One of the most tragic yet funny statements I ever heard was from an engaged friend of mine “I can’t wait to get married, so I can sleep around.” It sounded perverse and warped but he was serious. The trips to CLA were getting too much, he was tired of screaming and singing “hallelujah” to impress his fiancée.
That is the contradiction in Rwanda; you saw your oats after you marry, whereas other cultures encourage people to get it out of their system before they marry.
You have to play a fraudulent version of yourself; stop drinking (at least in public) get a serious job, get a respectable car on credit that will cripple you financially for years and just wait.
Your dress code has to change as well; gone are the jeans, sneakers and T-shirts and in with the new you. Trousers worn so high they nearly touch your chin, shirt tucked in just right, thick leather belt with a not too subtle buckle, pointy shoes and the clincher; wearing your phone on a holster like a gun. Congratulations; you are now a “Museriye” the highest honour bestowed on young Rwandan men.
Suddenly all the major institutions are now headhunting you and so are the women. Appearance is everything in Kigali; my father warned years before I ever came back to Rwanda “Don’t come back unless you have a good job or people will look down on you.”
And for that reason I often delayed coming back to Rwanda waiting to return in style, not wanting to look like the long-lost son returning empty-handed.
When I returned it was initially for a holiday but I decided to stay and so I learned to observe the Rwandan boom from an anthropological perspective.
It had all the symptoms of a nouveau riche malaise; young men with more money than sense, young women caught between wanting to either work for it or just marrying wealth.
My first dating experience was an eye-opener; imagine her horror when I arrived on a ‘moto’. She was speechless, I wasn’t as flashy as the regular Rwandan guy; she gave me as much of a chance as she could but eventually succumbed to a guy with a Prado, the kind of guy who invites you over just to show you his latest phone and so she became another accessory.
My mother gave me the routine pep-talk “she didn’t deserve you, at least she showed her real self before you fell in love.”
But none of that mattered and I couldn’t help feeling down because there is nothing worse than being judged by a superficial person.
It is like in Czarist Russia when aristocrats had grand palaces but slept on haystacks; his Prado was bought on a 10m loan at about 18% APR so the bank had the last laugh.
Beautiful women are the ultimate accessory and men will do anything to get them down the aisle; but after that they are disposable in a society that doesn’t tolerate divorce.
So we have the MBA phenomenon; a man with a giant wedding ring chasing young girls “Aren’t you married?” I asked.
“I’m an MBA – Married But Available.” And I laughed but couldn’t help seeing the tragedy in that, and there is the other joke you hear “Are you happily married?” and the answer “No, but my wife is.”
So men encourage their wives to be born again Christians to help them cope with the traumas of their indiscretions; knowing that the shame of divorce is worse than the shame of cheating.
I wonder for how long women will tolerate this? Are we building a time-bomb when women will say enough? Of course not all Rwandan are like that but those who are do it quite openly without shame or consequences.
Let us not kid ourselves that there was a time when our morals were perfect and we suddenly arrived at this situation because it was a gradual shift. It is symptomatic of the fact that we no longer value honour above all else because that is the foundation for morality.