Growing Up Congolese Tutsi

I am Munyamulenge, a Congolese Tutsi.  I am the oldest of seven.  I grew up in Bijabo, a small town in the Mulenge region of the DRC.  When I was ten, we moved to Milimba, in the same region.  This area is farmland - raising corn and cows.  The houses were small, our lifestyle was simple.  My father sold cows at the market, while my mother took care of the fields while he was gone.  My brothers and sisters walk a couple of hours to school each day.  This was how we lived.  This is what we knew.  I was happy!  For fun, we would play soccer, sometimes against other schools.  As a family, we would care for the farm together.  At night, we would sometimes stay out in the field to keep the wild pigs from eating our corn.  The people living in this region all spoke the same language and there was no hatred or discrimination.

Typical Houses in Mulenge

In 1996, when I was fourteen, civil war was beginning to break out in the DRC.  The hatred that had arrived with the refugees from Rwanda following the 1994 Genocide was beginning to gain a new momentum in our region.  Being identified as a Tutsi was now a curse.  We were alienated based upon our physical features:  the shape of our nose, our height, how we walked. My family had recently moved to Uvira.  We moved there to have better access to education.  The discrimination seemed to start with name calling.  Instead of being addressed by your name, the offenders would shout, "banyamulenge, banyamulenge," to show that the group was "not one of us."  I would have to just keep walking and not respond for fear of being hurt.  I heard stories of Tutsi travelling by car to other areas of the Congo who were killed before reaching their destination, just because they were Tutsi.  I was scared to go anywhere.  If only I had known that there were bigger things to fear.  The next events in my life would change me forever.  These are things that I rarely speak of because of the pain it causes me.  I was about to abruptly leave my childhood behind as I was forced to be a child soldier.