Sighting an old person in Kigali is as rare as a tasty school lunch or finding a fridge in an Eskimos igloo. In his song Inzu y’ibitabo, Fassasi Nuur, known by his stage name Diplomate, compared losing an old person to losing a whole library of books.
Late this week, I met Gakwandi and Niyo, a begging duo (both in their late 70’s), that searches in vain for something to eat every single day. Though my initial plan was to just share lunch with then, I ended up spending the whole evening in their company. In the hours I spent with them, I learnt more history than I ever studied in school, including the books I read.
During the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, many old people lost their lives due to the fact that, they couldn’t run or hide. Among those who fled the country, a few made it back alive.
This threw us in an extreme lack of elders in our society. By elders, I mean people who have some serious wisdom. It’s absurd that even the few we have left, are sometimes treated as second class citizens mostly by youth, the very people who need them the most.
“The younger generation is losing the sense of history and consequently the sense of identity,” said old man Niyo. We shouldn’t minimise history, as this will make our society fail in its responsibility to educate young people. Like they say, “A society that ignores the past more easily runs the risk of repeating its errors.”
We need to take a break from our increasingly connected world, one where we have become obsessed with what’s new and trendy and make time for self-reflection. We should take time to understand ourselves, turn to the old for advice as this will help us to acquire the wisdom required to tackle the challenges that face our global village.
Let’s go back to the days when the elderly in our society were well respected when young people would give up their seats for them, when our senior citizens were thought of as wise and insightful.
Long ago, people looked up to them and knew that they held a certain level of knowledge in their life banks that society would find useful. Although they might be too old to lift a brick to build this nation, lets value them for the rich libraries of knowledge they posses. “An old man is not put in a boat to row, but to advise,” goes an African proverb.