I will never forget seeing my mother again – for the first time in five years! And my little sister, who had grown tall. They were waiting at Parow train station when we came from Johannesburg.

“The children have grown so big! Claire, you are taller than I? Unbelievable! Mom, you look so slim!”

“Who is this handsome man?” Mom said, looking at Louis closely. “Have I not seen you before?”

“Louis. You saw me last in Mugunga Camp.”

“Oh, yes, when you came to borrow the axe. And there was no axe that time. And how did you meet up with my children?” We didn’t tell her that we were in love. Not yet.

“We started the journey together that day. Odette came to ask me to go with them. I liked the idea,” Louis said, looking at me, a wide smile on his face.


It’s seven hours to the New Year. My husband, Louis, my mother and my children will come home soon. The roasting chicken is nearly done.

I sit up again on my bed; shake my head clear of all the memories. I look at the photographs for the last time before putting them away in my handbag. I release a deep breath. So many things have changed in twenty years. I never dreamed I would leave that home in Kigali and be away from it all this time.

My feet are feeling better. I go into the kitchen to have a last check on the food. There is a strong smell of celery and bay leaves in the air. I switch the stove off. I also check on the drinks in the fridge. I remove some from the freezer to prevent them from becoming ice.

Louis was supposed to bring our children, my mom, Claire, her husband and their son at half past five. They are late. But I know him. He is the ‘African time’ man. The sun is sending its last rays through the window, near the dining table.

I hear the neighbour’s dog barking. “It must be them!” I find myself muttering. Here they come, all the children in front, making noise. My two daughters, Diane and Rosette, are leading the way.

“Welcome everybody,” I say as I greet the visitors and lead them inside.

“Sorry I could not come to help you with the cooking. The church service took longer than I expected.”

“Don’t worry, Mom. I managed,” I say.

My mom is sixty-one. She is tired a lot of the time, I know, from working long hours as a home-based carer in Bellville. I wish we had enough money so she didn’t have to work anymore. But she also says she does not want to laze around.

The dog barks again. This time, it’s Jacques, his wife and his two children who arrive. We greet. I bring more drinks before I also take a seat in the living room. The children are making a lot of noise.

“Diane, you can take all the children to play puzzles outside. Remember the new ones you got as Christmas presents? You know where to find them. Remember also to take some snacks with you.”

“Yes, Mom.” Now the place becomes chat-friendly after the children have left.

Louis whispers something to Jacques. Then Jacques strikes on a bottle with an opener to signal silence.

“Louis has just asked me to say something. I haven’t prepared a speech. It’s just a few words that I would like to say. In a few hours, it’s 2014. It’s by God’s grace that we are still breathing. He has led us through all the trials and tribulations of the past. It’s been twenty years since we started a difficult journey, without knowing where it would lead us. Even as we celebrate on this day, let us observe a moment of silence in remembrance of Xavier, my dear brother, who left behind a widow and three orphans…”

“Thank you,” he continues: “We are now this small family here, far away from home. Let us support each other and grow together. A happy New Year to you all. To our health.” Glasses are lifted and clicked to each other for the occasion.

“Food is ready. Come help yourself.” I put on some soft music to allow us to continue to chat while we are eating. I play Bonne Année (Happy New Year), a traditional song by Impala Orchestra, over and over again.

After a while, I also knock on a bottle. Everybody grows quiet.

“We heard a man’s voice. Let’s hear a woman’s voice,” I joke.

“You’re right,” my mom says.

“Thanks everybody for being here. I would like to thank my mom for being strong and wise. She has helped me a lot. She has been my inspiration and even now, I have an announcement to make for some of you who do not know yet. I have been accepted at the University of the Western Cape to study to become a professional nurse. It has taken me many years to catch up on the years of study I missed out on, but I have finally done it. This has been my twenty-year-old dream. A dream never grows grey hair.”

“Yeee! Congratulations!” I enjoy everyone’s handshake.

“Last but not least, let me thank my husband, Louis, who has been good to me all these years.” We hug. “We have been through thick and thin together.” I take his hand and lift it up in the air. “In fact, thanks everybody for being a good family.”

“Family always sticks together, no matter what.” That is what my dad used to say. As I repeat the words, I feel his voice ever-present. We all hold hands and lift them up in the air.

“Happy New Year to you all!” I say.

“Happy New Year to you too,” they respond.


Tell us: How do you think life is different now for Odette, compared with if there had been no war in her country and she had grown up and studied there?