Around this time four years ago, I was preparing to make a move back to the place I longed for most, Rwanda. I always told my friends that the land of a thousand hills was where I found the deepest sense of belonging. There, my melanin was standard and the nuances of who I was— a Rwandan born in Uganda and raised in America— were understood with just a few minutes of interaction.
In my mind and spirit, I knew it was where I needed to be. I longed for a rest from living an incomplete version of my identity. The world around me in the US made it difficult to harmoniously merge and express all the different pieces that make me whole.
All of this would change, I believed, when I moved to Kigali. I expected to be overwhelmed by the spirit of community, I imagined it would be my big fat reunion with family, culture and tradition— a love that knew me even as I was getting to know myself. A real homecoming.
God had other plans.
From the jump, there was something comforting about hearing a language that speaks to versions of me from past lifetimes and although the simplest sentence spoke so deeply to my soul, there was another part of me that Kinyarwanda didn’t recognise. I wasn’t prepared for the full breath of what it meant to be a Rwandan who was born in Uganda and raised in America. I only saw the light in the complexity of my identity, but moving back to Rwanda introduced me to the reality of belonging as other. Looks of curiosity meets contempt awaited me every day as I stepped into spaces— how could you be one of us yet embody so many ways that are different from us? Fake love derived from misconceptions of who I ought to be, almost as though I was a mystical creature that allowed people to escape the manifestations of their decisions.
I had come back determined to find a love that belongs, one that is not only allowed but is celebrated and given space to grow freely. Yet, here I was again, in a world that didn’t see me in my completeness, that could only accept lesser versions of me.
What happens when the conditional love isn’t enough? When the possibility that you might never be Rwandan enough is up for discussion? Do we pack our bags and go back? Or do we stay and forge a space that we can rightfully call our own, in which we can embrace all of the dimensions of who we are?
I wished that a Diaspora fairy godmother would teleport herself my way, bearing a book of Do’s and Don’ts. A book that gave truth and love to the grey area. A guide to help me, and others who were struggling with this, to navigate a space that said to us, “Yes, but no” all in the same breath.
But while we don’t have a Rwandan fairy godmother who leads the Diaspora Queendom, we can pick up the magic wand from time to time and fill in the chapters of the book we wish we had.
These are my lines.
GUARD YOUR TIME & ENERGY
Assimilating to a place that you belong to but are foreign to can be emotionally taxing. Taking time for yourself to reflect goes a long way. It’s a helpful way to track your thoughts and feelings, to process what it all means. Journaling continues to be my greatest therapy. It helps me piece my thoughts into a cohesive understanding of what I’m feeling. Invest in caring for yourself, it’s the best way to shed the thin skin.
REAL VS FAKE
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the newness of a place and people. The hype has a way of blurring the line between real and fake love, especially if you’ve romanticised the place. Pay attention to the energy around you so you don’t get burnt out. Toxic dynamics often present in subtle ways. Are you often reaching out but not having your efforts reciprocated? Are there ‘friends’ always telling you about what so-and-so said about you —but never explain why so-and-so was so comfortable telling them? Do they only call you for a turn up and never for some wholesome community building? Learn how to recognise unhealthy relationships, and know when to step away.
CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE
It might sometimes be hard to fathom, and always uncomfortable to address, but privilege exists and shapes many of our social and economic dynamics. A certain education and exposure opens up doors to opportunities that other people who are just as brilliant may find hard to come by. Only when we intentionally shape our lives to experience moments that help us better relate, can we use our privilege constructively. After all, privilege doesn’t buy us knowledge on everything, everyone has something to teach— with a little compassion and humility, we learn a great deal about the world around us.
We are a complicated people with a complicated history. Everyone’s story is different which makes our collective identity a rich and multifaceted one. At the end of the day, only you can decide what your experience is going to be. Will you choose love or will you choose fear?
TAKE A BEAT
Change takes time. Allow yourself the space to discover what works for you, and when you need to distance yourself. Understand the market and how you can utilise your skills and talent and the money will follow. Don’t rush the process, or you’ll get swallowed up by other people’s expectations of what your life should look like. You are the sole gate keeper of your power.