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Rwandans visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina
Tuesday, 04 September 2012 Written by fra Ivica Perić

Rwandans visiting Bosnia and HerzegovinaThis time I’m not writing from Rwanda – as you are used to – but from my Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I came for a one-month vacation.

Although the school construction is in full swing and initially I planned to postpone my vacation, several invitations from my homeland persuaded me to leave the construction site just for a little while and to set off on a journey.

One of the invitations was to the wedding of my niece Andreja and her fiancée Davor. Furthermore, I was invited to receive a reward in Kiseljak. You see, I was awarded the Plaque of the Municipality of Kiseljak for “significant contributions in the domain of humanness and spirituality, for efforts to help people in need, and for love shown to man, through which both the Municipality of Kiseljak and entire Bosnia and Herzegovina are being promoted.”

However, I didn’t arrive in Bosnia and Herzegovina alone. Three Rwandans accompanied me: fra Fidele Nsengiyumva, another Franciscan, who works with me in Kivumu, Fortunee Mukaneza, the principal of one of the four Kivumu primary schools, and Oswald Ngendahimana, the Kivumu friary cook who is humourously dubbed the ‘longest-lasting friar’ in Kivumu.

They came to Bosnia and Herzegovina for the International Youth Festival in Medjugorje thanks to a young married couple from Zagreb, Ksenija and Petar Zečević, who are very much in love with Medjugorje.

Ksenija and Petar were in Rwanda last year with the intention to visit the Sanctuary of Kibeho, the place of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary which occurred almost simultaneously with the Medjugorje apparitions. Upon their return to Croatia they contacted me to inform me that they would like to bring several Rwandans to the next youth festival in Medjugorje. They quickly organized themselves, informed their friends about their intentions. Their idea was wonderfully accepted and very soon the money needed to buy the airline tickets for three of our Rwandan friends was collected. And so, along with me, in the airplane sat friar Fidele, director Fortunee and our cook Oswald.

I am overjoyed and thankful that we were able to organize it all and therefore make it possible for Rwandans to come and see how our people pray, work and respect other people, and also to see a different culture and customs; a different way of life..

In addition to Medjugorje, we also took them to Osova to see the parents of late fra Vjeko Ćurić, who worked, lived and gave his life for the good of Rwanda.

Here’s how our Rwandan friends saw and lived through their days spent in Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Oswald Ngendahimana

Well, who would’ve guessed that I too would one day see the world?! When several months earlier fra Ivica told me that it is possible that I would go with him to Bosnia and Herzegovina for the International Youth Festival in Medjugorje, I was suspicious. I thought it wasn’t possible, because to me the airline ticket prices seemed astronomical. I could never afford something like that for myself.

But, thanks to good people, even a place for me was found in that big airplane. I was very excited!

Although… at the start of the journey I was thoroughly frightened. At the airport in Kigali during passport control, they began to interrogate me: where I was going, why I was going, who had paid for my ticket, was I going to come back..

As soon as fra Ivica saw it, he came back, because he had come through passport control before me. They told him that everything was in order, but they continued to ask me more questions. It was really unpleasant and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be allowed to board the airplane. But, in the end, it all went OK!

In the plane there was new excitement. First of all, it was my first time to sit inside an airplane and see what the interior looked like. And then fra Ivica began to explain what was what. I was most delighted when I found out that every seated passenger had, in front of him, a tiny screen on which he could watch films, play games, and listen to music. A miracle! I didn’t sleep the whole night. I couldn’t decide what to do first: listen to music or watch films.

And then they brought the supper, and drinks along with it! I was even allowed to choose what I wanted to eat and drink. I never ceased to be amazed! You know, at our place, when people come to visit you, there is no choosing, they get what we have in the house, and that’s that.

My amazement continued even after we arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The country is even more mountainous than Rwanda! Fra Ivica took us everywhere and we’ve visited a lot of places. but I was particularly impressed by the road to Medjugorje. Everywhere you look there are stones, hills, bridges and tunnels. I’ve never seen something like that before.

I was especially glad that we visited late fra Vjeko Ćurić’s parents. I literally grew up beside him and worked with him from the very beginning, from the time of the arrival of Franciscans in Kivumu.

