It’s almost typical to have a homeland, a place where you were born, or where your parents came from and so forth. A warm and familiar place where joys and tragedies are known to you. If this is how it’s been for you, you may not understand how miserable it is for anyone who has struggled to find their place, or questioned their sense of self or place in the world. As someone who can relate, Michiko Mugabekazi Honda describes in her book ‘A Butterfly with Brown Spots’ how she struggled with an identity crisis as a mixed-race child in different countries—a remarkable story that shaped her into the woman she is today. In the book, a young Rwandan woman flees the country after being oppressed on the basis of her ethnic group, Tutsi, by the Hutu, and travels to Tanzania where she meets a Japanese man seeking malaria treatment. After almost four years in a relationship, the man abandons the woman, leaving her with a child. Honda’s parents are the said two, and this was the start of her own journey. “My mother struggled with poverty in a foreign country when my father abandoned us. Tutsi persecution persisted even in Tanzania, and it worsened in 1987,” she says. Finding family After an attack that forced them to flee, she was separated from her mother. However, she was with her mother’s sister and cousins. “I recall living with my mother’s sister and extended family members who attempted to return to Rwanda but were denied entry at the border. “Later, we learned that there were some relatives in Burundi and that my mother may have gone there. So, we travelled to Burundi in search of her. And she was there. We hid and were always ready to run if things became terrible again. We stayed in a very small place and were crammed. Because I was too brown and noticeable, neighbours claimed that I would easily draw attention. So, I spent all days indoors. “My mother was often angry; blaming me, screaming at me, and slapping me, yet I never despised her for it. I used to believe that I was always messing up, that I was trouble for everyone, and I could see her straining to keep us fed and safe. “She later became ill, however, because of poor medical conditions at the time, they failed to properly stitch her up after the operation. As a result, she got worse and lost a lot of blood. I later discovered that they had given her unchecked blood, and she had contracted HIV/AIDS as a result. It was the most trying time with my mother. “We were stigmatised by our neighbours because many people back then believed that someone living with HIV/AIDS might spread it to others just by being in close proximity. She, too, shared this mindset, so she would urge me to stay away from her or forbid me from eating her food, among other things. “Every day, I watched as she was drained of energy until she couldn’t get out of bed anymore. She died in 1988, just as I was finishing primary school. Her Tanzanian friend, who had pledged to look after me when she died, came for me and took me back to Tanzania. “I began looking for my father and the friend assisted me in locating his address, and we wrote him a letter. He finally responded after what felt like eternity. He decided to adopt me after several letter exchanges and complications. Every night, I prayed to the stars and the universe to whisk me away from Tanzania and to Japan, which sounded like heaven to me. It finally happened and I couldn’t believe it when I first arrived there. Everything was different, from the elevators, the trains, to the snow, which I struggled to adjust to. “It was far worse there than it had ever been. Every day seemed like it could be my last. I was bullied in school, nearly killed on the streets, nearly raped. Also, I was not permitted to refer to my father as my father because he was a married man with a full Japanese family. I didn’t seem to fit in at all, but I pushed.” At the age of 23, she decided to relocate to the United States considering the idea that it is a naturally diverse country, but it still didn’t seem like home. Coming home “Finally, in 2015, I resolved to learn more about my Rwandan roots. When I arrived, I was welcomed by my aunt and childhood companions who had relocated to Rwanda, and it was a wonderful experience. “I visited Huye, Rwanda’s Ethnographic Museum, which was the National Museum. I wanted to learn about this place and see if I could make any kind of connection, and I did. I’m at a loss for words to describe how it felt to stand on Rwandan soil. I felt like I’d just found myself a place to call my own. “I began the process of obtaining citizenship, but was delayed by the fact that I had neither a mother nor father to speak on my behalf. I conducted a DNA test with my aunt, which sped up the process and confirmed that I was Rwandan. “For me, ‘A Butterfly with Brown Spots’ represents a new beginning in life. It reflects how I see myself; as a free person with different colours. I believe that telling my story will help me heal from my trauma. I believe it is possible to shift the narrative of our lives and ensure that the stigmatisation I experienced as a mixed-race child does not become the story of someone younger. Enough is enough!” Michiko, a mother of two, currently lives in Washington DC. Her book can be found at Arise Bookstore in Kigali at Rwf30, 000 (with a 10-15% discount if more than one copy is bought).