Last Sunday (17.6.12) I went ‘back to my childhood’. By now, you know that I was born, bred and baptised between the slopes of Mount Muhabura and the shores of Lake Burera. But I’d say I was rather borne at the slopes of Mt. Muhabura and baptised at the shores of L. Burera.
Kinoni Catholic Parish, where I was baptised, sits in a dell of volcanic rocks. Kinoni is a beautiful, small valley that’s hemmed in by the gigantic Mt. Muhabura, brooding protectively over it, and a number of knolls that rise like spears, also seemingly to protect the valley. That, maybe, was why accessing that dell was a battle, 53 years ago. Back then, I used to visit the place regularly.
A nightmare, if ever there was one. I’ll talk about one visit. You remember this Christmas day when I was woken up at the godforsaken hour of five in the morning because it was Confirmation day. That meant that, like all saintly people I used to see, I’d receive the Holy Eucharist and swallow it. With care, of course.....if you swallowed it when your tummy was not empty, God’d slap a curse on you!
And who wants to be cursed, when they have to make a torturous journey to get redemption? That day my old man woke up early to make sure we imps were ready in time. You remember my Oldie, the sub-chief whose middle name was ‘No-nonsense’. Being a man of no nonsense, he didn’t waste words on us on that Confirmation day.
He called: “Water!” upon which command one of the workers gave him a bucketful of water, pronto. Which bucketful he proceeded to empty-splash on us. When we sprang out of bed, Mama was waiting to get us ready and in new clothes. After this, No-nonsense trooped us out of the house himself, to make sure we did not put anything in the mouth.
For me, those new clothes included a pair of ill-fitting shoes that had been donated by the priest at an earlier visit. The ‘new’ shoes were second-hand, of course, which meant they’d been picked for me because they ‘appeared’ to be my size! That’s why our workers needed all the energy they could summon to squeeze my puny feet into them before whooshing me off.
By the time I reached Kinoni, I felt like I was walking on burning embers. Of course, I knew that if I so much as ‘breathed out’ the slightest protest, No-nonsense’s cane would start working on my backside the way a saw works on a tree. If you dig, you understand what alternative I opted for!
To walk. After covering those torturous 15kms or so, I slumped on the pew in the church and secretly squeezed my feet out of the shoes. When it was time for Holy Communion, no one noticed that I limped to the altar on bare feet. After Communion, I limped to where Mama was and whispered my problem to her. No one bothered me after that, which meant that Mama managed to convince No-nonsense.
On our way back home, I walked on burning, bare feet but better that than being ground in those shoes. With my shoes now hanging on my shoulders, by their laces, I felt relief that was made even stronger by the thought that our journey back was usually a day-long affair. It was long because we had to pay visits to practically all homesteads that lined our route home.
But the longer time of the journey was not the sole source of our happiness. We had left home on an empty stomach, so our tummies needed replenishing. This meant that, as a rule, we had to pay ‘social’ visits to all homesteads that ensured the success of that ‘replenishing ritual’.
That Confirmation day, Christmas Day, Wednesday 1957, will torture my memory till I hang my pen!
But we are talking present time. Today the dell may be easier to access, with the advantage of ‘four legs’, but it is still a hurdle I’d not like to relive another day.
At Rutamba, some 12 km on the smooth Ruhengeri-Cyanika highway, we turned right....and then the spikes! Going over those volcanic rocks is like driving right through those spike chains that Police use to block roads. The distance is only about two kms but you cannot imagine the relief you feel when you reach there. Momentary relief, of course, as you remember you have to make a retun journey.
But we had to focus our thoughts on matters at hand. A group of us were in the company of a relative who’d come in search of a baptismal card. And what a pleasure, to find a young Fr. Wenseslas Tegera so welcoming. Good priest, he gave us free access to our baptismal cards. And what a journey into self-discovery! All records kept, including those of our parents that dated back as far as the 1930s, when they were baptised.
Not only did I see names of late siblings that I’d only vaguely heard about. I also discovered my true date of birth! And my true names. Indeed, a mouthful......Ingina-y-Igihanga Pankaratius!