“I really want a Fanta”

I was stopped in Mahama camp by a small group of boys asking to have their photos taken as they showed off their karate skills. It is not uncommon for a foreigner – more commonly known as a ’mzungu’- with a camera to be chased for photos in any of Rwanda’s six refugee camps.

One of the boys had a black eye and cuts on his lips. I asked the interpreter what happened and was told the boy gets into a lot of fights with the other children either in the camp or at school. I asked where his parents are and he told us he’s an orphan with no parents and came to Rwanda alone.

I noticed he was holding a toy commonly made among the children with sticks and water bottles and bottle caps to make a car of some sort. I was carrying a plastic water bottle and gave it to him asking if he could make me a car for the next time I came back. He said OK but first he will have to drink the water in the bottle…. but he really wished I had given him milk. I told him next time I’m back I’ll bring milk. He told me in that case he would really prefer juice. I asked him what kind of juice he wanted and he responded by telling me he actually wants one of the Fantas being sold out of a cardboard box just behind us. I asked him to show me where they sell drinks – immediately he put on his tough face, grabbed my hand and protected me as we pushed through the usual crowd that gathers when a mzungu wanders the camp.

We reached the lady selling Fantas out of the cardboard box and the boy asked her to show me the bottle of Fanta. I pretended to inspect it before handing it to him and paying the lady. The crowd cheered and the boy smiled for getting his Fanta – he then put on his tough face, grabbed my hand once more and navigated us out of the crowd.

I told him he now has his Fanta, and in return he shouldn’t get into anymore fights. He should come to the UNHCR and Plan International colleagues in the camp if he has a problem because we are here to help. His tough face disappeared through a smile as he told me that he is going to work hard in school to learn English so that one day he can tell me in person how much that means to him.

Story by Erika Fitzpatrick – “the mzungu with the camera”
Associate Reporting Officer based in Kigali
22 February 2016