Photo credit: IOM/Alejandro Rojas
"I was born in Rwanda in 1984.
My mother realized I wouldn’t have the same opportunities here as I would elsewhere and feared I would resent her for not giving me a chance to succeed. Rwandese society at that time was not very open to diversity and I was different in many aspects; I didn’t feel welcome at school and outside of home the ambience could become hostile. My father was a missionary so he couldn’t take care of me either. So at the age of six a Belgian couple adopted me.
When that happened I was given another name and a new identity, I was claimed as theirs. That caused psychological issues for me because as a child I didn’t know who I was anymore, I already had an identity and it got lost. I already belonged somewhere and suddenly I was in a different continent with a new label on me. I got a new family but I already had a family.
I grew up in Belgium, studied and made my life there. In some regards I felt Belgian. I would support the national football team for example, however I could also feel the limitations of being there, not only professionally but also socially. I didn’t feel 100% at ease. Belgium was the place where my house was but it never quite felt like home.
Since I was six I dreamed about coming back to Rwanda. As I grew up I felt the need to know my mother, my country, my language, my culture, and returning to Rwanda was the only way to do so.
I did not know if my mother was alive — I cut all contact with Rwanda when I left. I didn’t have a name or a place to look up. I had nothing. I got in contact with my biological father and he managed to find my mother's number, so I called her. She had been expecting that phone call for over 20 years.
When I got on the plane that brought me back, that is when it felt real. My hands were shaking and I could hear my heartbeat. From the plane at night, looking down at Kigali city lights was like looking at the universe. The whole feeling was surreal. I was 29 when the opportunity first materialized to go to Rwanda and 30 when I eventually made it back.
My mom was waiting for me at the airport with some friends and family. When we were finally reunited it all felt like being in a dream. It had been the most intense period of my life leading up to the trip and in one moment everything came back to me: I could immediately remember the people, the smells, the landscape and the tastes.
I wanted to be back and take the time to really reconnect with the country from which I came, not only as a visitor but also as a member of society. I also wanted to contribute - with the knowledge I was able to acquire - to building the country, and to being part of something that would create prosperity. However, I wasn't under any illusions. I was as eager to learn, as I was to contribute.
To get back to being myself, the first thing I wanted to do was to reclaim my name and get my identity card. A piece of paper cannot determine your identity; I had a Belgian passport and didn’t always feel Belgian, but when I got the Rwandan ID and passport I knew with all my heart that I was complete.
I always considered nations and borders to be artificial delineations. To a certain extent I don’t even think they matter, even if we have built an entire world system based on that notion. I do believe in identity and the importance of having a sense of belonging, of feeling connected. This is where the stories of nations make a difference, connecting people to strive for the common good and to thrive together as families, friends, colleagues and neighbours."