This is part of a series of posts discussing the real-life places, people and events that inspired scenes and characters in my young adult manuscript, KWIZERA MEANS HOPE.
Footsteps crunched the gravel. A thin man in uniform strode toward us, tall as a eucalyptus tree.
… The newcomer came to the edge of the fire, removed his hat, and inclined his upper torso in a slight bow. “Muraho?”
We answered and each shook his hand in the traditional way. His touch sent a shock up the inside of my forearm. The surprise of it was like a cup of cold water dumped over my head. Who is he?
His height could have blocked the sun had he been standing behind us. Black eyes squinted in a long, lean face and my underarms got damp.
Louise introduced him as Jean-Marie Nyagunga. “I’m in charge of the border at Gatuna,” he explained in a warm voice that made my insides melt.
Jean-Marie, the love interest for KWIZERA’s main character, Cecile, was a very young lieutenant at the Katuna (the G and the K were often interchanged) border crossing between Uganda and Rwanda. I saw him several times a week for the first four months or so of my stay in Africa.
One day, during my first month or so, I arrived at the border on my way to Kabale, Uganda, with my driver, John, a Ugandan English-speaking older man, perhaps in his fifties. While walking away from our pick-up truck, John and Jean-Marie spoke in Kinyarwanda for a few minutes and laughed heartily.
I asked John what they were talking about.
“He asked me how many cows I would take for you, to marry you,” John answered.
“He can’t do that,” I said, my voice rising. I turned to Jean-Marie and spoke in French.
“You can’t ask him that, he’s not my father.”
“Where is your father?” he asked.
“In the States.”
“Then what can I do?”
“You’ll have to write to him in the US.” I smiled and waved goodbye as we had now reached the immigration office.
My father never did receive a letter from Jean-Marie, but Dad got a kick out of that story.