Author: Diane Mutumukeye
Educator: Leah Julke
I was born in Congo and grew up in Rwanda. We moved frequently in Rwanda because my dad was looking for better jobs and places for our family to live. I would guess we moved about ten times in about a few years. We moved from big huts in one camp to big straw houses in another camp. We never had much stuff to move, and when we did move, we would often throw some of our stuff away or give it to the neighbors.
When I was about 6 years old, I started going to school in the state of Nyagatare. I remember having to walk to school with my best friend and it would take us about 25 minutes to get there. The school I used to go to was called Karangizi Primary School. It was far from my house, so we would wake up early in the morning, about 6 o’clock, to go to school.
One dark morning, while walking to school, my friend was crossing the street. She looked cautiously at both sides of the road and didn't see any cars or bikes passing by. When it was my turn, I looked too and saw nothing. While crossing the road, a motorbike came from nowhere and hit me. Motorbikes in Africa are dangerous because they go so fast and are difficult to see. I fell down and tried to scream but couldn't. After I was hit, the guy got off the bike and carried me to the side of the road, near a big hole. He laid me by it and rode away. My friend took my shoes off my feet, so no one would steal them and ran back home to tell my mom what happened. I was in so much pain. I felt like I was going to die. Eventually, a policeman saw me and rushed me to the hospital. When I got there, I received stitches on my face and had surgery on my leg. Feeling the pain, I cried and called for my mom but she was not there yet.
My friend had ran to my house and told my mom what happened. My mom didn’t have a phone and my dad was not with us because he was working in another country. When my mom heard the news, she asked one of our rich neighbors to give her a ride to the hospital. When she arrived, I was out of surgery and had bandages everywhere. When I opened my eyes, I saw the guy that hit me and his mom standing by me. In my mind I was thinking, “How did he get here? I thought he ran away?” His mom apologized and they paid the money for my hospital bills. Eventually, my mom took me home.
For awhile after the accident, I was in a wheelchair with a cast on my leg and bandages around my head and arms. I was really thankful to God that I was still alive. At the same time, I was not happy because my sister would not come near me because of the way I looked. She would not even eat with us or sleep by me because she was afraid of me. One day, she was with her friend and I tried to talk to her, but she ran away. She didn't want to see me. I must have looked like a mummy to her. It took me a long time to feel better. At times, I wondered if I would ever walk again. I thank Jesus, who is my “Promota,” my Everything, who saved my life.
Later that year, my siblings and I went to stay with my grandpa and grandma because my mom was pregnant and needed to rest. When my dad called to say that she had the baby, we all went to see her. After that day, chose to stay with her while my dad was working at a job nearby. Everyday, my little sister and I used to bring my dad food at work. On our way back to our house, there was a house that nobody lived in. It looked like a haunted house. When my sister and I passed by, we saw a small baby lying in the grass. There was blood everywhere. We walked closer and saw it was a little baby and it looked dead. It so very small. I felt so bad and very sad. No one can imagine seeing a baby with its head cut off. We ran home screaming for our mom. When we took her back to the house, there was a bunch of people looking at the baby. Because of this, we went back home and packed our stuff and moved back to my grandparent’s place. They lived in Kibungo which was far from our current home. My dad did not come with us. He went to Kenya because there were jobs there. He sent us money and eventually we went to live in Kenya too. We stayed there for two years.
While living in Kenya, I went to a school called Bethlehem. There were mean teachers at school who used to beat me. They made me clean the whole school by myself when all of the other students were gone. Sometimes, it was almost midnight before I got to go home. One day my parents told me, “You won’t have to stay at that school much longer. We are going to America soon!”
“Uvuze gute? Ati America!?” I screamed. I was so happy that I started joyfully jumping. For the next couple of days, my family and I got ready to go to America. We went shopping, packing and spending time with our family and saying goodbye to our friends. We bought a lot of things like clothes, shoes and new bags. The next morning, my family members came over and we had a little party. After the party, we prayed for a little bit.
When it was time to leave I went to my friends and told them “Amahoro abane namwe.” We all went to the airport and boarded the airplane. When it went up into the sky, I was praying. I said to myself, “God be with us in this journey and guide us wherever we are. Are we going to heaven with our eyes open? Ndibaza.” Eventually, we arrived at the Fargo airport. My cousins and our case manager came to meet us and hug us at the airport. They started showing us everything.
When we got outside, I saw white things falling on me and when I looked up I was wondering how could powder come from heaven? All my cousins started laughing at me and one said, “Diane that's not powder. Here in North Dakota, we have something called winter. When it's winter time, it gets cold and we call this snow.” I laughed at myself.
When I first arrived in America, I was in 5th grade and my English wasn’t very good. The first day I went to school, kids made fun of me. They were saying I was so African as an insult, meaning I didn’t belong. They also said other mean things that hurt me. I didn’t have friends and I was lonely. I was really happy to go to middle school, but it wasn’t until high school that I started to be more confident and get more more friends.
At times, I would think about the loved ones I left back home. They were all working hard to find a better life, to make money for food, water, homes and clothes for their kids. They even needed money to pay for their school fees. When I think about my life in America, I am happy and thankful that I am here. I am reminded that sometimes I need to spend time thinking about where I came from and maybe someday in life I will go back home to visit.
Kinyarwanda Language Glossary
“Uvuze gute? Ati America!?”
“You said what? America?”
“Amahoro abane namwe.”
“Peace be with you.”