A hard life

03-01-2011

We were out with our friend Steven on Hogmanay. Steven is a bright, laughing young man who is putting himself through university. His happy outlook belies the hard path he has had to follow to get where he is today and is an encouragement to all of us.

Steven is in his twenties and was born in a refugee camp in Uganda. He has no family; his brothers were killed in the war which preceded the genocide. When he came to Rwanda, he survived by doing what many boys on the streets do here - selling small bags of peanuts. We learnt something of the hardship that these sellers face. With what he earned, Steven was able to afford 100 francs' worth of charcoal, some peanuts and cassava flour. Cassava is a staple in Rwanda. The leaves are usually boiled up to make a strong-tasting side plate which looks not unlike spinach. The dried flower of the plant is used to make a thick porridge which has the look and consistency of wallpaper paste that has been left to stand for a couple of days.

The charcoal is sufficient for two days, that is one meal a day. The heat would be used first to fry the peanuts which had been soaked in a little salted water, then to cook the cassava. The peanuts were sold the next day to buy more charcoal, cassava and another supply of peanuts. This is a marginal existence at best; it isn't made easier by having to keep a constant look-out for the police.

Steven is fortunate in having an intelligent head on his shoulders and he has been able to earn money by teaching primary school children. This allows him to fund his university course which he attends in the evenings. Fortunately, Steven has a future to look forward to and one that may youngsters dream about. Unfortunately, he is one of relatively few who will realise their ambitions.