Reader of this greying column, have you survived the night, waraye, wararmutse, bwacyeye, wabonye (imyugaririro) ivamo, wabonye bucya? With the latter literally asking if you miraculously saw the sun rise!
Or, depending on where you are on this globe, if it’s afternoon or evening, have you survived the morning or day, wiriwe? And, in case you are hitting the hay for a shut-eye, may you survive the night, uramuke.
Only “Sleep where it itches, urare aharyana”, conveyed hope, despite its stinging threat!
Please, in case you don’t understand Kinyarwanda, don’t take offence. Those are all well-meaning greetings, after a restful (or otherwise) night or rigorous (or otherwise) day.
No doubt, the ominous ring to those greetings would scare the pants (for trousers!) off any of you but it can sound worse. When you are sick, the greeting could easily hasten your expiry: are you still breathing, uracyahumeka?
When they were coined, they were all well-intentioned. Yet how they reveal a lot about the lot of Rwandans, as they lived it.
At the time of their coining, for all of humanity, life involved roaming the jungles, which meant that life expectancy depended on who ate who first; humans or beasts of the wild.
But as if that was not bad enough, from the day the first animated thinking beings were placed on this earth or evolved from whatever Charles Darwin told us, they’ve courted conflict paradoxically as if their lives depended on it!
Maybe you know these little creatures, the Tasmanian devils. From birth, before siblings can take the first steps, they’ll be at one another’s throat in mortal combat to see who lives and feeds or who gives up the fledgling ghost.
Meanwhile the mother, who’ll have survived by a whisker to conceive during clashes with her mate and her older kin, would’ve been lucky to get time to deliver. But immediately after, she’ll be off to resume her wars.
A classic display of Charles Darwin’s theory and Herbert Spenser’s coinage of the phrase: survival of the fittest.
However, when you think of it, parochial humans, even with some reasoning power, are no different. If in doubt, ask anybody in Burundi, South Sudan,Yemen, Syria, et al.
And, in the not too distant past, those greetings were so perniciously pertinent for Rwandans.
With no healthcare at all, after the little left by colonialism was run down by genocidal regimes that succeeded it, they’d been left at the mercy of the elements.
This, after killing off and hounding out compatriots in the misguided belief that they’d be better-off, grabbing their property. In spite of which all, hunger and strife ravaged the land.
All along, the infighting within the ruling clique was intense as they struggled to encase themselves around regional roots, dragging in their innocent peasant kith.
The deprivation and deaths the whole kerfuffle left in its wake were inestimable. The future for the surviving fittest was not certain, either. Their hope of “miraculously seeing the sun rise” was zee.
Then 1990 happened.
You remember this as the year the RPF/A came to lay claim on the right of identity and rights of all type denied all Rwandans outside the cliques.
This prompted a pause in their infighting and the reunion of the entire collection of factions – the elephants that fought, the grass that suffered, the sick, the famished, all – to together embark on wiping out compatriots who’d long been denied identity and branded foreigners.
And thus the Genocide against the Tutsi sealed the ominous forecasts of those greetings. For 15% – and counting – of the then population of this land, “miracles of seeing the sun rise” had been put to a halt by compatriots akin to “the Tasmanian devils”.
Then, from the bushes, July 4th 1994 emerged.
And slowly but surely, “seeing the sun rise” ceased to be a miracle.
With hearts and minds bonded together to live in brotherhood/sisterhood harmony, possibility to stretch everybody’s lifespan became real. Today, unshakable security, comprehensive healthcare, countrywide hygiene, healthy nutrition, improved household income, universal education, redirected mind-set, worldly outlook, shared focused-vision pursuit – mpere he, ngeze he? (the lot) – have helped place Rwandans “where it itches”.
Rwanda is no longer the eat-self-to-the-death snake-hole it had become. Numbness and death have been exorcised from her system.
Statisticians have put a Rwandan’s life-expectancy at 66 years up from 47. But I don’t believe in fixed statistics. I believe in what I observe to evolve.
And what I see evolving, the senior citizen that I am, is that myriad numbers of my seniors are increasingly alive and well at later ages. So, I see 70 – 80 years, or else my seniors in towns and the countryside would be distant history.
So, dear reader, wherever you are, have you had a good night, waraye neza? Or have you had a good day, wiriwe neza? And sleep well, ugire ijoro ryiza.
Last call! Those of us still clinging to the past by force of habit, we are better advised to let go.
The pessimistic greetings and byes of yore have lost relevance.
The views expressed in this
article are of the author.