Kwizera Inspirations: Jean-Marie

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.



Filed under writing

13 responses to “Kwizera Inspirations: Jean-Marie

  1. What a great story, VB. Wow, your YG sounds amazing.
    I’m a follower now. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  2. booya!!! YOU SPEAK FRENCH??????? I do TOO 🙂
    I believe he was quite serious about the dowry though, but since your parents are so far away, that may have discouraged him. Most men in Africa don’t speak about dowry on a light tone. 🙂
    I hope one day you can let him know how he inspired you to write that character. And since I write with inspirations from my own culture I can’t wait to read your book one day. This is so awesome. ok… I’m going to try really hard to chill now… 🙂

  3. This sounds like a great story!
    I kind of wished your dad did get that letter. It would have been so interesting to read!

    • Vicki Tremper

      If you all someday get to read this book, you’ll find out what happened – sort of – to Jean-Marie. My dad talked about waiting for that letter for months. It was his go to story!

  4. Vicki, I love this post so much. I love reading about other peoples culture and my dream of going to Africa is something I hope comes true one day. Thank you for sharing and I assume you have other posts about your ms and the people that inspired you. I’ll have to check it out. I read the Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony and read a lot about how he set up an African Reserve. He also wrote a book on how he and a group of people saved the Iraq Zoo when the war started in 2003. My hubby sent pics and all I could see was the outside wall as he was driving through the green zone which is Baghdad. I worried about what happened to those animals until I read his Elephant book and saw he had written one on how he saved the animals the best he could. It was truly sad situation. I know I’m rambling but I’m excited about this post and need to read more.

    • Vicki Tremper

      Wow! I’m overwhelmed with happiness at the comments I’ve received today. Thanks to Ciara, Akoss, Lydia K and Shelley.

  5. Wendy

    Excuse me, but how is it that this is the first time I’ve heard this story?!! Makes me smile thinking of Nicola… she always teased me that I would bring a lot of cows 🙂

  6. LOL, funny story!!! Love it! 😀

  7. Gotta know, how many cows would your dad have asked for?
    Love this story. What a great adventure.

  8. Haha! My husband was offered several camels for me when we were in Egypt- I’m sure my dad would have been happy with a cow or two had someone offered when I was younger.

    I really want your book to be published- it’s got me hooked and I’ve only read two tiny snippets!

  9. LOVED this post–I remember seeing excerpts from Kwizera Means Hope in a contest or two (Miss Snark’s First Victim maybe?) and I was immediately intrigued by the story. It just sounds beautiful and I hope the manuscript gets snatched up soon!

  10. This really makes me want to read more from your story!

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