“I thought we were the same. But I was still a child”

Nd’umurundikazi…I was born in Bujumbura, in the 90s. I lived in a quarter where we could play with every kid, joyfully, innocently, regardless of our mere differences. What we only cared about was who is going to be the goal keeper when we played football, or who will be your partner while playing dodge ball (horo). Sometimes, unwillingly, I may have heard adult people talking about others, in a mocking way: “Urazi ko umuhungu wa Diriyano yatwaye umukobwa wo kwa Gérard? (Do you know that Adrian’s son married Gerarld’s daughter?). This is the neighbor talking…He or she lifted eyes to the roof, as though they were talking of some ghosts. Simply because they were from a different ethnic group. It seemed like they had done the impossible, unthinkable…Call it what you want. For us, we were only kids, yes, innocent kids, caring about our playmates and nothing more.

Bye bye Innocence!

As I grew up, things changed slightly. We did not question ourselves where we belonged, until we heard again and again about it. My innocent eyes were to grow into realistic ones.  Several crises took the lives, dreams of many, in my warm Burundi. What they only left, are wounds, still fresh for some, and the grief of crying souls. 

I did not witness many of these conflicts, but I heard different testimonies from different groups of people about same wars, and guess what, I’m still confused. I was told that this group of people is bad, and those ones are good, and on the other side my friends are told that the other group is the worst. Whom shall I trust? 

(I even heard that, when courting, some parents ask their sons and daughters: Make a good choice my son/daughter! Ntugahirahire ngo uzane uwo mudasa, ngo uduteze isoni! (Don’t dare marry from another ethnic group! This will bring shame in our family…). Some get discouraged, and leave the loved ones because of that. Others take the risk to be outcasts, take the risk to celebrate their weddings without parents and family members’ consent…Yeah, because what bounds them is stronger than what divides them: Love. Tribute to them! 

We can’t forget, nor ignore who we are, where we came from, and most importantly, where we are heading with this. The truth about ethnic issues in our societies has been so twisted, reversed, to the sad advantages of some, and to the anger of others. But above all, it is a taboo…We don’t talk about it openly, but we live with it.

 I wish we did   not care about ethnic issues. I wish this diversity  were the power to the young people, to my generation, to create harmony. I wish we built no boundaries between us because we are one people.  I don’t even know clearly if I’m this or that…I just keep and repeat what I was told. And sometimes, I do ask myself what is the real difference, or the real danger of that person other than me. We have been socialized to believe that we are different. Praising your ethnic group and despising the other. 

I pray that someday….

I pray that that someday, when asked if I’m tutsi or hutu, twa or ganwa, I would  answer shamelessly. Without trying to hide who I am, but also considering the clichés on each group, I  crave not to hear anymore that this ethnic group is worse or better than the other. We were not created different, to destroy us, instead, to lift one another up. All ethnic groups matter, their stories, their way of life, and their choices. None is less important than the other. They have all suffered, and if we still want to fight, we will lose together again. Let’s live and let live, forgive, and learn from one another.

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