“I finally made it,” Gift thinks as she gazes at her spot. That little patch of grass on the top of the mountain.
She shrugs her backpack off and pulls out her treasured item, her harmonica. She sits cross legged at the very edge overlooking where she has climbed and the neighbouring mountains beyond.
The wind whips her face but its chilly fingers are pleasant, welcoming. They clear the cobwebs of her mind.
“I got the blues!” She suddenly sings loudly and then blows a tune with her harmonica. “The diaspora blues!” *harmonica tune* “Where did it come from?” *harmonica tune* “I don’t even know!”
I need to step up my harmonica game so I can do this for real someday. Excuse my dramatic beginning I couldn’t help myself.
So today I shall be talking about diaspora blues. They stink! I didn’t experience them until recently and honestly I’d like them to go away please.
So I am a first generation immigrant from Rwanda. I moved to England when I was seven and so I remember Africa (I lived in Cape Town, Swaziland and Rwanda) and I think of it as my home continent. However I have lived in Birmingham so long that I also consider this my home.
That seems simple right? Wrong! Because nothing is simple in life it seems.
So I went to Rwanda recently to visit family. My Kinyarwanda has been iffy since I left Rwanda because we don’t speak it here at home in Birmingham and I am not part of the Rwandese community in Birmingham. If you don’t speak a language you will lose it. It’s like a muscle. So I can’t speak it without adding English or any other language I’m learning (mainly Korean for some reason) and I can understand until they start speaking about complicated things.
The trouble with leaving at seven years old is that my vocabulary is that of a seven year old. It never developed. I don’t know the new slang and there are complicated words I never learnt.
So when I was in Rwanda this time I really struggled. I had no one to help me as people were busy and I experienced stage fright. People would speak to me and even if I knew how to respond I would just mumble back. Then people would get frustrated like, “How can you understand and not speak?” “How are you Rwandese and you can’t speak the language?”
It’s like my entire Rwandese identity is tied to me being able to speak Kinyarwanda. It’s frustrating to say the least and because of this barrier I couldn’t connect with people. They would stop talking to me or just talk about me like I wasn’t there.
This doesn’t include children and old people. The old people in my family would either teach me or find a way to communicate same for the small children. I found that interesting.
The funny thing is I really did try to get better before going back this time. I practised, I learned new words and I was actually much better than I have been in a long time but my effort went unnoticed. I felt so discouraged and wondered, why do I even bother? I’m still wondering that.
I’ve always taken pride in being Rwandese so to go back and to feel so disconnected… it hurt. It feels like I lost a part of myself and it got me thinking, then where is home? Because I don’t completely fit in in Birmingham. I’ll always be an immigrant and there are difficulties that come with that.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I should just make a home for myself in the place I like the most. I’ve decided on Australia for now. I did a semester aboard there and it was the best experience of my life simply because I was able to relate to people and navigate my way around and yes Australia has its problems but I think I can handle them. Listen I even survived the spiders… me! Me!
If I’m going to be an immigrant I’d rather be one somewhere warm and somewhere awesome like Sydney. Birmingham is cool too but I feel like I’m ready to move on. So I’m putting it out there, I will live in Sydney!
But that’s just a solution to one part of the problem. What about the other part, my identity as a Rwandese woman? I don’t have an answer to that part as I’m still figuring it out.
Have you dealt with this? What did you do? Hopefully I can learn from you.