The depths of poverty: Irene's Rwandan journey (1/2)
I am a mother of two children: a 16-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. I did not have access to public secondary education because of the regional and ethnic situation at the time of my childhood. My parents were very poor, and we didn’t even have access to basic necessities. Nor could they afford to pay for me to go to a private school, despite the good level I had reached. Without an education, my future was already looking bleak, I couldn’t see what to do. I asked my parents for permission to go and work as a domestic worker to earn money.
I was hired as a maid in the house of a director of a transport company. He paid me 4,000 francs, in addition to food and lodging. It was a lot at the time and I saw my dream come true. I sent all my salary to my mother, believing that she would keep it for me and my childhood project to build a house. After three months, my boss sent me to work as a housemaid with his friend who had just been appointed as Ambassador to Ethiopia. We spent a year there before returning to Rwanda, as my boss had just been called to other duties.
All my salary was once again sent to my mother, I thought I had saved enough to start building my home. I went home to negotiate with the masons, but to my surprise, my mother told me that all the money had been spent on food for my brothers and sisters. In other words, I had just spent all this time working for nothing. I decided to stop working to devote myself to farm work.
After five years, I was married to a man who gave me a son. This man stayed with me for a year and repudiated me on the grounds that he received no gifts from my family. I had nowhere else to go back to except to my parents. With two more mouths to feed, in indescribable poverty, my mother began to accuse me of all the evils of the world. My future and my son’s were once again in jeopardy.
After my son was weaned, I left him with my mother and went looking for a job. I was hired as a waitress in a bar. I came home every night with some money. Because of this, my mother began to calm down. But my salary wasn’t enough to meet all the family needs. I had to look for men to go with to earn a little more. That’s how I gradually became every man’s woman.
In 1992 I became pregnant from a man who seemed to be sympathetic to my plight and offered to take me out of prostitution. He is the father of my daughter. But he fled to Congo in 1994 and I never saw him again.
After the war, it seemed that all the men had gone mad. They drank beer and sought women as if they had just come back to life. It was an opportunity for me to take advantage of. A former customer opened a bar and hired me as a waitress. It was my official job title. With my salary and what I received from the men, I was able to save 1,200,000 francs to open my own bar. Business was good, money was flowing. With the profits and part of the capital, I decided to build a three-bedroom house and annexes at home.
I had just made a serious mistake, as my assets were, in the end, nothing more than empty crates and broken glasses. Business was inevitably going from bad to worse by the day, taxes and rent were becoming increasingly unbearable. I had to close the bar and go home and set aside the balance of my account for food for the whole family. I was able to do this for a year. Then, when my pockets were empty and I was unable to buy anything, my mother forgot all I had done for her.
She ordered me to send my children to their fathers. But where were they? Why separate me from my children? Who else would take better care of them than me? What a wicked mother! Lord, may I never become like her!