there. One of the men
had gone to West Salem State for college, which was just a few hours from
UNC. As with most fellow North
Carolinians we reminisced about Cookout milkshakes. I was connected to these people in ways I
I looked at the clock again.
Now it was flashing 2:30 AM, and this group was just starting to make
there way out to the clubs. I bid goodnight,
went to my room and passed out.
When I woke up the next morning I was thinking about the
labels that we put on travelers. A great
deal of it is based on skin color. The
white western Europeans and Americans who move to different parts of the world
are called ex-pats, but anyone with a different skin color who moved to a new
country is an immigrant. The floods of
people that enter the US every year are not referred to as something charming
and endearing like ex-patriots, but instead their title has a negative
connotation. Then there is this other
third category that I am just now noticing, of the diaspora. In Rwanda this is young successful people, of
Rwandan parents, who were born, raised, and educated in Belgium, the US, or the
UK. They are coming back with great
force. Although many of them do not
speak Kinyarwandan, once they move here they are unequivocally considered
Rwandan. I find it bizarre, that the
label we received when traveling is based on our skin color and our parents
place of birth.