Tribute to the heroines of these highlands

I remember a fellow columnist musing in these pages that if she were not married, she’d consider marrying Rwanda.

Well, ma’am, I have good news for you. Even in your happy matrimonial state, you’d not raise your loving husband’s hackles, marrying Rwanda. Because I think he wouldn’t hate a similar conjugal union, either. So, both of you, why don’t you go for that nuptial knot?

For, to allay your fears, Rwanda is actually not “he” only. She is also “she”!

Yet again, neither of you need think of a case of polyandry, polygamy or gay union because you’ll be joining the long list of close to twelve million Rwandans of all gender who’ve laid claim to her/him as their spouse. The truth of the matter being that when you marry Rwanda, she/he doesn’t become your spouse as such.

She/he becomes your mother/father! Jamaican or any nationality, acquire and uphold her/his values and, as motherland/fatherland, she/he’ll be yours for the asking.

However, at the risk of inviting the wrath of men on myself, I’ll state my honest opinion and stake my life on it: Rwanda, being strong, is more motherly than fatherly. And I base my venture of an opinion on my observation of women generally which, according to many, I do not hold a monopoly of.

But, in particular, the women of Rwanda have a kind of tenacious strength that they can only have been favoured with by an equally strong motherland.

It suffices to visit any office in this country or see the streets of its towns or the ridges of the land and homes thereon. The biggest number of people who’ll be at busy-bee hard work will be female. And so will that of those of ripe age, who’ll have survived ravages of such taxing tasks.

As for being the fittest in the Darwinian sense, take these rains that were recently pounding this country day and night. Now think back to April 1994, when they were more merciless. Among the survivors of those terror days, submerged in disease-infested swamps or later scorching under the burning sun, the majority are women. In all survival situations of then, the same holds true.

And that’s not all. Rwandans, almost to a woman or a man, have been refugees at one time or another.

Talking for myself, I recall how in the 1960s it was practically impossible for our parents to adjust to the hardships of exile, having come from a life of comfort, or even affluence, back in Rwanda.

Those days, it was every refugee family for itself. The whole coterie of humanitarian refugee organizations had given us a wide berth, for reasons only known to themselves – or did agitation for self-determination have anything to do with it?

Anyway, back then, these organisations that today, in addition to pampering refugees, entice them with creature comforts that are enough to lure level-headed citizens into a permanent life of statelessness, wouldn’t have touched us with a 10-mile-long pole.

Yet on our own as we were, when we thought we were getting on the verge of starvation, wasn’t it always our mother who somehow made food materialize from thin air?

Faced with the indignity of failing to provide for family, many fathers opted for suicide. Those who persevered, to their credit, could not betray their honour and integrity, looking beggarly. But they lived in despair, even if they went about their near-starvation business in their spotlessly clean clothes, however worn and weather-beaten, rather than appear wretched.

Not so our mothers. Eschewing despair, while sharing the men’s honour and integrity, they were ready to ‘cook’ towels to make believe it was food, so as to give hope to children but also dupe ill-wishers, as cooking was in the open. Still, they avoided that men’s ‘ready-to-die’ stoicism by grimly working to somehow magically procure us food.

May they be celebrated every day, not only once a year!

However, after all is said and done, there are unsung heroines that no one cares to acknowledge. The young ladies who sacrificed themselves, body and soul, to sustain family and educate siblings. Many were a young lady who gave of herself to a foreign brute of a man, who abused her as wife or otherwise at will, and yet stoutly bore it all, that her people could have a future.

Senior citizens who were witness remember how these sacrificial lambs were sometimes used as ‘conduits’ for contraband minerals and drugs. And how sometimes these ‘conduits’ were not live – need we be too explicit?

The women of this land are, and have always been, the pillars of our society.

Luckily, “this man right here”, President Paul Kagame, envisioned all this, that long ago.

That’s how, in his thankful job that has inspired Rwandans, the women have taken their rightful place to use their gentle but tenacious work methods to temper the regimented rigidity of men’s work methods. The increasingly evident result of this is an overall resilient society.

For emerging from kitchen relegation early enough, our strong women have joined men to put the bad times behind this country, “for good and forever”.

Sister and brother of any nationality, feel free to tie the knot with these gender-balanced highlands known as Rwanda, dual nationalities even if it may mean.

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