DIVINE UMULISA, known by her pen name Tete Loeper, is a Rwandan-German author, actress and education consultant. She shared with The New Times the inspiration behind her recently released debut book, ‘Barefoot in Germany,’ where, using fiction, she portrays the reality of life for diaspora living in Europe. In Rwanda, her book is available at Librairie Ikirezi, in Kigali. Excerpts; What message do you want to get across in your book, ‘Barefoot in Germany’? During my first year in Germany, I had to attend an integration class to learn the language and the culture. This is mandatory for everyone who wants to live and work here. During that time, I met female immigrants from different countries and I was always interested in hearing about their experiences. I wanted to know why they left their home countries, the way they see life in Germany compared to how they envisioned it. Gradually we became friends; some welcomed me to their homes and opened up to me about their migration journey. I wanted to show that Europe is different from the way it is portrayed in international media and movies. The image of Europe that I grew up seeing in movies or hearing about, the kind of Europe that creates misconceptions, fantasies, and other illusions doesn’t actually exist. In the book, I show probabilities of the lives of female immigrants in Germany. Even though “Barefoot in Germany” is a fiction story, it’s not far from reality for some people. Amongst other themes, you look at survival and all the complexities that come with it. What was it that drew you to explore this? In life-threatening situations, when we realise that the only person we can count on is ourselves, survival becomes our main goal. The women I spoke to (not only the characters in my book) have failed to turn their dreams about life in Germany into reality. Despite the challenges of having to deal with racial discrimination, sexual assault and depression, they are determined to live, no matter what. As a Rwandan living in Germany yourself, did this inspire your choice of protagonist and setting in the book? Absolutely. It’s a privilege that I can use the culture I grew up in and connect it with the culture that I live in. Being Rwandan made it a fun and easy process for me to build the protagonist that I felt like I knew her in real life. Did your background in scriptwriting and acting influence the way you told the story in fiction form? I love fiction because I feel like it offers a big room for creativity. When I worked at Urunana as a sessional scriptwriter, we used to write stories for the youth. It was during the time of campaigns to fight against sugar daddies. Even though we conducted research, visited youth in schools and went on tour in communities, we used our creativity to write stories that matched the reality. My background in acting also made it possible for me to step in the shoes of some female immigrants in Germany and be able to tell their stories. Barefoot in Germany is your first novel. What is the story of your journey to publication? Well, this is maybe a long and boring story, but I will try to cut it short. So, this book took me more than two years to get it published. I finished the first draft when my son was born. During that time priorities changed, so I put the book on hold because I couldn’t take care of a newborn and also put my energy on publishing. One year later, I went back to the manuscript and started re-reading and editing it. Then I realised that I needed to deepen my research on topics that I have written about. So I worked in a nursing home for one month to learn about the experience of women who work there. My protagonist is from Nyamirambo, but I am not originally from Kigali. So I went to Rwanda and spent some time hanging out with young women from Nyamirambo. It was important to know if the way I have written about my protagonist is still relevant. And I also needed to have an idea of what it is like growing up in the neighborhood around the market. When I came back to Germany, I worked with a designer and a professional editor to get the book finished and it was published in December 2020. Did you have a writing routine? If so, what did a typical writing day look like for you? Honestly, no. I don’t have a writing routine. While writing Barefoot in Germany, I would write in the evening when the children were in bed, on the train on my way to work, and often I kept a notebook with me in the kitchen and wrote down some lines while cooking. What would you say is the top misconception people have about the process of getting published? Personally, I used to think that you write and hand over the manuscript to people who would take care of the rest while you relax. Getting a book published is a long and not easy process, but also possible. It requires self-discipline, reading a lot, being consistent, and having a good team to work with. I am not only talking about traditional publishing where the writer gets his/her book out through a publishing company, this applies in the self-publishing field as well. The writer, from my experience, has to do a lot more than simply writing the story. If you could give one piece of advice to your unpublished self, what would it be? Write and stop listening to insecurity and self-doubt. The world wants to read your story. Are there any other literary projects that readers should expect from you? Yes, I am already working on the next book. It’s a memoir. If everything goes as planned, this book will be published at the beginning of 2022. Another thing is that I am practicing is writing poetry, but I can’t promise that I will publish poems. Book synopsis Mutoni, a young girl from Rwanda, has spent all her life living under a crushing existence of poverty and social pressure. the cover of her book, ‘Barefoot in Germany After her mother dies, Mutoni and her sister, Tendeza, want to escape their reality, and they are willing to do anything to make it happen. Invited to come to Germany by a former classmate to meet a potential charming prince, Mutoni cant say no. She dreams of romance and adventure, but life is quick to prove to her that she knew nothing about the cruel ways of the world. How will she survive in a country where she knows nobody and doesn’t speak the language? An arranged marriage gives Mutoni the rights to live and work legally in Germany where she spends four years navigating the dynamics of being a young Black woman as well as an immigrant. The moment Mutoni understands that she has a place in the country but not in society, she will have to make a difficult decision.