I hope you had a merry Christmas this last Friday. Let me also take this opportunity to wish you a fortune-filled 2010!
Personally, somehow I felt odd celebrating Christmas festivities in the same place without violent interruption for the 15th year. You would, too, if you’d gone through what I have.
If I always ‘celebrated’ Christmas in different places, it was because I’d been unceremoniously, many times violently, ejected out of my hard-secured place of temporary sojourn.
In fact, I can’t say I celebrated Christmas!
I was a happy-go-lucky young, scantily-dressed, fat-headed rascal (protruding navel and all!) of the northern ridges of this country until November 1959 when everything seemed to turn on its head.
The previous year, I’d celebrated Christmas donning shoes for the first time………
When I say ‘donning shoes’, don’t get me wrong – they were not securing my feet but dangling on my shoulder by their straps! Why the odd conduct, you might be wondering.
You know how your parents used to somehow coax used shoes (discarded by European kids) out of the local Belgian priest. And, as has been so lastingly observed, beggars can’t be choosers.
To your parents, then, shoes were shoes and no one had the luxury of entertaining the idea of sizes. So, even if the shoes were three sizes too small, you excitedly accepted them with gratitude and went your happy ways.
Come Christmas Day, you painfully squeezed them on but, of course, you could not walk more than a dozen metres with that excruciating pain.
Yet your ‘local’ church, Kinoni Parish, lay all of 17 kilometres away, on your way to Ruhengeri from Canika border post!
That, then, is how you decided on your way of wearing shoes. Since you wore shoes for no other practical purpose but for show-off, you waited until you were a few metres from the church before squeezing them on.
Then you bore the pain to and a few metres from the church again, whereupon you bequeathed them back to their shoulder. As I am wont to, however, I am digressing……..
I was talking about my Christmas in Rwanda. Unbeknown to me, that agonizing 1958 Christmas was the last one I was to spend in Rwanda until after a restless, torturous 35 years.
In 1959, Christmas found me in Bufumbira, south-western Uganda, a stone-throw from what used to be our home in Canika, Rwanda. From a school-going young Ingina, I had been transformed into a fast-hardening herds-boy.
That year on Christmnas Day, then, I was woken up very early by the stampede of our herd as they scrambled for safety.
It turned out that they had been startled by an attack by ingunzu (wild dogs) on a calf.
I and the older herdsman, a brave young Ntibikwira, managed to scare away the ingunzu but I lost a toenail to the scrambling beasts. Even with my pain, however, I had to continue work until evening.
You see, we used to stay far from the home where we had found refuge in Nyarusiza, Bufumbira in Uganda.
Since Nyarusiza was overpopulated, there was no way our herd could graze near, which meant that we kept the cattle some fifteen kilometres away, on the shores of Lake Cahafi.
Delivery of milk was done in the evenings, and that’s why I could not earn my sick leave earlier. That is how I found myself saddled with the duty of milk delivery that Christmas evening, a cursed evening ever if there was one!
Uti how? As I struggled to find my way in that pitch dark, rain-soaked evening, swollen toe and all, I sensed the unmistakable, stealthy movement of a hyena. With that extra sense that only herdsmen own, I knew the animal was dangerously close.
I suddenly froze into zero motion, to determine its exact location, held the milk container on my head and then with all my strength hurled it at the silhouetted form near me.
I bounded off in the general direction of home even as I heard its yelp, knowing very well that even if I reached home in the end, I’d be minus all toes. I did reach home, all right, but catch me wearing open shoes!
So, those two Christmas days seemed to have set a trend for me, and the subsequent Christmas days seem to make an effort to outdo one another in exacting the most pain on yours haplessly!
In 1960, Christmas day caught me again with Ntibikwira and our herd, but this time back in Rwanda. The agony that was visited on us at the watering area, inflicted by our countrymen, lives in my memory to this day.
No need to tell you of the other years. In 1961, in Jomba, D.R. Congo; in 1962 in Bambo, again D.R. Congo; in 1964 in Nshungherezi of Uganda; and myriad other places after.
A truly merry Christmas for the 15th year running, acha tu! (As the Waswahili say when things are beyond description!)