Whenever a non-Rwandan uses their media-based knowledge to make deprecating remarks about Rwanda, I load more data and buy popcorn. Then I watch in complete hilarity and awe as Rwandans descend on the critic to deliver one clear message: “Please don’t worry about us; we are fine.”The critic is forced to fade into silence.
And this is the first lesson that I have learnt from Rwanda about self-love; to not let anyone define you. Some people are patronizing enough to think they know you better than you know yourself. They think they know what’s best for you. They are always taken aback to find you confident in who you are and firm about what you want.
And when you are firm about what you want, you will find out who is really in your corner. You will be able to separate those who want to be there for you because they genuinely wish you well, from those who want you to stay under their power so that you are their little project to bully, control and manipulate at will.
The second lesson that Rwanda has taught me about self-love is that when you fail or fall, you must be willing to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. And while you do that, put up a strong front. Accept empathy and support but not pity. Let people know that you will be okay. This is important because in the history of the human race, no one has ever overcome adversity by acting like a victim and inviting pity.
And you must always be ready to be your own hero. That way, your victory will be fulfilling. You will also be stronger from your journey. Most of all, you won’t have to live in indebtedness to anyone. This is highly freeing.
From Rwanda, I have also learnt that you must put yourself first. Human nature dictates that everyone looks out for themselves and their own people. Rwandans put themselves and each other first. You are only welcome if there is extra room and if your presence is pertinent to their cause.
Rwanda has taught me that you must not sell yourself short, set your bar low or become too meek to demand that those who want to take from you must give something worthwhile in return.
Above all, I have learnt that when you love yourself, you don’t leave wiggle room for disrespect. People might murmur about you being high maintenance but ultimately, they will comply with your standards as long as they are in your space.
They will leave their polythene paper bags at border posts. They will wear helmets upon boarding motos. They will learn, like I did, that you never ever dump rubbish on the street, even by accident.
I will always remember the day I was carrying an empty plastic soda bottle and it slipped from my hand. At the sound of the bottle hitting the ground, I suddenly felt many eyes piercing my skin. The way they were looking at me made me want to hold a press conference, to explain to everyone that I swear by my right leg that it wasn’t intentional.