On Friday night, I boarded an Ethiopian Airlines jet and left icy, smog-filled Beijing to return to sunny, warm Kigali. I had the bad luck to get a middle seat the entire flight but I didnt care; I was coming home and the soreness that ensured during the flight was worth it. Especially when I saw the green hills of Kanombe beckoning. I actually felt tears well up in my eyes as my feet touched the ground. I was back home.
I’ve been away for only four months but I started looking at things with eyes anew. I couldn’t believe just how lush and green this capital of ours is. Whenever I heard my expatriate friends wax lyrical about that I would roll my eyes and accuse them of being hopeless romantics. But now I see things through their eyes; the bright green, nay emerald, almost hurts the eyes. Another color that has assailed my senses is brown (or to be more specific, ochre). When you live in a country whose dominant feature is ubiquitous concrete, you forget that it is the brown soil that sustains us all. It is a beautiful thing.
I never thought that I’d miss sitting in a bus and hearing idle conversation but Beijing put things in perspective. Human beings are social animals and language is the glue that holds it all together. Sadly because I couldn’t speak Chinese I could not tap into the community that I found myself in. I felt like alone and disconnected. Getting back home has been an exercise in reintroducing myself into Rwandan society. Suddenly, after months, I could bargain with fruit sellers in the market and crack jokes with the gym instructor. I would turn on the radio and listen to pop music made by my peers and read local Kinyarwanda newspapers (albeit rather slowly). I was back in my community; a part of the social fabric.
But looking at things anew isn’t always going to have a positive connotations. Driving around the city revealed to me
just how far we have to go. The things that I was once so proud of (the smooth roads, sidewalks) now became things I took for granted. They were ‘normal’ things; the only reason that we found them so extraordinary was because our expectations were so low.
As we start this new year 2014, perhaps what our New Year’s Resolutions should be is to raise our expectations. We mustn’t become self-satisfied or even worse, complacent. The attitude that some of us have that ‘we are doing great things for an African nation’ must stop. We must look higher. Why must we compare ourselves to Kinshasa, Bujumbura, Kampala, Nairobi or even Johannesburg? Doing that would be wrong and rather unfortunate. All the cities I mentioned are great places to live. They certainly have good points that we can incorporate into our own but they are not first-world in any way. They are ‘developing world’ cities and thats not what we should aim for.
I know that thinking that Kigali will become like Geneva or Stockholm in my lifetime sounds like a pipe-dream, but I ask. Why can’t we dream? Why should we always be slaves to our current circumstances? Why can’t we continuously strive to make leaps instead of the tiny steps that some would have us make? Decades ago, American astronauts walked on the moon. That achievement came about because they had the will to get up there. Yes they had the money. But they are the ones who dared to dream those big dreams.
So, this year promise yourself that you will not settle for the status quo. Promise yourself that you shall dream big dreams. And you will act on those dreams. I certainly will. Happy 2014!