This story reflects on a boy's journey to manhood away from home and his desire to reconnect with his roots and find his identity.
"How do you recover from massive trauma?" , I have asked myself that for the last 15 years or so. I came to understand that for me, I needed to retrace my steps. I had to go back to the place where I was born, a place where it all started:Rwanda.
On February 18 2013, I found myself on a plane heading home to Rwanda, this was a "safari-like" trip I dreamt about, as they say in Swahili. I have always wanted to visit Rwanda for the past 19 years, but there was a major obstacle standing in my way. Memories. I was haunted by a mixture of traumatic memories and also by forgotten memories.
As I landed in Kigali Airport, my body became numb, I froze literally from fear. I was overwhelmed by all these memories that I was not aware of before. Memories from 1994. It was raining when I got out of the plane, the air was heavy, the sky was dark and gray, it was a familiar picture, a picture from my childhood growing up in Kigali. The air was fresh but I was struggling to breathe as I dragged myself towards the immigration desk. The thoughts running in my head were, "What is it going to happen when I get there? Am I going to be arrested like in the stories I have heard from people about returnees?"
A couple of days before I left for Rwanda, I spent time reflecting on the idea of knowing that I was going to do something that was going to change my life forever, and wondering how I would spend the last days,hours,minutes and seconds in my old life. Would I drink my favorite coffee? Would I watch my favorite movie, would I go for a walk in the woods knowing that soon everything would change. Would I not taste food the same way or enjoy my coffee, am I not going to be thinking about the same things walking in the same woods.
There I was in line at the Airport, I could see the immigration desk, my body was shaking from fear, fear of the unknown, fears that I inherited, created, borrowed and also experienced.
3,2,1, then it was my turn to present my passport to the young man in a black suit and a tie, who smiled at me as he grabbed my passport. I held my breath like an athelete competing in a hundred meter race, focussed on the finish line. It was an out of body experience, I was looking at myself from outside, wondering if I had made a stupid decision to come.
A couple of days earlier, I was sitting in my mother's kitchen in Vermont, in the middle of winter, telling her that I was going home. She didn't like that, she advised me to reconsider my decision. "I have fought my whole life to protect you and to raise you and now you want to go back to that place you almost got killed?" , she said. I told her that I didn't come to ask her for permission but to tell her that I was going because it felt right and I was ready. I left without wishing her good night.
"What is the purpose of your visit?" The young man asked.
"Visit?!", I thought, now I am a visitor in my own Country. It was a hard question to answer because it meant lot things but I answered, "Tourism".
I posed for the picture, give my thumb print, then my passport got stamped. While all of that was happening, my eyes were busy scanning the area for people in military uniforms, my brain was heavy with my memories, trying to break through the dark clouds, searching for a hopeful exit. I couldn't get my mother's voice out my head, I kept replaying the kitchen scene over and over. I was still running, my legs were getting very tired, I was about to explode then I saw the line, I was so close, 5,4,3,2 meters...
"Sir, welcome to Rwanda" , I heard the immigration officer's voice.
I was back to reality.
When I stepped out of the airport and got on the bus, the first thing I did was to open the window and put my hand out to feel the air . I knew then that I was home.
The photograph is my grandparents grave, the last time I was there was to bury my grand father and I was around 5. Taken in Rwanda 2013