My mother was arrested in ‘Ibyitso’.

My mother in 1993, in Kigali.
My mother, Mukarugwiza Julienne, in 1993, in Kigali.

My mother was arrested in ‘Ibyitso’ (spies)

After I was born, she stopped studying and came to look for work in Rwanda. She opened a hair saloon for women in Kigali, she seemed to do well, or at least in my baby opinion, because she came to see me in Goma every month with bags full of gifts for me, my aunts, uncles and neighbors. She would spend a week then go back. She had lived in Rwanda with a Zairian passport and she genuinely believed that Rwandans were fooled by her Zairian nationality.

Every two years, my grand mother, my aunts and I would come to her house in Kigali for vacation. I loved Kigali! So different from Goma. But one day my uncle Julien, who was just coming from Uganda, where he had faught the Amin war, drove us to Gisenyi to take the bus, when we reached the ‘Gare routiere’ he told me; ‘all this is ours, soon we are coming for it!’ I was around 7-8 years old and we were coming to Rwanda for vacation. The Pope was also visiting – that was the last time.

By 1992-1993 (I can’t remember) my mother didn’t come for months. It turns out when the moment came they showed her what they always knew; that she was Rwandan. We kept listening to Radio Rwanda, asked anyone we could find, we heard news that she was dead, people came over to comfort us, this was kept from me because they knew I was too emotional.

Then, while in captivity, my mother sneaked out a small note, she asked someone to go to Radio Rwanda and dedicate us a song. It is called ‘Muhoza’. It goes ‘Muhoza wanjye wandutiye benshi bwiza we uri umuziranenge, uwo mu mataba ateze neza, mbega shenge uraho urakoma…’, then she listed our names, but didn’t clarify where we resided so that it wouldn’t be censored.

I was at school, and when I came home in the evening, there was a party. Apparently, everyone who was listening to Radio Rwanda when the song played ran to our home to break the exciting news to my grand mother, who was constantly praying to the Virgin Mary and always telling me that my mother is coming soon: Gwiza Julienne is alive!

Matters of the Rwandan war and RPF were normally conducted in secret, this time there was music. The surrounding Rwandan community was partying openly. Congolese neighbors where there too.

Eventually my mother was released, managed to get to Goma. I didn’t recognise her at first, because she looked famished and old. But she had this legendary sense of humor, she joked that she now looked like my grand mother’s mom, I knew it was her. Also I knew how she smelled; a warm, comforting sent, I still remember it vividly to this day. It was my mother. We cried, hugged and kissed the whole night. She spent three weeks to a month in Goma, recovered, then one morning she announced that she was returning to Rwanda. That was around January 1994! ‘It was all a misunderstanding’, she said, Rwandans know she is Zairian, her ‘friends and neighbors’ wouldn’t hurt her; it was all gonna be ok… All my aunts were younger than her, my uncles were gone to war, otherwise they wouldn’t have let her… It was clear in our minds what awaited her, but she seemed to live in her own world.

The next time I saw my mother, she was on her deathbed, cracking jokes…

My two cousins were named Gwiza and Muhoza after her and the song, When we returned to Rwanda in 1994, my Grand mother said to me that I am the hair to her portion of my grandfather’s land in Gisenyi.

Gwiza has just graduated from Medical school, and Muhoza just started University of Kigali, they are so pretty…

Note: My mother’s story was shared on Mother’s day in 2018. Eventually Muhoza also graduated from accounting and business. Both my cousins have good jobs in Rwanda, our home. They remind me of my mum..