‘If you want to hide something from a Rwandan, just write it’ – Anonymous.
The other day I went out with the daughter of an important man, Innocently. On the fourth date the father invited himself. Eager to assess which crook was trying to corrupt his daughter, he arrived in his full might and pulled a chair. He then proceeded to interrogate me, not on my motives with his daughter, but on what I had done with my life.
So, I went on and on on my plans to change the world, he was obviously unimpressed; he tried again, differently: ‘who are your parents?’ -Well, you know, they are decent people….’ He couldn’t hide his discomfort as I failed to drop names equal to his: see, he was more interested in how much money I had made in my short, miserable life. He asked when I was planning to buy a house, I answered that I didn’t have the money. ‘Where did you put it?’ He insisted. Incredulous, I looked into his eyes and what they said to me was: ‘dude, you sign me a 1 million dollar cheque here and now, I will stand up, we’ll shake hands and I will leave my daughter with you’. Me, I was instead thinking of how I can get a gun to put me out of my misery. Sadly, none of us had his wish fulfilled that evening, and my brief idyll with his daughter was thus short lived. Except, I had to endure the lifetime humiliation from my sarcastic friends – who’d watched my whole torment from a nearby table, quietly having the time of their life.
Eager to impress the old man, I had thrown all I had at him. He looked intellectual and I was freshly from University; So I spoke of Keynes, of Marx, I spoke of Rousseau, Beckett and Shakespeare, he didn’t tick, I tried Chinua Achebe, Fanz Fanon and Aimee Cesaire, he checked his phone, then his watch, I went to Sankara and Lumumba… when I started on Jesus and his 12 disciples he stopped me. I was failing the test; we had gotten off on the wrong foot; he was here to know how much money I was worth, not how much of a smooth talker I was; he was not going to fall for the same bullshit as his daughter, he was more hardened than that: for him money talks, bullshit walks. So the whole time I did my rant, he looked at me like a monkey in a cage, a cage that I most certainly felt trapped in! My rich friend Eric came to the rescue, and him they seemed to get along – I am forever grateful, Eric…
I was devastated. Not because I was broke; I already knew that; but that a parent could behave like that in front of his daughter – and a contending son-in-law, albeit with meager chances… Then again I asked myself: what would have my father done? What do our parents teach us? What do they show us? And it hit me; it is a generation thing; most parents expose their children to a skewed image of wealth. It is all on the outside, nothing on the inside.
A typical successful kigalian has a huge mansion with many rooms. My father is fairly ‘successful’ so I only go into his; they usually have impressive round lathered or suede chairs; a board room-like dining table; a cupboard full of plates, glasses and cutlery (I suppose it’s all called cutlery) a flat-screen TV (preferably 40 inches and above), satellite dish with full bouquet subscription, and the latest playstation (3) for children. No bookshelf in sight, no intuitive games such as chess, monopoly or our own Igisoro. They drive in a big car and talk about football without practicing any sports. They have no proper paintings: just the Chinese made pictures of landscapes in fake golden frames… To give a natural taste to the house; they have plastic plants – also Chinese made. Oh they also have photo-shopped pictures of their happy selves ornamenting coffee tables and any other corners of the house.
On a good lucky day you will find the ‘Jeune Afrique’ magazine – the one with President Kagame’s picture on the cover page – as if to remind to the kids where all these shiny things come from… So when the old man was questioning me about my motives; he envisioned a house like that; I disappointed, again!
This evening as I went home early to chat with my young siblings, who are on holidays, I found them right where I had left them in the morning: on the playstation! One of them is already at University – in America, and another in one of the most expensive high schools in town… What’s the last time you guys picked up a book!? I asked. They looked at me in total bewilderment: ‘what?’ They asked. They knew me to be eccentric, but this time they were really concerned: ‘this time he’s lost the plot…’
‘Books?’ They said, ‘They are boring!’ So how do you get knowledge? ‘Well, we go on the Internet…’
I had a moment of sadness. I was sad for my youngsters here, and sad for my youngsters all over the country. At their age I had finished all the comic books and the African literature, I was halfway with French literature at school and reading novels in my down time – but then again we were humble refugees; we had a tiny black and white television, let alone the playstation; we were rich though – where it mattered: on the inside!
Disclaimer: This post was written with love!
Posted 6th August 2014