In July of 2009, Marianne and I visited Les Enfants de Dieu, the Kigali home for former Rwandan les enfants de rue or “children of the street” where our son had worked from February to mid-June. After joining Karimu’s volunteers to work on our projects in Tanzania, Peter had returned to California, but a strong impression of him remained at Les Enfants. Rafiki Callixte, the Project Manager, led us to a conference room where Les Enfants’ fifteen or so staff members sat in a circle of desks and described, one after another, how much Peter meant to them: by allowing them a comfort in speaking English which they had never felt before, in some cases by making them comfortable with a white person for the first time, by loving the boys so much.
Peter had taken to Les Enfants a beginner’s knowledge of Kinyarwanda, learned from an English-to-Kinyarwanda phrasebook posted on the Internet by a Roman Catholic priest serving in Rwanda. The passion that Peter showed for learning Kinyarwanda certainly helped his cause, even though the phrasebook taught him how to say “body and blood of Christ” before it taught him to ask where he could find a toilet.
The turn of Shareef, one of Rwanda’s tiny Muslim minority and Peter’s closest friend at Les Enfants, came toward the end. But he only said he couldn’t speak, then buried his face and his tears in his hands. Marianne and I, of course, had cried from the start. When Shareef, whose father has died unexpectedly in the last few weeks, fathered his own first child several months ago, he and his wife named the boy Isano Kent. Marianne has kept Kent, her maiden name, as half of her own last name, Kent-Stoll, also the last name of our four children; Shareef and his wife would have found it awkward to give their son as flagrantly Christian a name as Peter. This past August, as I wrote in my October 11 post, I listened to a Tanzanian businessman lament the dishonesty and laziness of Tanzania’s villagers. In passing the businessman, a Christian, remarked that “we don’t trust the Muslims,” and I thought about Shareef hiding his tears and naming his child after my son.
Rafiki arranged for Marianne and me to hear tribute to Peter because, he explained, Rwandans say that one knows the parents by knowing the child: we deserved the reward of the praise because we had bestowed Peter’s fine qualities upon him. However much credit Marianne and I can take for who Peter has become, I believe I know Rafiki’s parents by knowing him. Rafiki asked his parents, almost twenty years before the 1994 genocide, what tribe he belonged to after his teacher had invited Tutsis and Hutus to stand up separately in class. The parents had never mentioned Tutsis or Hutus but now Rafiki, at age nine, wanted to know his tribe so that his teacher wouldn’t laugh at his ignorance again. So Rafiki’s father took him to a bar to signal that their discussion would constitute a rite of passage. Although the bar could not even offer Rafiki water to drink, his father let him touch a beer bottle for the first time. Then he told Rafiki that Rwanda included a third tribe in addition to Tutsis and Hutus. This third tribe, the Imfura, differed from Tutsis and Hutus because anybody could choose membership in it; Imfura means “person of integrity” and Rafiki must always choose membership in that tribe.
However, Imfura also means “eldest son” in Kinyarwanda and Rafiki had often heard his older brother, Vincent, called Imfura by his parents. Therefore the next evening, when Rafiki’s father asked him whether he understood Imfura, the nine-year-old answered, “Yes: it means being Vincent.”
But today, after losing eight siblings to the genocide and sparing the life of the man who had shot him and left him in a ditch to die and after turning around the lives of countless street children, Rafiki understands Imfura as well as his parents hoped he would.—Don Stoll