Home is where the heart is. It’s a cliché but true. And the heart is also a repository of dreams, memories and sentiments. Though I have spent much of my adult life roaming the globe, I had the good fortune of spending my teenage in one home: a tiny house in Nyakabanda, halfway between Nyamirambo and Nyabugogo.
The house was sitting in one of the many hills of Kigali, and typical of that neighborhood, it was fenced with imiyenzi that were nicely manicured all year round. The house remains but larger parts of the neighborhood are gone. The people have moved on. And that seems to be the pattern with most of my youthful associations.
Memories of my secondary school where I spent my pre-university days were also jolted when Rwanda International Academy was shifted to its new home and renamed Kagarama secondary school. I felt an equally strong sense of nostalgia when the Management section of KIST moved from its Kiyovu campus – where I had happy memories of drinking tea in Biryogo – to SFB in Mburabuturo. So even though I can revisit buildings associated with my youth, they are now empty shells, associated with very different living environments.
I doubt my experience is unique. My generation has had the good fortune of having lived through one of the greatest, if not the greatest, development stories in the history of mankind. Most of us have moved from relative poverty to relative affluence in less than a lifetime. Throughout history, individuals have done so. But rarely have societies catapulted across several stages of development as rapidly as Rwanda has. That makes the challenge of creating a sense of home a unique one.
The good news is that the sense of Rwanda does exist in Rwandan hearts everywhere. Each time I buy an airticket to return to Rwanda, I feel that I am half-way home. I am not sure why. Most people would say home is where their families and friends are. True. But if all my family and friends from Kigali were transported, say, to Washington DC, where I currently reside, none of us would feel at home, even if all the faces were the same.
A sense of home comes from many sources: closeness to family, friends and neighborhoods with happy childhood or youthful associations and, of course, closeness to the cuisine that one grew up on. But what builds a common feeling of home in any society is a shared culture.
Our unique cultural values are what give me my strongest sense of “home” in Rwanda. It’s unlikely to be replicated elsewhere. The combination of tolerance, mutual respect, love for each other, and acceptance of meritocracy as a common denominator has become part of the DNA code of the Rwandan society.
Unfortunately, all this cannot be understood easily in the abstract.
The Rwandan Story will be better understood when our poets, writers and artists play the underlying common chords on our heartstrings that make each of us feel Rwandan. Some have begun the job. But a lot more needs to be done.
For me, the stories and songs of artistes such as Kamaliza and Kayirebwa capture the spirit of my youth. But we need many more storytellers to weave the tales of Rwanda. When they do, we will all begin to understand in words what already exists in many hearts: the sense of Rwanda as home.