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Minority stories VII: “Africa is where my heart belongs”

Britta (Estonia), Enja (Norway) and Krista (Finland) interviewed a Rwandan woman, Marie-Pierre, 44, who moved to Belgium to study for an university degree because she was unable to attend a Rwandan university due to her late father’s high position in the past. She intended to return to Rwanda after finishing her degree, but was unable to due to the growing instability in the country which culminated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. After this, her whole family successfully applied for asylum.

Marie-Pierre has two children and is married to a Cameroonian man. In her household, she tries to incorporate traditions from Cameroon, Rwanda, and Belgium. The family often eats African food, and the family visits Africa once a year. Marie-Pierre considers it important that although her children are growing up in Belgium, they still consider themselves African as well as Belgian.

One of the most interesting things during the interview was learning that the fractures that divide Rwanda are visible within the Rwandan community in Brussels even more so than in the country itself. According to Marie-Pierre, it would be unthinkable for a Hutu to go out with a Tutsi, and new immigrants are forced to choose which side they want to socialise with. Considering the spirit of reconciliation in Rwanda itself, this was very surprising. Also, Marie-Pierre says that in trying to contact Sub-Saharan women living in Brussels, she noticed that there is little contact between people from different African countries; few knew immigrants from cultures other than their own.

Although the situation has improved over the years, there is still discrimination towards Africans by the main population. When she was looking for work or an apartment, she noticed that attitudes changed once she was seen in person after a phone discussion. Now, she says, more black women are seen in management positions and in politics. She has started initiatives such as networking and teaching African women how to preserve fruit by making jam to continue this development. In 10 years, though, Marie-Pierre sees herself in Africa. She feels that it is still the place where her heart belongs.