Begging! In all aspects one talks of begging and one being a beggar on the streets, what also seems to come up is that people simply don’t believe begging occurs outside of big, urban centres.
As for the Kibuye people, even when some one has a lame leg, begging is seen as a very unrespectable act and the word beggar indeed can be used to explain quite various things that are “not so good.”
For Gaston Nsengiyumva, though, begging has become not just a need or ritual, but career practice.
“I wake up very early and after my wife gives me tea I jut set to Kobil Kibuye to start work,” Nsengiyumva explains. With his rod that goes ahead of him, one would not fail to understand that he is a blind old man. He’s been doing it for 60 years.
Even before when there was less development and the people weren’t rich enough in cash currency, Nsegiyumva would survive on begging.
“My begging saw me through many regimes with various presidents but I almost lacked nothing in my home,” says Gaston.
“When my first wife died in 1997, I used the money that I had saved out of begging to make for her a decent burial ceremony.”
His five children, though mature and with jobs, have never given him money because they consider him a worker like any of them, and on many occasions, bring in more money.
“All I bring for my father is a kilogram of sugar and a loaf of bread,” says Zachayo Uwimana.
“As for money he is richer than I am.”
As for the neightbours, it amazes them that every now and then Gaston goes back to the streets to beg yet he has more than he should expect.
“Seriously I wouldn’t go out there to beg when I have built such a house and having that kind of furniture in the house,” says neighbour Wizeye Habineza.
All the wealth, even from begging, comes only with hard work.
One friend, Joseph Ntagungira, recalls how the man has begged through some of the worst time in history.
“In 1994 as others were seeking refuge from the Genocide, Nsengiyumva was still determinedly begging! I was so surprised that I found him alive because I thought maybe a bullet would claim his life as he was begging on.”
But Gaston, 70, thinks it was God’s plan that he was born blind because he is richer than many with both eyes. In a major Pentecostal conference last year when pastors were determined to pray for Nsegiyumva to see for the first time, he simply told them he was fine that way.
“Maybe they could help me through giving me money but via ringing sight to me ‘wapi,’” he says, meaning ‘no.’
Yet any normal person who meets Gaston on the street would be wise to think he was in a sorry state, with dirty rags, uncombed hair and the rod that he uses to sense whether people are coming. wife brings him lunch at work.
“I prepare food for my husband so that he doesn’t leave work to come home for lunch,” says wife Faith Gasigwa. Not until late in the evening, when together they count what Gaston has earned during the day, can one see the happiness in both of their faces.
“For the past sixty years I have been a beggar and will be until I die,” he said.