As I discussed in my last post, being a minority in the United States at times can be very isolating, but it is also my norm. I am a black dark-skinned immigrant woman from Africa; how welcome each of these qualities are can vary, but altogether they make for some tense encounters. Some people are not sure how to interact with me or what to say around me, so they just opt not to speak to me at all.
So, what does this have to do with Rwanda?
I. will. tell. you.
But first, a quick flashback to March, when I was visiting a friend in NYC for her birthday. She was joined by her friends Diane (an Irish-American woman) and Faith, a Nigerian woman who immigrated to Ireland as a child. I gravitated more to Faith, even at the expense of not connecting with Diane. It was as though Faith and I we were old friends. While it was refreshing to find someone whose upbringing paralleled my own, I had to accept that I prioritized speaking with Faith over Diane, the same way others favor people they have things in common with.
In my first post, I described the stares I would get while in public in Rwanda, but I have also had the pleasure of making new friends at work and in social settings. The wondrous part is that I am less fixated on how my black womanhood is being received and more focused on the conversation at hand, striving for a deeper connection. I wonder if this is what it is like to not always be the visible minority, instead seeing reflections of yourself all around and for others to see themselves in you.
The most eye opening part is how little energy I use to explain myself or make sense of interactions that leave me feeling some type of way. Here in Rwanda, I don’t spend as much energy trying to make myself more agreeable. I can use that energy for more productive things and be at ease.
Speaking of ease, Kigali is a sustainability focused city, where safety and quality of life are the rule for its residents. At 60-70°F and no humidity, the weather is unbeatable, and breathtaking views await at every hilly turn. To live in such a beautiful place stewarded by black people has restored much of my confidence that has been eroded by the incessant narrative of Africa being an unlivable place.
Rwanda has experienced a tremendous amount of growth in the last 5 years. I have encountered a few Rwandans who traveled abroad for school and since returning, keep gushing about how much has changed. The progress is not an accident, but the result of extensive planning. I have met with a few change agents who are redefining the power, transportation, and health sectors and never felt so close to the source of rapid transformation. In 20 years, Kigali will most likely be a major hub of industry, academia, and culture for the world and I am privileged enough to behold those who are driving the change.
If they can effect change at this scale in such a short period, maybe I can too.
I am reminded of a Toni Morrison quote where she likens racism to a distraction. One where you are constantly trying to explain that you are somebody, that you come from something. I have invested too much time trying to convince others of my ‘reason for being’, as she puts it. However, my time in Rwanda is teaching me that I can just focus on moving forward, using my privilege to support others. I cannot change every mind or convert each naysayer. All I can do is keep pressing on.
Now, how will I sneak this sample of vibranium past customs and into the states? More importantly, how do I use this knowledge to further economic progress across the African diaspora? I will ponder this, as I continue to bask in the curious lightness of not explaining, just being.
Tosin Bosede is a technology professional focused on sustainable innovation and a recent graduate from MIT Sloan’s MBA program. She is spending her summer in Kigali, Rwanda, teaching university students business planning, product management, and personal development as part of a program to help them launch their digital ventures.