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Chef Oswaldi, our Guardian Spirit and Culinary King of Rwanda!
Wednesday, 27 January 2010 Written by fra Ivica Perić

Oswald Ngendahimana

In 26 years of living and working in our monastery Oswald Ngendahimana, or Oswaldi as we call him out of love, has welcomed and seen off 23 friars. The best way to describe him is to say that Oswaldi is the sole fixed point of Kivumu; he is our Guardian Spirit! And considering the things that he has been through in 46 years of his life, I would add that this man’s life deserves to be put on screen...

Oswaldi lost his father before he even turned one year of age. His father went to Uganda searching for work, on a temporary basis, and never came back. What is more, he has never contacted his family again! As a young boy, he lost his mother as well and after that it was Oswaldi who practically took care of his brother and sisters.

He completed primary school, but in spite of excellent grades and talent for almost everything he engaged in, he was unable to continue with his education. He experienced the fate of most Rwandans – because of poverty he was not able to make headway. A glimpse of hope was brought to Oswaldi by the friars who came to Kivumu in early 1980s. He offered to help them build the monastery and started as apprentice bricklayer.

Brother Vjeko Ćurić saw something in an extremely strong and quiet young man and he employed him as a gardener. In the course of the following four years, Oswaldi did two jobs in parallel – he tended the plants and helped build the Convent for the Sisters, as well as a Centre for undernourished and the Novitiate for the friars. In 1987, Oswaldi began something that would make him famous in a wider territory. On the initiative of brother Vjeko, Oswaldi became acquainted with the secrets of culinary art and very soon he became one of the best Rwandan cooks.

As well as being taught by our Irish benefactress, Mary in Mbarare, Uganda, Oswaldi learned how to cook Italian and Croatian meals. In addition to that, he is brave enough to experiment with recipes he finds in books…with the kind of ingredients available in Kivumu and neighbouring Gitarami, of course! I often like to say that Oswaldi is an alchemist of the 21st century of his own kind – he can bake a pie out of nothing! And believe it when it comes from a Bosnian!

Oswaldi has also given much to the community.  He cared for the disabled children who lived in the monastery, among whom was Joseph, who now teaches in our tailoring division of Padri Vjeko Vocational School.

Oswald's cookery courseOswald Ngendahimana

During the genocide in 1994, Oswaldi was Vjeko’s right arm. He took care of refugees who were searching for and found a protection in our monastery. Everyone whom brother Vjeko brought to the monastery with the intention of taking them to neighbouring Burundi, Oswaldi himself hid. By night, he took them through the woods and over the hills to the Bishop’s residence, 11 kilometres away. These activities very often lasted the whole night. With the help of Oswaldi, brother Vjeko saved more than 40 thousand people from death in the Diocese!

In late June 1994, when the rebels began to approach Kivumu, Oswaldi, together with panic-stricken parishioners, joined the exodus to neighbouring Congo. At that time, brother Vjeko was in Burundi and Oswaldi concluded that it was his duty to be the last one to leave the monastery and to lock the door. He took the keys, his wife and two sons and a disabled child whom he carried all the way!

Less than two months later, when the political situation was far from being settled, Oswaldi set out on foot from Goma in Congo to Mbarare in Uganda to return the keys to brother Vjeko. But this meant that he had to walk almost 300 kilometres. And Oswaldi did it – in three days!!! After that, on foot again, he set out to his family in Congo, who were living under a plastic tent in a refugee camp. Two years later he managed to bring them all back to Kivumu.

After having returned to Kivumu, Oswaldi took over the monastery kitchen. Today he is the one who teaches others about the secrets of great chefs. We often send him to Burundi and Kenya to teach the cooks in other monasteries.

Despite having suffered hardships, Oswaldi continues to have a great joy of life. And when we want to have a party, with spit-roasted young lamb, Oswaldi, who is normally quiet and reserved, often displays great animation. He becomes so excited that sometimes he finds himself dancing barefooted in the fire. He briefly blows on his burned foot and – continues to dance. Oswaldi – our Guardian Spirit and Culinary King of Rwanda!

Father Vjeko Center

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