14 January 2013

Rwanda: I Did Not Expect to Meet My Parents Again - Tumukuze

Twenty one years ago, Muhammad Saeed Tumukuze was approached by his Indian friend, Guramu Jasat with an offer he could not resist. The offer included a promise to get him a scholarship to study in Pakistan. He duly accepted.

And in 1991, he left Rwanda for Pakistan. The first few months were tough since Tumukuze did not speak any English or Arabic. He says he started learning Arabic with support from different Islamic non-government organisations that also provided him with all the basic needs like accommodation, food and a monthly financial support of 500 Pakistan Rupee (about Rfw3,000). With this money, he managed to purchase some few basic needs.

The light skinned man, now 44 years, says after spending only three years in Islamabad as a student, he watched on international news how his compatriots were being slaughtered in what later became the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

"From what I was watching on television, I did not expect to find any of my relatives alive. Every time I saw a body or someone being executed, I thought that was my mother or father or sisters and brothers who were being killed," Tumukuze, with a traditional Islamic hat firmly placed on his head, says from his father's home in Imututu village, Rusovu cell, Nyarusange sector in Muhanga district, recently, a few days after returning from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Tumukuze, who returned with his wife - Alice Aliya Benimana- and four children, admits he never thought he would ever see his family again, 21 years after he left Rwanda.

"I lost all hope of ever returning so I registered as a refugee so that I could get more support," Tumukuze, who now has two masters in Islamic studies from the International Islamic University of Islamabad said, as he watched his eldest daughter, Bilquees Tumukuze, 9, playing with other children in the compound.

His other children, Noor Tumukuze, 5, Ali Mohammed Tumukuze, 2, keep around their father, probably afraid to stray further than his eyes could see. The youngest is currently breastfeeding.

This is the same university where he met his wife to be. The university plays host to many Rwandan students pursuing Islamic studies.

"It took me long time to convince Aliya to become my wife. She finally accepted and in 2003 we started our family," he says as his wife, dressed in a Hijab and surrounded by their children smiles.

Benimana was also from the same province.

The return

According to Tumukuze, after the Genocide in 1994, he met some Rwandan diplomats who had gone to visit Pakistan.

"While we were walking through the city shopping, I asked them whether there could be some of my relatives who had survived the Genocide," he recalls. "They promised to find out for me and let me know. A year later, they contacted me with the good news. That both my parents and some relatives were still alive."

The confirmation that his parents were still alive was made in 2011, when he talked to them in a move that was facilitated by the Rwandan diplomats who had now become his friends.

His parents, however, told him that some of his cousins never survived the Genocide.

That is when he started thinking about returning home with his family. He approached the United Nations High Commission for Refugees as well as the Rwandan Embassy in China that later facilitated his return on December 30, 2012.

Anastasia Mukaruhimbi, the mother of the returnee emotionally reveals that if his son had not returned she would die a puzzling death.

She said the period she had spent without seeing her son had been traumatising.

"He was younger when he left and I didn't know whether he was alive or not and I had lost the hope of seeing him again," the 65-year-old woman narrates from her sick bed, eyes glued on her son sitting opposite her.

"I could not believe, I cried and almost fainted when I heard that he had come home."

Mukaruhimbi, who is suffering from fractured legs and has spent about two weeks without leaving the house, believes that if she died today she would peacefully go to heaven since she has seen her son and his family.

Tumukuze's father, Ananias Girumatse attributes his son's return to God's mercy.

Though the returnee's children speak only Arabic and little English, they have started learning their mother language from the numerous visitors that keep appearing at the small house that they now call home.

The only challenge at the moment is that the children are yet to adapt to local food. So everyday Aliya her mother prepare chapatti made from wheat flour since they cannot find Roti and Biryani, the Pakistan bread they were depending on.

At the moment, Tumukuze says he is looking for a job so he can take his children to school.

"I am ready to do any job as long as I get money to take my children to school," he says, adding that if he gets employed he would shift to Kigali from the village.

In Pakistan, his only income, other than the UNHCR Substance Allowance, was from teaching Arabic and Quranic lessons.

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