Shima Charles

Memories Of A Father’s Dedication (Part II)

In one of my favorite Television Series - "The Last Kingdom", the main character Uhtred says"destiny is all" meaning that everything is down to fate.

My father is my superhero, and I will always admire him. Unlike the superheroes I read about, I met and lived with him for 13 years. I inherited his passion for work and his empathy for others. One of the most valuable lessons he taught me was connecting with other cultures. He was a naturally gifted connector; sometimes, our home felt like a country of diverse nations. Whenever he invited his clients to our house,  I had the opportunity to meet people worldwide.

 I remember when an Asian guest visited us, and my father took the guest’s shoe and inserted it into his shoe. The Asian guest was surprised by how big my father’s shoe was. They both laughed; it was the best icebreaker I had ever seen. An earlier lesson was that humour could break down barriers and bring people together.

My father's at a networking function in Kinshasa

My father’s job seemed exciting. Whenever I watched him work, he would show me what he was doing. It was a lot of numbers! He would say numbers don’t lie. His work paid him well, and he controlled his hours. I made up my mind that I would become an accountant.  

I studied Accounting at University.

 In 1991, my father fell ill and passed away. This was a significant loss, not only because I had lost my remaining parent and a mentor but also because I had lost my hero.

My living situation became quite complicated after he passed away. In Rwanda, orphans were treated as outcasts. And to make matters worse, his passing coincided with the start of ethnic tensions

At 13 years old, I was taller than most; therefore, in the eyes of the extremist Hutu, I was an enemy.


With my aunt and sister in Rwanda

We were advised to leave our family home. I opposed separating us. I requested that a relative stay with us at home until my brother turned 18.  He was 15 years old. We also had our stepmother. It was a messy situation. But I knew then that separating me and my brother would ruin our relationship, And it did. 

Due to safety concerns, I evacuated my sister to my maternal aunt for her safety. 

We resisted the move for weeks and even tried hiding in the ceiling, but eventually had to give in or starve.

While my brother went to live with our maternal uncle, no one seemed interested in taking me in. 

My new caretakers broke a promise made to my father by sending me to a boarding school in a small town called Rwankeri. 

Upon arriving there, I noticed that students who didn’t live in the capital city of Kigali needed supplies like radio batteries, soap, and toothpaste. So what if we brought those supplies to school and sold them at a profit? This became my second venture after losing my first.


With my brother and siter

The Genocide Against The Tutsi started during Easter break, and I survived the killings multiple times. When I fled Rwanda,  I ended up first in Uvira, then Bukavu ( Democratic Republic Of Congo). I was familiar with this town because my brother and I studied there in the 1990s. 

My goal was to continue my studies, so I did all I could to return to school. I started my third venture, selling drinks like Fanta and beers. I remember one time when extremists spotted me at the beach. 

Given the impossible and dangerous situations I faced in DRC, my life was difficult. However, with my entrepreneurial skills, I put myself through two years of high school. This is one of the best decisions that I have ever made.

As I was finding some form of stability, a new war broke out in 1996. This time, I managed to grab my school reports. It was fate that I got hold of them because, on the day we fled, the school handed out the first report card of the semester.

 I was the first in my class. It made me realize that nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams if you are determined.

The years after my dad built my character. I learned to survive, to dream, and to fight for my survival. I learned to take risks, and mostly I learned to think strategically. I recall this incident when I devised a plan to go to a refugee camp to get food rather than starve. Refugee camps were a no-go zone for me. Extremist Hutu ruled them. At least, in town, I could somehow hide in plain sight. But I went to the refugee camp. I planned everything especially the escape route if I am discovered. I was in fact discovered, and I had the militia running after me with their sharp machetes. I escaped.

It was in the Democratic of Congo that I made a decision that has ultimately been instrumental in my success, I made the decision to become fluent in English. I also learned how to make an American hamburger!

Share the Post:

Related Posts