I was introduced to Jill by my two clients ‘Innocent’ and ‘Emma’ – the Artist brothers, at ‘Neo Cafe’, en vogue in Kigali. Like I always do when meeting new people, I introduced myself and asked what she did; ‘Oh I’m a tech for twitter’, she replied candidly. That’s right: the Twitter.
I kept my cool, and to start a normal conversation, I told her that her name sounded like that of Gilberto Gil; the amasing Brazilian Musician/politician; she told me about her love for Rwanda’s sceneries.. For a geek, she turned out to be a fun girl to be around.
Anyway, one thing led to another and we found ourselves at dinner at Sole Luna.
Jill was here for three days; she’d flown in to check on her girls, and the dinner was a way to reunite with them
They arrived one after the other, Marie Claire Murekatete, and three others (names withheald for privacy). Suddenly I was seated with five top tech women; And indeed that’s what their group is called: ‘Tech Women’. I know this, because I tried to call them IT and they said: no man, that’s just a small part of what we do, we are ‘Tech Women’!
Murekatete was the one seated across the table from me, so I started the conversation;
– what do you do ‘nshuti’? I asked.
– well I am a senior software engineer at RDB. Her friend was Academic Vice-Rector at a Polytechnic University, the other one a senior Tech at Tigo and the other one, Aline, well she couldn’t tell me her title;
– she travels a lot’, her friends told me;
– ‘she travels around Africa, fixing technological problems’;
Bam! right there! A young girl in her late twenties; she fixes Africa’s Technological problems.
– ‘We are in the same program’; Claire continued, “we are ‘Tech Women’, we are around the world.”
– ‘So where did you go to school Murekatete?’ I asked in excitment;
– ‘I went to Carnegie Mellon, here, then I went to work at Sillicon Valley in California, USA, before I came back to work for RDB’.
Marie Claire had short hair, drunk Fanta Orange and kept her hands folded. When I asked her where she prayed, it was a rhetorical question, for I’d already guessed that the answer would be ADPR; I was right – in cyahafi to be precise, one of the popular slums in Kigali.
She was not your typical ‘silicon valley’ girl – if you have seen one..
– ‘Where did you do High school Murekate?’
– ‘I went to College la fraternite’ in huye for my A-level, then to Groupe Scholaire de Kigeme in Gikongoro for my highschool; then to KIST’.
– ‘How did you wind up at Silicon Valley ?!?’
– ‘Well I applied to the Rwanda Education Board (REB) and was picked to go to Carnegie Mellon, then enrolled into ‘Tech Women’ – the rest is history…
I looked at this young woman and I was amazed. She is the daughter of a simple peasant from Huye, in fact, none of these girls are the daughters of a minister, an MP, an army general, not even the local RPF party chief of Gikongoro; these are regular, simple Rwandan women, whom, all they had to do was: ‘Apply’. The government paid 80,000 USD for this girl’s master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon because she is smart! She did not need references, she needed just to work hard.
But I also saw the product of the Rwanda of today. Jill had visited South Africa two days before, so I tried to explain to her and the girls my excitement; I tried to explain to them that what was happening was out of this world, but they looked at me, baffled; they didn’t understand.
See, I had lived in DRC, in South Africa and in Mozambique; I’d lost my innocence a long time ago; they had grown up in Rwanda…
– ‘It is not hard’, they told me; ‘you just work hard, then you apply to REB; what’s the big deal?’
– ‘Girl’, I said to her, ‘I love you, and I love your country: you are both so innocent…’
– “In no country I have been to, I said to her, and certainly in a few countries in the world, does the government offer its ‘crème de la crème’ privileges to those who actually deserve them – you! And quit frankly before I met you, I thought these were slogans…”
What moved me, was their innocence; as far as their concerned, that’s how things work; in fact, they think every girl is like them. I wanted to go on and on, but my friend Emma gave me a quick look, and I realized I had done it again; I had brought my politics into a charming evening dinner, and it was making people uncomfortable…
So when Jill, asked me what I thought of such sharp ‘Tech Women’, I tried to be romantic, I told her I thought they were sexy: Big mistake again!
She turned to me as her and her girlfriends pulled the check, and said,
– ‘ah man, first of all, we are all married’ (not true), ‘and second we get tired of hearing that; we prefer to be complemented on what we do, not how we look’ – and on that, her and her friends pulled their bags and settled the whole dinner bill before we boys even had a chance to look at it…
This reminded me of the only time I sat with Prof. Emile Rwamasirabo – the former Rector of the National University of Rwanda, he told me of this story when he had gone in a one week retreat in Kinigi in the Gorrillas; a place known for being very cold. Every evening, the old watchman would come to make fire for them, and one evening he approached him:
– ‘ariko mwebwe ndabazi’ (I know you sir);
– ‘Eh, munzi mute se?’ (How do you know me sir?)
– ‘Umuhungu wanjye ajya abambwira. Yiga kuri kaminuza nkuru y’igihugu’ (My son tells me about you, he is a student at the National University of Rwanda)
– ‘Ah, mufite abana bangahe?’( how many children do you have) – he asked, out of curtesy;
– ‘Nfite benshi, ariko n’uwakabiri agiye kuza iyo’ ( I have many, but my second is also coming there)
– ‘Bara muhamagaye?’ (Has he been selected?)
– ‘Oya, ariko ndabizi. Yabonye amanota meza’ (Not yet, but I know. He had good marks in high school);
They looked at each other, and the old watchman smiled – as if to say: ‘sir, you continue being Rector of university, I continue being watchman. But my son and yours; they will eat at the same table; if yours gets good marks that is… You and I have no quarrel…’ – Instead, he shook his head yes and said: ‘Mugire ijoro ryiza’ (Have a good night) – with a salute of gratitude to the ‘teacher’ of his first, and soon, second son…
– ‘The watchman needed no favours’, Prof Rwamasirabo told me, ‘he had trust in the system!’
Last evening, I had a truly refreshing experience; I fell in love with all these girls, I fell in love with this country once again; with a system that works; a system that is innocent!
Mureka is no outstanding athlete, she’s no genius, her parents are not millionaires; she is just a girl from Huye who applied to REB…
– ‘Why are you not at twitter with your friend Jill?
– ‘Maybe in the future, right now we (Pointing at the Academic vice-rector) are focused on incubating younger girls’;
Oh God, the fact that she still prays in her ADPR church in Cyahafi, keeps her hair natural and short is just Maximum! These girls remained themselves: no goat hair, no fake accent: They went, they saw, they conquered, THEY CAME BACK!
I wanted to invite Aline for a date this week-end, she is the only one who’s single, but I am worried I’d slow her down. I think I’ll let her go, fix Africa’s tech problems…
Note: If you are a brilliant girl interested in becoming a Tech Woman, visit: https://www.techwomen.org/participants/eligibility-and-application
Posted 6th February 2015.