The writer John Green has the bestselling book titled, The Fault of our Stars, which tells a tale of three teenagers battling end stage cancer not only bravely, but with a sense of humour and embracing it like they would not have wished to have it any other way.
The fictional characters are discussing a book they are all reading, which makes the book almost ‘about a book’. Somewhere in that book, there is a paragraph that warms the reader’s heart that it is only fair to read it over and over.
It reads, in part: “Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like betrayal.”
The first part about an evangelical zeal is becoming true in Kigali with some middle aged or younger Rwandan folks only that it’s never about a book; it is about their experience, life and comparison of Rwanda and the Western countries they have lived for ages.
They will not let a chance pass without them using terms like “back in the States we do not do this” or something like “you have never been out of the country, you cannot understand.” They probably feel like they would be betraying something or some place if they do not tell about their experiences there.
It is interpreted differently by their various addressees with some seeing it as a new height in attention seeking and pretentious while others probably do not mind it.
Speaking to some of the ‘returnees’, most of them will tell you that they rarely do it to show off, but for purposes of giving a different perspective to matters.
Phiona Umurungi spent seven of her 26 years of age in Ontario, Canada with her family, which not only changed her view of life, but also changed her accent.
Currently, self-employed in wholesale distribution, Umurungi uses terms like ‘self service store’ to mean a supermarket and reads magazines like ‘Vogue’ on a monthly basis. She confesses to giving inputs and comparisons of Rwanda and Canada once in a while, but quickly adds that it is never for purposes of showing off.
“When you have lived abroad for a significant part of your life and get back home, you will want to give inputs to people on how they can get to the level of foreign countries, you will want to share an experience or two and probably someone can pick up a lesson,” says Umurungi.
“But most time people will interpret it as showing off for people to know that you have been overseas,” she adds.
She admits that ‘returnees’ can be difficult to deal with at times, but whatever their reasons for recounting their experience, we should only look out for the good in them.
“I know at times people who have been away for so long can be a handful, especially when they begin recounting their experiences and giving their comparisons, but at times, it is not done to spite or to try and impress
Pacifique Kwizera, a 40-year-old Remera resident, confesses that he has never been past Burundi and Uganda. Kwizera says the trait of people who have been away for long is more common amongst the youth.
“This is more common among young people and most of them have not even lived abroad for very long. It could be a characteristic of the young generation to have everyone know what they have been up to. But what is strange about it is that when they are at it, they talk as if they do not belong here, and are part of the new world they talk about often.”
Kwizera says its offensive when someone chooses to belittle your efforts and what you have just because it is not like what they saw in other countries.
“Most people do not mind that you have an accent or have foreign mannerisms, but when you sort of belittle what they do and how they do it just because it is not what you had while you were abroad, they will seem indifferent. Feel free to talk about where you have lived, but don’t try to dramatise it by making everyone else feel so ‘local’,” he adds.
On Monday, April 7, we will commemorate 20 years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, under the theme: Remember, reunite and renew. Like in the previous commemorations, we will look back at where we have come from, shed tears for our loved ones and promise to be better people to honour their memories.
While at it, people in the Diaspora will come back home to play role in the future we are working towards. From far and wide, they will troop in, bringing along a hand in terms of experience, knowledge, some ideas we may consider as strange and traits that we are not used to like snacking while walking down the street. How do we process all that they bring along with them?
Tony Niyitegeka, who transverses the region running a logistics business and studied in Belgium for close to a decade, has an answer for this.
“Travel gives one exposure and a window to view the world differently from how you previously did. You learn a lot by your interactions with those you come across just as they learn form, there is a lot to learn from them (people who have been away) just as there is much about them that will not make you very happy.
They will complain about the pace of things here, the awkwardness of some places but that dies out with time, they slowly adapt with time and cease to act ‘foreign’.”
Niyitegeka is not sure on how much time should be taken before they cease to act foreign and cease to refer to everyone else as ‘you people’ but he is sure it will come to pass.
On Saturday afternoons at coffee shops in Kigali, you are likely to come across white expatriates (often with a bottle of hand sanitiser next to them), who look like they came to Africa to fight poverty or malaria or both. Most people excuse them to freely make the same talk about the countries of their origin perhaps because, after all, they’re only here momentarily.
They are excused to go on for hours about how this place is different from their home countries and how we badly need fast foods like MacDonald’s and KFC.
Gloria Rukundo feels that just as we let them talk freely about where they are from and where they have lived, we should also allow ‘returnees’ to talk freely about where they are from.
“If you choose to take offence by what other people say about your place or the things you have, you will be ‘mad’ for a long time, it is just easy letting them be. At some point they come around, we are all subject to being shaped by our immediate environments.”
However, you choose to react to the comments made about how it is we do things, it is at times never that serious, it could be well intended and perhaps you would do the same if you were standing in their shoes. We should probably be grateful that at least they came back.