I learned to appreciate Rwanda even more for my culture, my social values, my simple and joyful childhood
I called this “my” infatuation because I don’t want to speak for anyone. However, I am almost certain that the majority of you have been infatuated by the west at some point in your lives. It started from a young age, with all the TV I watched growing up, always watching ads on TF6 after Smallville and wondering what that Activia yoghurt really tastes like since you couldn’t find them in Carrefour or Ndoli’s supermarket. Then came the addiction to to Disney Channel! Disney Channel honestly taught me a lot of English, I was always trying to force that American accent and acquire that American attitude and style. Disney world felt like the perfect place to be in the world at that time. When I got over Disney Channel I went on to binge watch the infamous TV shows! Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, Suits, Arrow… etc. And all the while I only listened to American music mostly R&B Rihanna, Beyoncé, 50 cent
I think by now you can see a sort of consistent pattern, that 95% of the entertainment I was exposed to was American. Sometimes I wonder if it was conscious, to only watch and listen to American stuff. Next thing I knew there were American schools in Kigali.
I remember when my older brother went to college in America, I thought it was the coolest thing so I kept bragging about it at school. America sounded surreal and I had a naïve view of it! “Like you mean to say that my brother will be walking the same streets Hannah Montana walks on? In my head that’s what it was, America was like stepping into one of those Hollywood movies I has seen, and then some. I thought of the Europe like that too, a foreign land that was full of surprises, opportunity, adventure in every possible way a place better than home. The west was a place we were all willing to work hard for, leave our beautiful homes to go to this foreign land promising the sun and the moon.
Naturally, after that mild brain-wash I underwent as a child, I went on to make it my ambition to live in the west! Whether by doing my Undergraduate degree there or just finding a job there and settling there. I grew up imagining living my adult life abroad, anywhere but in Rwanda which sometimes translates to anywhere but in Africa. I justified this the same way most of us still do, “Africa is developing but not developed yet, there aren’t many opportunities here as there are in the U.S!” “Life is expensive here, and schools are so expensive! Let’s just send off our kids abroad so they can get a better education” these claims have some truth to them I admit, but these are mere challenges in my eyes and not walls to stop us from moving and growing as a country or as a continent.
Then starts the “fucking jobs” that got everyone of our aunty or uncle rich in France and Belgium usually leaving them with back problems or a nicotine addiction, which was okay because they lived “iburayi”. A place that gave an automatic excuse for an obnoxious piercing or tattoo. Leaving out the drugs and alcohol used to numb the depression the first few years away from home. The cultural differences and barriers that lead to an overwhelming loneliness.
There was a time when going to the States was synonym for cool kid! As a community, we started building this social pressure of trying to make it out of the country, a “Who is staying in Rwanda after graduation” contest. Where if you stayed in Rwanda after graduation, you wouldn’t mention it to your friends or you kept telling them you are still applying in America and waiting for a reply, that you were probably leaving in the next month or so.
To be fully honest, I am so grateful I was able to go to school in America!! Not going to America for University would have probably weighed on me and affected my self-esteem more than I can admit to myself, the disappointment of not leaving the country would have been tough on me because I was unable to imagine a true college experience in Rwanda! A typical mind-set I acquired over the years that basically said “the western way is the right way” I thought college in Rwanda would be boring, dull and most likely useless because of how professors in Rwanda were portrayed in every adult conversation I overheard.
America didn’t disappoint at first, I saw the tall buildings, toilets that flash themselves, high-speed internet connection everywhere, and a prettiness Africa didn’t have. But they forgot to mention the roads with potholes as bad as the ones in Kicukiro; the fake smiles, the weird humor, the forever offended American in your class and the ultimate struggle of getting medical insurance. I felt ashamed for wanting to live here so much.
“The melting pot,” a country that claims to have a diverse and rich culture yet all I saw was a clash of cultures so clumsy it leads to none. The glorified horrors of the West are still a mystery to me.
“The land of the free” yet black people here have been fighting for freedom since slavery. Capitalism was the biggest slap in the face out of all the fucked up shit in this country, I had no clue a government could trap its own people. I learned for a fact that “The system” is not a myth and it is out here to get you with its endless rules and regulations that only seem to be setting back and limiting people of color. Our idealization of America has left many brothers and sisters paralyzed, making them feel like they couldn’t accomplish anything recognizable at home. Chasing a visa, any visa since 2010. I understood that the American culture leaves very few individuals free of mental illness, a problem that can easily be self-inflicted in this country. A culture that encourages people to seek comfort in pets first before friends or family, a country that breeds baby carrots and so many genetically modified organisms that obesity is almost inevitable for a low-income family.
In sum, I learned that as a young Rwandan I am not very likely to succeed in this country not because I do not have the potential but rather because the system says otherwise.
I learned that “The American dream” is nothing but a sugar coated scam.
I learned to appreciate Rwanda even more for my culture, my social values, my simple and joyful childhood. And I decided that I do not need to acquire the American culture to be successful, that my Kigali is the perfect hub for any career and it would be a shame if I invested my time, energy and new-learned skills anywhere else but home.