A Rwandan’s experience in Germany – Bella Rushingabigwi

I was four years old when my family and I left our home country, Rwanda. My dad had signed a work contract with Deutsche Welle, so we had to move to Germany. We lived in Sankt Augustin, Bonn, Germany for 5 years. I was still a child during our stay in Germany, so my memories are vague.

I remember living in an apartment with a door made of glass in the corridor. There was a small TV in the corner of our living room. I remember playing in the backyard with my best friend at the time, Mara. I used to have sleepovers at my friend’s house. I remember how friendly and kind our neighbors were. Our home was close to everything, it was close to the supermarket, to the school I went to and to the park as well.

As I said earlier, I do not really remember my life in Germany, but since I lived there with my whole family, I decided to ask them about what they remember and that is what I will share with you.

My eldest sister, Meggy, was 12 when we went to Germany. It was a bit hard for her to adapt because, like all of us, she did not speak German, so it was hard for her to make friends. She had this one class in which all international students learnt German, and that is where she met her best friend. Meggy’s favorite memory of Germany was when we would meet up with the Rwandan community, especially when their traditional dance group “Umucyo” would practice. She loved how the Rwandan community in Germany would make her feel like home, because we would be able to speak in our mother tongue and it would make her miss home a little bit less.

My other sister, Ornella, was 10 years old when we went to Germany. Ornella felt excited and scared of the unknown but the fact that we went as a whole family made her feel secure. The first few weeks in Germany were hard for her because she would sit in class and not understand a single thing. When other kids talked to her, she would try to answer in English, but they would not really understand her. The language barrier was a big issue for her, but when Dad introduced us to the Rwandan community and with the help of her teachers at school, who knew about her situation, everything became much easier for her.

My brother, Djibril, was 7 years old when we went to Germany. He says that when he thinks about Germany, he feels like he was a kid amongst kids. He was never thrown out of any institution and nobody ever “spat in his face”, but here is a particular scene that comes to his mind when he thinks about Germany. He was in grade four and in the break with his friends drinking cocoa milk, when, all of a sudden, another kid walked up to him and said “Oh, I was just wondering if the color of your blood is the same color as this cacao milk you are drinking, given that you are black.” My brother being nine years old, he cracked up and laughed.

Looking back at it, now that he is older, he wonders how a 4th grader still does not know that whether you are black or white you bleed red. He views it as an institutional problem, in a sense that it could be qualified as systematical racism, if you choose not to educate your children about an entire race until they are up to the age of nine (which is quite advanced). If you do not know, that people of a different skin color share the same red blood, what else do you ignore about them? What else do you consciously choose to omit from a curriculum and why are you omitting it?

Lastly, my mother. A woman with four children, who had never been to Germany before, who had no clue of what was waiting for her in a foreign country, who chose to leave her homeland and extended family to follow her husband and to look for a better life for us. Of course, it was hard for her in the very beginning, with the language barrier and the fact that she did not know anyone or have any friends in Germany. But with the help of my father, the Rwandan community in Germany and our kind and welcoming neighbors, it did not take her long to feel comfortable in her new home.

All in all, our experience in Germany of five years was a beautiful one. We grew up in a safe and friendly neighborhood, went to great schools, met beautiful people, and created beautiful relationships. We turned friendships into feeling like family. I had a normal childhood in Germany, and I made some amazing friends who we have kept in touch with over the years. Germany is a beautiful country with beautiful people and the little I remember of the years I have been there will always be some of my favorite memories.

Bella Rushingabigwi