Coming (Back) Home: The 7 Stages

Two years ago, I made the leap of coming (back) to Rwanda; back in brackets because, like some returnees, I had never lived in the country before. So, therefore, I didn’t come back – I came.

Have we not all had that fantasy of living on the motherland? Well I have ... and life has its own ways to bring you back to reality.

When you think that getting a job could be the most basic thing in life – it was not. I moved thinking I had a job, but somehow (?) it was all a misunderstanding. However, I got to know what it was like to be jobless, and then freelance working at a loss, then full-time employed meanwhile being evicted from a house to finally try my hand at entrepreneurship. If that rollercoaster ride taught me anything, it is that moving back to Mama Africa implies a little bit more than wearing kitenge every day.

Since the blogosphere is full bullet point kind of life-advice posts, here are my 2 cents on the emotional stages (at least I felt) of making the move.

The stages are not rigid, nor they are definite. They have no clear beginning, middle and end. They overlap; can occur simultaneously or in different orders and can also repeat like a closed loop.

1. Akabanga … What Else?

Waratashe, as we say here! You’re back!

There are people who move back home with trailblazing business ideas plus a five-year plan all figured out. Or there are people like me, with no savings, coming down the plane, ready to snap-chat hot temperatures.

The excitement is at its most palpable and that will carry you through the first few weeks. The journey that you are about to embark on is full of wonder, doubts (a lot) and growth. But for now, you pour some Akabanga Chili Oil over each of your meals and life couldn’t be sweeter.

2. Honeymoon No Mo’

If you made the move during the holiday, the honeymoon stops when your girlfriends get back to work. They have commitments to fulfil, weekly Zumba classes to attend, and Being Mary Jane episodes to unwind. Their daily grind makes you feel disconnected and doubts start to creep in.

You don’t freak out yet, though. You find ways to get busy from updating your LinkedIn page from Java, getting your Indangamuntu National ID sorted to imikenyero fittings for the next Gusaba… Pretty much anything that would get you out of the house.

3. Need A Tissue, Boo Boo?

It’s been weeks (months?) that you are in town and no sight of a job in the offing, except the 2-3 days jobs not leading to anything. What don’t you understand? What are you doing wrong? Why don’t people understand your field of work?

If you felt disconnected before, now you are concerned. Being overwhelmed by all these new experiences happening at the same time, you are gradually getting in a ‘no-one understands me’ phase. As irritable as I was, this phase happened to be key to force myself to ask the right questions later, to better adapt my know-how to the market. But that was much later… First, you get stressed out, you need to get it off your chest but avoid public crying … that can be awkward.

4. Soaking Up The Sun 365 Days

It took you months - but now you have a job.

It is not what you expected money-wise, but you can still get your nails done and get a Waka gym membership.

Time has passed, and you can tell when you are being ripped off, ‘proforma’ is part of your lingo now and getting paid by cheque is normal. Things are falling into place, but the initial excitement of soaking up the sun 365 days has worn off. You got the routine you wish you had.

5. Choco Pops, Amazon and Homesickness

Choco Pops cost 6 times more here and you miss the ease of buying stuff on Amazon. Is it homesickness? you start wondering … Girl, being homesick would imply that Rwanda is not home.

This idea that your Rwanda-ness could only be summed up by your passport, family name, or the Kamaliza cassettes your mum used to play, makes you bitter. What about all that noise you made about making the right decision, contributing to reversing Africa’s brain drain and connecting to your roots … Was it all air? What is the point if your skills and know-how are useless to people here and you don’t get to exercise what you have been trained for?

Yes, you haven’t left the country yet, but at the same time, the bubble that you are dwelling in seems like you are not here either. This phase is a decisive one as you can either make the decision to stay or leave.

6. Make The Buffet Worth It

You stayed. You perhaps ended up buying a plane ticket but that was for a 3-week break. Or perhaps you have a hot new job with responsibilities that you would have never got in the West. You are now energized and feel a bit settled.

Nonetheless, being Choco Pops free requires making adjustments. As opposed to get intoryi like everybody else, you find solutions that make sense for you. Maybe you are more matoke kind of person, that’s okay too, as long as you get something available on the buffet.

Obstacles like skill shortages in certain areas of work or low demand in certain areas of business can be challenging, but solutions can only emerge if you make it happen with what you have at your disposal. 

7. You Came, You Saw ...  But Do You Ever Conquer?

… What you win is a sense of belonging.

As Rwanda continues experiencing a fast pace of expansion, there’s nothing you can take for granted. What is working today, might not be working tomorrow. So you keep learning, you keep growing and out of necessity you keep innovating because you can’t copy paste what you have learned abroad.

Do you ever stop having this feeling of adjustment? The moving back experience is not a grapefruit diet plan with a definite number of days. But it is a journey that gets inextricably woven into other aspects of your life from career development to personal enrichment. You can no longer separate challenges that you face because of your newness in the country or your newness in the industry.

It is all about growth now.


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