I’d like to introduce you to my ‘other family’ – Beatha and her three sons; Mucyo, Mugisha and Mugabe, who live in Rwanda.
The top photo is clearer, but from almost two years ago now! The others were WhatsApped to me just last week!
You can find out more about the background of our friendship on my other blog, most of which was written around the time I last visited, in early 2013.
Beatha and I met almost 17 years ago now, and I have been supporting her monthly, with the help of my family and friends, since she left her husband back in 2010 when he became dangerously violent towards her.
Now I’d like to invite your help so that I can continue to support this courageous young family and help them continue to thrive. I’ve set up a GoFundMe campaign…
…to raise £900, which will cover the family’s basic costs for the next six months, while I focus on a longer term solutions AND…
I’m recording and celebrating progress on my PotentialiTREE!
For every £1 donated to my GoFundMe campaign I will colour in one £1 sized circle, and write your name and a single word ‘blessing/gift/wish’ of your choice into it. If you don’t ask for a particular word(s), then the default is LOVE ❤️ The first £300 is the roots/base of the trunk. This will cover the rent of Beatha’s house for 6 months, so she and her sons can remain safe and sheltered. Let’s grow this!
In the meantime, here is the story of when I first met Beatha, for you to enjoy!
I worked full time teaching in the school, preparing and delivering lessons, running the English Club, learning the languages (most of my day was spent speaking French or Kinyarwanda) and generally finding my way into a new country, culture and climate. I went shopping for food in the local markets, where my bartering always drew a crowd, and prepared my own food on a single ring camping gas stove on which I also boiled all my drinking water. This had to be left to cool and then put through a filter before any thirst could be quenched. I was doing my level best, desperate to prove that I could and would take care of myself. After about a month of determined independence it seems I made a mistake, or cut a dangerous corner somewhere along the line. My stomach blew up to about three times its normal size, filled fit to explode with a gas noxious enough to threaten the climate all by itself. All I wanted was my Mum.
After two visits to the local health centre and three days off school, eating nothing but plain roasted sweet potatoes with no oil or butter, I was pretty much recovered. However, it turned out my getting sick was all the excuse the nuns needed. They guarded my well being fiercely, on all fronts, and insisted I allow them to find me an appropriate live in help.
Within days I was informed that they’d found a young woman who would cook and clean for me, and she was to have the second bedroom in the small bungalow I’d been given to live in. She’d had a simple life but spoke a little French, and the Headmistress, an exuberant and inspired nun named Anna Beatha, knew her through complex family connections that I couldn’t quite understand. I don’t remember exactly how it was decided and agreed upon, but for sure somehow it was. Beatha was on her way.
This was a time of deep and uncomfortable reflection for me. I could acknowledge that I wasn’t coping well on my own. I knew that all the other teachers (and many Rwandans in fact) had live in help. I knew I could pay her a decent wage from my volunteer allowance. However, my idealistic, independent self remained resolutely uncomfortable with the idea of becoming a person who paid someone else to, basically, do their ‘dirty work’. What did that make me? I was already so aware of being different here – the last thing I wanted was to be put in the role of ‘superior’.
But time worked its mysterious magic and I eventually began to see the potential gifts. I’d be able to practice my Kinyarwanda all day, be free to focus fully on my teaching work and give more to the students I loved whose hunger for learning was such a joy to nourish. Most importantly, I’d be giving someone who very much needed it a job. And so, albeit very reluctantly, I became an employer for the first time.
When Beatha arrived it was late afternoon and the sun was already swiftly making its way to bed. I’d managed to buy a local charcoal cooking stove as instructed, but sadly noted that there was not much food in the house. The busyness of school had caught up with me and I felt embarrassment rising, threatening to redden my cheeks. Not much of a welcome. What was she going to make with rice, tomato puree and some sorry looking vegetables? But at least I had oil and salt. I wasn’t very hungry anyway. The idea of employing a live in housekeeper and cook remained an incredibly distasteful prospect to me and it was doing funny things to my newly sensitive stomach.
We weren’t given the opportunity to exchange much in the way of greetings. The Headmistress herself had escorted Beatha over to our little house on the school playing fields and immediately set her up in the kitchen to cook, leaving us with a cheery, ‘Goodnight’. And then we were two. I was left waiting nervously in our tiny lounge, reading my mini English-Kinyarwanda phrase book and smiling at Beatha in that well meaning but frankly exaggerated way that probably looks more frightening than kind and reassuring. After an amount of time that no doubt felt longer as a result of our mutual awkwardness she came into the room and placed the food on the table. “Bon appetit,’ she said with a shy smile, and went as if to leave the room.
Immediately I realised with shock that she thought she was expected to serve me my food and eat hers alone in the outdoor kitchen. More from sharp instinct than conscious choice I touched her firmly on the arm in an invitation to wait and frantically flicked through the dictionary until I found the useful phrase I’d noticed earlier. “We eat together,’ I said. She half smiled and subtly nodded. She’d understood. Relief and joy flooded me, oh God Bless you dear dictionary and may your wise and practical creators joyously prosper evermore!
Without a word she left to fetch an extra plate and cutlery and joined me at the table. We ate our meal in awkward silence, punctuated occasionally by my laughable attempts at small talk which she dutifully struggled to understand. Not long after dinner, we both went to our own bedrooms to sleep…or not. I lay awake restless and wondering if I was right to believe that the evening hadn’t gone too badly. However, despite the adrenaline running through my veins I did eventually fall asleep, filled with questions that buzzed through my mind like a cloud of hungry mosquitoes. I felt the raw edges inside me being found and crossed. Who and what had I become by climbing over these carefully constructed walls of deeply held beliefs?
About six months later, when our mutual trust and firm friendship had been established, Beatha confessed that she’d barely slept at all that first night. Before meeting me, she’d never even spoken to a ‘muzungu’ let alone slept under the same roof as one, and she’d been terrified! She pointed to the cover of my Brant guide book where an impressive silver back gorilla was pictured glaring out at us. In her own way she expressed how fear had been the result of her friends saying that they suspected I might turn into some kind of gorilla like monster during the night and eat her! Although she insisted she hadn’t really believed them, she still hadn’t slept…just in case. I laughed so hard I truly could have cried. However, as my laughter died down I realised in wonder, not for the first time, what a brave young woman stood before me and how much there remained for me to learn.
Thanking you in advance for feeding this PotentialiTREE with your generosity 🙂