My parents were born in Burundi. Matana for my dad and Gitega for my mother. They grew up in one of the refugee camps that housed displaced Rwandans. That is the life they knew growing up. They went to school and came home to squalid conditions, barely eating, always afraid that the little country to their north would invade their new home and they would have to be displaced again.
They all knew each other though, as is the case for refugee camps; and they all really took care of each other. My dad’s family and my mom’s family had known each other growing up, and while they did not think that that particular couple was going to happen, they knew that they would stay in each other’s lives for a long time. My dad’s big brother brought them together as he was teaching my mother in high school. She collected the black boards they studied on – they couldn’t afford books (refugees, in general are poor people), and was on her way to the staff room. My father had trekked from the seminary to visit his brother (or to ask for pocket money, no one will ever know for sure.) and he bumped into this beautiful angel.
27 years, 4 children and three countries later, my parents still consider Burundi their home. They have lived in Kigali Rwanda for 10 years, and they are happy to be here, no doubt but, Burundi will always be their home. My mom still hasn’t lost the little lilt to her voice that is uniquely Burundian. Once a month, she gets together with her friends, remnants of two bloody wars and untold horrors, and they sing Burundian songs. They recall their nights outside, sharing sweet potato and milk, stars vividly winking as they traded preteen dreams. They are all middle aged and in different walks of life, but they are united in that they came from the same country.
I have only ever been to Burundi once, and even then I didn’t get to wander around a lot. But because my mother and father get stars (recurring theme) in their eyes speaking of Ngozi, going to school at St Albert, the cheerfulness of Burundian people even when the world was collapsing around them, their incredible braveness and love, the alcohol and the parties (it’s always good to know that my parents were human) and the bell bottomed pants men wore that honestly are really cute, I love the country.
I think of Burundi as the birthplace of my story telling. Burundi was the first ingredient in my cosmopolitan identity pie. I think of it in sepia, with soft jazz music, a beautiful place that is home to both darkness and light.
(Image source: youtube.com)