Here…Then…Now (Compilation of two poems and a letter dedicated to Gatumba Genocide survivors)

 

Here

One of the most common phrases you’ll often hear from us is

“ I miss Africa”

The first time I said it to one of my American classmates, he looked surprised

America like they say, the land of the free and home of the brave

Africa like they say, the land of wars and home of diseases

 

Let me explain:

We may not have Barbie dolls

But we make pretty cool figurines

With leftovers from tailors

We may not have Disney Channels

Yet every now and then we get to play princesses

In front of hundreds of adults

Where I come from we do not always have a TV

But most families have a couple of Kevin Harts

Performing every night after dinner

 

Our sisters have been singing in choirs for years

They can Celine Dion every hardship or heartbreak we may face

Our brothers are so quick to organize soccer tournaments

Gathering children from all around the city as we root for them

Our tables may not always be filled with delicious meals

But God bless our mothers for each time they step outside

Empty handed, growling stomachs, yet determined to feed us

Always come back arms full of sweets and candies

Justice is such a foreign concept and Police is almost inexistent

But we get to be each other’s keeper besides,

Our fathers have crossed too many borders,

Surmounted too many mountains,

Lost everything yet made it here

We are pretty much covered

 

Believe me when we say we miss it

We know you probably wonder how insane we must be

To long for war, hunger, poverty, poor education

We hear you

There is nothing pretty about the way

The foreign world divided our continent

Or how corrupt our leaders continue to be

Filling their pockets while emptying our hearts

Oh, we hear you

But the next time we are homesick,

Understand that what we long for is the African Magic

That won’t cross the Atlantic ocean to find us

Here.

 

-Marianne Murekatete

 

Then

The first funeral I ever attended was my uncle’s

I watched my mother and my aunt cry

Hundreds of others were mourning

My father spoke and I kept hearing the words “yari Intwari”

Over and over again.

It meant he was a hero.

At only five years old I learned two things

That the international commission hasn’t been able to

It was reported that 166 innocents died

 

Lesson no. 1

The aftermath

Fathers would have to deal with guilt

For not protecting their families against those rebels

Mothers would break into pieces

For birthing sons and daughters in such a cruel world.

Brothers and sisters would have to learn how to live again

Only this time around

More silence and less laughter

More drug addicts and alcoholics

More trauma and self-harm

More hours sitting

In front of the psychologist

Fighting to explain the loss

You see when death comes

Its victims aren’t always buried

 

Lesson no.2

Innocents are usually not guilty of a crime

Us being from Mulenge is a crime according to some

The fact that our men stand tall

That our nose isn’t wide enough

That the language we inherited

Reminds them of their enemies

That our existence is threatening

That is our crime.

And if it is a crime at all

Then we are guilty.

 

When someone dies their body decomposes

Years later there are only skeletons left

Yet a tree grew through concrete

Right where our loved ones were buried

And if you don’t seem to understand where I am going with this

Incorrect is 166 innocents died

Correct is 166 heroes were murdered but their legacy will live on forever

I mean to say we’ve been using this statistic for a long time

I mean to say we want justice for our intwaris

I mean to say we won’t stop fighting for it

For our loved ones cannot be contained in numbers

They lived, They loved, They were here

And if that isn’t enough to convict the monsters

Who disguised themselves as saints

And slaughtered our Intwaris

Then perhaps the international justice department

Must come upfront and say

There’s no justice available for people like us

Who have quite a history with not fitting in

But rather standing out and never apologizing

For existing

 

-Marianne Murekatete

 

Now

My lovely mother knows how to melt a hardened heart.

She uses the words “mukunzi wanjye” when talking to us.

It translates to “my love”.

She’d say for example “mukunzi wanjye wakwiyitaye ho”

(my love won’t you take care of yourself)

And there’s something about the way she  says it

That stops the time and for a split second everything looks perfect.

I wonder how it’d be like if we could receive mails from heaven

If our loved ones could send us letters once a year perhaps for Christmas.

Here’s how I think it’d go

 

Mukunzi Wanjye,

Amakuru!

It’s been 13 years now that I’ve left and I can still see your struggling

To understand how or why I left.

I watch over you and I can see your pain at 1 am after a nightmare

Or 7am when you wish it was all a dream and that you’ll wake up

And find me having breakfast . It pains me to know that

As a father, I will not walk you down the aisle

As a mother, I will not hold my grandchildren

As a brother, I will not protect you from those little boys

As a sister, I will not teach you the ways of adulting

As a friend, I will not get on your nerves

As a pastor, I will not pray your worries away

As a mentor, I will not watch you evolve

I think the letter would be 365 pages long telling us about their time up there

How much fun they’re having.

As the letter gets to the end I bet they’d say something like,

Mukunzi Wanjye

Urabeho

I never left

I am still a part of you

I hope you live well

I hope you live.

 

But tonight, I don’t have those letters with me,

I have mine to share so,

 

Mukunzi Wanjye,

My love,

It’s been 13 years now that we were

Robbed of some of the greatest souls

To ever walk this earth

They were gone too soon

And we shall remember them as Intwaris

But my love,

Mukunzi Wanjye,

Your story did not start on august 13th

And your life did not end then

I praise your strength to seek justice

I praise your courage for being here

God knows some of us wouldn’t be

Half as resilient

 

But Mukunzi wanjye,

My love,

You don’t have to be strong all the time

You don’t have to hide your pain

You don’t have to run to bathrooms to cry

You don’t have to apologize for the emptiness

That takes over on some nights

Or the nightmares and flashbacks

I hope no one ever asks or expects you to

I hope you take some time off

I hope you look at yourself in the mirror

Every morning and see the greatness

That lives within you

Because no matter what you must admit

All these years and yet you’re still here

Breathing, living, laughing, loving

You’re IT

You are the African Magic that crossed the Atlantic Ocean

To find yourself here

 

And so Mukunzi Wanjye,

My love

I hope you live your life fully and wholly

As yourself

I hope you stop campaigning for approval

I hope you take the path that feels right for you

That you pursue your dreams and goals with no apology

And if you ever feel you need a break

I hope you take heart

One day at a time

One moment at a time

Create new memories

Make a collection out of  old ones

And stay open to make more

Just Live well.

Baho!

 

-Marianne Murekatete

 

 

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