Musaza Wanjye (My Brother)

“Here, even though there is peace now, we constantly fear war because of the past; we fear having to leave our homes. I learned about the attacks in the United States [on September 11, 2001]- do you fear war in the same way?”

My mind flashed back to September 11 as I struggled to answer my Congolese friend. I attempted to explain that though tragic, 9/11 remained incommensurable with the human tragedy of “Africa’s World War,” longing for the naïve certainty of my 8-year old-self.

“Do you know what this means, Danielle?” My mother tucked me into bed.

“Yes. It means that Daddy will need to leave the country soon.”

One decade later, May 2011: 18-year-old Danielle sits in her family’s Texas living room, exactly one month before her high school graduation. Running CNN headlines verify an onslaught of social media reports: U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden.

“Does this mean that Dad can come to graduation now?” He was scheduled to leave for Afghanistan the following morning. I smiled a little too widely, chuckled a little too lightheartedly to ensure that everyone knew that I spoke in jest; that I knew of course the day’s events changed nothing.

Muhabura

It is one of life’s greatest idiosyncracies that one is never more acutely aware of personal difference than when one is similar to another in all ways but one. My eyes locked with Diane’s[1] and I shifted my gaze to Justin. She was 20; he 21. Their youthful eyes suggested premature tragedy, their palpable bond revealed shared trial. Diane and Justin lost their mother while Diane was pregnant with Ben (now 1 year). Diane now cares for Ben and her younger sister, Katharine (age 4), while Justin searches for odd farm jobs in neighboring fields. The family lives an hour’s walk from the nearest health center, in a rural Rwandan community in the central part of the country. Justin moved in with Diane when their mother passed away. Their father is not in the picture and refuses to provide the financial support that would enable his children to access healthcare services.

I showed Diane a photo of my own brother (21) and I (22), asking my colleague to inform her in Kinyarwanda of the resemblance. Even as I did this, I was aware of my own absurdity, epitomized by the fact that my chosen instrument to convey similarity was a photo on my iPhone 6. But something about the unspoken tenacity of Diane and Justin’s relationship brought tears to my eyes, not due to the socioeconomic vulnerability of their reality but due to powerful love borne of this same vulnerability. I recognized Joshua in Justin, myself in Diane: a relationship mandated by blood but solidified in another’s willingness to come alongside you when you are at your worst, your least loveable, that one person who can convince you of your value when all value seems irretrievable.

Gataraga 2

“You know that Africans make a proper song and dance about the ritual of greeting and get quite annoyed when you don’t greet them. The point about greeting someone and asking genuinely after their well being is that it acknowledges their humanity, their personhood. Not to greet someone is to dehumanize them.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

 

“’Brother Saul, the Lord-Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here-has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.” (Acts 9:17-18)

 

Good morning.

Mwaramutse.

How are you?

Ni meza.

I met you on the road

To Rusizi

Blue eyes locked in brown

But not really seeing

Locked into perceptions

So deftly developed

Scales ingrown in intimate embrace

They fuse with my eyes…

“All human life is valuable”

Easy to speak

But harder to feel

Harder still to live in

The silent spaces of my mind…

Good afternoon

Mwiriwe

What is your name?

Nitkwa Daniella

Scales impair senses

Blurry profile, silhouette

Pitiful shadow of a life

Scale-studded goggles

Your humanity in theory

Explicitly co-inhabitants

Equal in so many words

On the slope of this road

Thank you

Murakoze

Linguistic standoff

Both refuse to concede defeat

I see with scales

Do your own eyes have scales?

Language and culture

Layer onto preexisting insecurities

Tighten the paralysis around me

Frozen in fear

You’re frozen in theory

“Good morning”

When you greet me do you label

Your language unworthy?

“Mwaramutse”

Do I deem you

Unworthy of mine?

Scales: benign at the surface but

Corrosive in penetrating

Unrepentant hearts

Stoicism that shields

A moralizing mind

Curating the empty, preserving the hollow

Interaction devoid of humanity

But in truth my scales are more painful

To remove than ignore

Good morning

Mwaramutse

Who are you behind my scales?

Culturally crafted but

Interpersonally sustained

History’s happy accident

On the winning side of

The world’s unjust equation

Humanity imprisoned in theory

Mine freely exercised.

[1] All names changed to protect privacy

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