As with most people who lived in the Diaspora, I grew up with Rwanda being a rather abstract state of mind and not so much a physical place. When I returned to Rwanda I tried my best to identify with Kigali but how could I?
It felt alien to me; I mean, how could my roots be in Nyarutarama or Guculiro? It wasn’t until I went to my grandfathers village in Gikoba, Eastern Province that I understood what it meant to be truly Rwandan in every sense of the word.
The area has deep roots for me-my great-grandfather was buried there and when my grandfather returned from theological studies in Gahini in 1940 he set up his church there.
The upheavals of 1959 saw almost half of the village flee to Uganda but the most amazing fact is that the residents of Gikoba maintained the physical and emotional bonds of the original village. They wandered from Gikoba to Nsogerezi, and ended up in Toro where they named their village Gikoba.
When the RPF struggle began in 1990, my grandfather was insulted that he wasn’t allowed to join even though he was 72 years of age and had bad eyesight to boot; it was on the grounds bad eyesight and not age that the recruiting Sergeant-Major dismissed his application, trying not to hurt his feelings.
In August 1994 when the village of Gikoba in Toro decided to migrate back to Gikoba in Rwanda, they did so by foot. My grandfather Mzee Kajuga told the village that he was going to Kigali and expected to find them in Gikoba when he returned.
And so the idyll of country life was restored; they went back to living the way they did through the centuries. I am continuously astounded when I ask my mother “who is that?” and she replies “they live behind us in Gikoba; we were together in Ankole, Toro, and Kampala and now back here as well.”
These bonds, stronger than steel, bind the different family’s together cane into being over centuries through marriage and other social interaction.
In Gikoba nobody asked me who I was; my face was a blueprint of several relatives long gone but whose features still mark my face.
My earlobes are from this person, my nostrils were stolen from another, my lips aren’t mine either and I came to realise I’m a collage of people long gone.
I’ve decided that my life of wandering is over. My children will know where they are from; they will know what it means to love a piece of land, to belong, to never apologize for being who they are.
That was the moment I truly connected with Rwanda and the idea of ‘Rwanda-ness’ ceased to be an abstract concept and became a physical one, and I believe that Gikoba is a true microcosm of Rwanda.
The plains of Umutara give way to the Kagitumba hills, in the ridges of these hills grow bananas while lush grass carpets the delicately manicured hills.
On top of my grandfathers’ hill , as see as far as the eye can see, a sea of luscious green covers the earth. All around you, strewn about are fragments of volcanic rocks and lower lays a grove of eucalyptus trees. At the bottom is the more fertile soil where most crops are grown and cattle kept.
However the social landscape is not as scenic as the physical geography because I found my family in dire straits. The reason I say Gikoba is Rwanda personified is because certain parallels are obvious and the wasted potential truly tragic.
In all our years spent in Britain we used to send them monthly allowance to live on and this, in itself, has caused many a problem.
We sent them money for food and they are sitting on 4 hectares on fertile land, we sent money for milk when we had nearly 30 cows, we send money for water when there is a stream nearby.
Bob Marley said in his song “Rat-race” and I quote “In the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty.”
The people of Gikoba had become so used to money coming in from abroad that they had ceased to dream or have ambitions, they had lost their work ethic, they began to despise the perfect Eden they were living in and worst of all they felt a sense of entitlement to receive the bare minimum and just subsist.
It was then that I decided to make Gikoba self-sufficient and try to fulfil its potential. To make it pay for itself and maybe restore some hope in these peoples lives. I will speak of my efforts in the future.