Recently Jean Damascene Habimana (not real names) who had never travelled beyond his home village of Kirehe (in the Eastern province), flew to Nairobi. He was invited to take part in an International Writer’s Competition that took place in Kenya’s capital.
Jean Damascene Habimana has lived, studied and worked in Rwanda all his life. He however, by virtue of his academic competence and remarkable excellence in creative writing, got the opportunity to break the long time ‘record’ to go beyond the boundaries of Rwanda.
Though he is educated, he remains virtually a villager. The New Times caught up with him in Nairobi. The two had enough time to chat.
Here is the story:
One thing that I can tell you right now is that I never enjoyed the flight. I thought it would be smooth and enjoyable, but I was greatly disillusioned.
The plane was bumping up and down in a very scaring way-it felt very risky. I did not know that a plane in air could behave like a taxi in the potholes of our roads in Kirehe village.
A car may shake and even go off road -this has happened several times killing people and injuring many. So imagine if a plane came down, there would be no survivor, which is why it is the ‘riskiest’ means of transport.
I could see other people standing, moving up and down—a thing that told me that they were happy and probably not worried. They must be the same people that go out praising air transport.
Further, another bad experienced greeted me right from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, when I was trying to find my way to the Nairobi City centre. I stopped to ask an airport official passing by, but was shocked by her attitude.
The middle-aged woman never bothered to stop or look in my direction, as she directed me to keep walking ahead and turn on my right. I followed her instructions with many questions in my head.
For the sake of politeness, I had stretched my arm and hand to greet the person, but she ignored it. It was very strange to me. Poor me, I was only exposing my ignorance about people’s culture.
“Now for sure I was in a foreign land where I needed to be very careful with whatever I say and do,” I whispered to myself.
“Cultural differences were working against me. If it was in Rwanda for instance, the lady would have stopped, shook my hand and took more time to explain to me which direction to take,” I lamented.
I am a good learner and for the next days, I will have to adapt or die. For instance, hotel authorities had warned me that moving around the town could be dangerous. I never heeded to their advice.
The other day I went to a nearby pub for a drink and ended up staying there for a long time watching soccer. There was a seemingly cool environment until sunset when the environment turned very suspicious.
Two young men in their early 20s kept monitoring my movements all the time. Owing to the warning I had been given I started arranging all security precautions.
One mistake I could not make was to get out of the pub before the match ended. Everyone had eyes glued on the screen, apart from the two men that were targeting me.
Going out at this time would be a wrong tactic. Again waiting for the 90 minutes to end was equally bad. It was getting dark and more dangerous as time elapsed. I therefore battled with my mind to take a prudent decision.
Like a hen threatened by a kite, I took a funny cover hiding my head to monitor my impending enemy. The fact that I was a stranger made me a soft target.
What scared me most is that I had all the money left with me in my pocket. You know I could not trust even the hotel security, because I imagined the whole environment was wrong.
Finally, the match ended. I had planned to walk out with anyone that would go out first. I saw two men stand up immediately in disappointment.
They could have been supporting the team that lost the game. You know most Kenyans and Africans in general, are crazy about the English league.
I could not wait to follow them when they started walking towards the exit. They were strangers that I could not trust either.
Therefore, I had to keep some reasonable distance from them. I heard footsteps behind me, and when I turned to look behind, I saw the very men I had earlier suspected trailing me.
I accelerated, but before I could reach the two men in front of me, one of them held my shirt from behind and tried to box me in the face.
I dodged the punch and hit him so hard (the Mohamed Ali’s style) on his right eye. You know right from my young age up to now, very few men can dare to fight me.
He went rolling down the steps. The other one tried to hurl a knife at me. It never got me as he wanted. It nonetheless cut my fingers as I pushed it away.
I later on managed to get back in my hotel room where I breathed with great relief. What surprised me was the fact that nobody cared to rescue me from the thugs. ‘Survival for the fittest’-I concluded.
From then on I vowed to stay in the hotel room until I returned home. This experience has made me develop a nostalgia to go back home. I do not regret all the years I spent in Rwanda without going out of the country.
The first experience I have is so regrettable. I will soon be travelling back to Rwanda, and I can’t wait!