There is a lovely road that runs from Nyagasambu into Musha hills. The hills are now inhabited by wild animals. These rolling hills covered in grass are lovely beyond any singing. The road climbs ten miles into the heart of these hills and crosses to Duha my birthplace.
There, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Gasabo. The grass is rich and matted; you cannot see the soil, it holds the rain and the mist and they seep into the ground feeding the Lake Muhazi.
It is in this Lake that many bathe for purification. The ground is well tended and not too many cattle feed upon it, not many fires burn to lay bare the soil.
The ground is holy because it is here that Gihanga our creator lived. Keep it; guard it, for it keeps men, guards men, cares for men. Destroy it and man is destroyed.
Fifteen years ago, on a cold April night, I am told, a baby girl had her first kicks of life in the small dusty village of Duha. The little girl, the only one among four boys was christened Camilla Bwiza. That was I.
After a long stay in boarding school, I was returning home- back to Duha. As I sat in the bus park shelter waiting for the only pick-up truck that plies the route, I could not help but think about the events that had coursed my life up to that day.
Mother treated me with excessive affection, this, I guess so much infuriated my brothers that by the time I was five years old, I was the target of their pinching and beatings.
They never seemed to miss an opportunity to pull my hair and knock my head whenever mother was out of sight. And soon, I learnt to revenge by fighting back.
Father owned a carpentry workshop in Rwamagana and was largely absent from home because of the many trips he made in search of timber.
He does not stir my memories in early childhood. When I started being aware of him, he was always the cold, unfriendly stranger who sat quietly in an armchair with one eye on the local newspaper, Invaho, and the other on troublemakers.
Mother never appeared to be happy whenever dad was around and we children went to all lengths to keep out of his sight. With time I started regarding him in silent loathing. I vaguely remember a fight my parents had when I was ten.
My father returned from his trips late at night as was custom. He was drunk. Before he could utter a single word, we heard mother screaming on top of her voice calling on neighbours for rescue. She had been slapped in the face.
This act made us wail and huddle in the corner of the sitting room. It was Uncle Shyaka who saved the day by separating the two seemingly determined fighters.
I can still see Dad’s bare chest with his trousers rolled up to his knees doing some shadow boxing getting ready to hit his wife, my mother!
I can still remember how mother sobbed all night after my father had proudly walked out of the house with the door banged behind him, only to return the next day demanding for food!
That night, I did not sleep a wink. Many thoughts rang in my mind, I even contemplated running away from home but the thought of leaving my mother behind was unbearable.
Against this background, there developed in me a strong resentment towards men that by the time I was admitted to a local primary school, I was already involved in fights with boys.
That is how I landed myself in a girls boarding school run by the mother Theresa sisters at the tender age of twelve.
The school was run by a strict code of conduct.
Once, I was caught fighting with one of the girls in the senior class over a playing marble! We were both heavily punished. Besides mopping the school chapel, we were told to recite a whopping four hundred Hail Mary’s per day for a whole week.
Knowing how tough my parents were, I dreaded the idea of going home on suspension. I apologised to the Nun in charge of discipline and promised to behave myself next time.
That incident marked the beginning of my being sociable. For the years that followed, I made a lot of friends and tremendously improved on my grades. By the time I reached standard six, I was the darling of teachers and my fellow classmates.
The Sahara pick-up truck (for that was its name) finally filled up. We were loaded like sacks of potatoes! On my immediate right, struggling for space and air was a goat. The rest of the travellers seemed not perturbed by the inhuman conditions for they freely engaged themselves in village gossip.
My anxiety was triggered off by Dad’s relationship with Mum, which had taken a nosedive. My father had decided to marry a second wife. During one of their frequent quarrels, my father had threatened to stop paying my school fees and extending any financial assistance to Mum.
The news that the other woman had moved in our house with her children struck me like lightening. This should not however be construed to mean that I was xenophobic but was rather being realistic given the economic situation at home leave alone the unbearable daily quarrels which would become part of our menu.
Fortunately amidst all this, I had a Nun in whom I confided. She was always there for me. I channelled my frustration into increased classroom concentration and serious private study.
The results that year could not have been any better: I attained the coveted first position in my class. My only worry was returning home for my holidays! The thought of going home in the mess that prevailed there was not only disheartening but also terrifying.
I saw how other pupils sang for days on end about their sweet homes while poor me brooded over the prospect of meeting my father and coping with a step mother and an extra pair of boys.
Despite the potholes, the pick-up truck was moving at breakneck speed. People were talking on top of their voices. The goat, one the “passengers”, seemed to have joined in the conversation because it was bleating on top of its voice.
My mind wandered off into my own world. Many questions rang through my mind; how shall we survive on Dad’s meagre income, how will mum cope with a co-wife? At this time there was no thought big enough to have a monopoly in my head.
Ntunga, my home trading centre, was full of activity the afternoon I arrived there. Bushombe, the village dancer was doing his thing, pulling crowds as usual to the amusement of many but much to my chagrin because the matter that preoccupied my mind was not an easy one.
One thing that was outstanding was the prevailing poverty along the road to my home. I could see men sited on verandas coiled up with their knees protruding from their torn trousers; the wrinkles on Matiya’s face said it all.
Children played in the mud; the sight of their naked bodies, big bellies, sunken eyes and cheeks spoke more than words could wield the matter.
(To be continued....)