I always wondered why the friars decided to go to the missions, when in their countries everything was richer and different, not to mention, prettier. Now I really understand their love towards man and their desire to help others, because that is the only thing that is strong enough to keep them in the poor African countries.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina everyone was very friendly and warm when they met us. I was very surprised by the houses we stayed in. Something like that I’ve only seen on films...

On the other hand, Medjugorje was something that I haven’t even seen on film. To me the faith of these people is astonishing – it was unbelievable to see people walk barefoot for hours and to see their feet bleed because of that...

I’m a cook by profession, so I was very interested to see how food was prepared here and what people ate. Well, that’s a story of its own!

Wherever we went, we ate some new specialty. Everything is completely different from Rwanda. I wanted to try everything, but I didn’t have the time. That’s why I hope I’ll have another chance to come to Bosnia and Herzegovina – to complete my “research“.

Here they don’t have boiled or roasted bananas, millet, cassava, sweet potato… But on the other hand they have all sorts of pies, meat delicacies like ćevapi, tasty cakes.

The food is totally different, and so is the way they greet their guests in their homes. For example, we don’t have that custom to offer food to visitors, because we don’t have enough food to be able to share it. We offer a drink to our guests. It’s usually juice or banana beer.

And in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in addition to being served a table filled with food, they also offer you all sorts of drinks. I enjoyed everything, but I have to admit that it was hard for me to keep up with the pace. Rakia, beer, wine, and then all over again. At first I quickly became very “cheerful”, until I realized that I wasn’t required to drink every drink I was offered but just what I choose to drink myself.

I was especially thrilled by the hospitality of everyone we visited. It’s great to see that people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are friendly and kind! As far as I’ve seen, it’s important to socialize, and the tribe doesn’t mean a thing here. What matters are man and friend. For example, in our culture you only drink with a friend. As far as I have been able to conclude, in Bosnia and Herzegovina everyone is friends with everyone!

Fortunee Mukaneza

What I was impressed by the most is the hospitality and warmth of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s people. I had been to Italy before, but there I hadn’t felt that much love towards people like now, when I stayed with fra Ivica’s and fra Vjeko’s folks.

It was beautiful how women treated me with care and attention. By women I primarily mean fra Vjeko’s mother and fra Ivica’s mother and sisters. They treated me like I was their daughter and sister. I felt their strong maternal love.

It’s really great how they accepted me without holding back. It was even a bit strange to me because we in Rwanda weigh every word and we are reluctant when it comes to expressing our feelings.

The food and drinks are completely different from ours. I haven’t eaten as much meat in my entire life as I have eaten now during my stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina! My impression was that all people did here was eat, and not just three times a day like one would’ve expected. Whomever you visit, he serves something to eat and drink on the table.

I was impressed with Medjugorje! There I experienced unity of people in faith. The faithful came from all parts of the world, and every one of them felt like he was in his homeland. Nobody cared where others came from, but instead they all felt like they were locals. Faith united us all into one.

We Rwandans attracted a bit of attention because of the colour of our skin, and also because of our flag. We were even interviewed on several occasions!

I am very grateful to Ksenija and Petar for making it possible for us to come to Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has really been a great and unforgettable life experience!

I’m a teacher by profession, so I was particularly happy to see that the educational system in Bosnia and Herzegovina was such that every child has an opportunity to go to school. Unfortunately, it’s not like that back in Rwanda. That’s why I now better understand fra Vjeko’s desire and current fra Ivica’s efforts to build schools in our Kivumu parish. Only by going to school and through education will they permanently help our children, because it’s absolutely obvious that the progress of a society comes with an educated nation...

Fra Fidele Nsengiyumva

It was unforgettable! In Bosnia and Herzegovina we were accepted by everyone as if we were all brothers and sisters. The food was excellent: dried meat, all sorts of sausages, pies, ćevapi. We have none of those in Rwanda so it was something completely new to us.

The churches and other buildings are really something. The building style is completely, completely different from ours.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is definitely more mountainous than Rwanda, and now I understand why fra Ivica likes road curves so much when he drives: it must remind him of home.

I couldn’t believe that so many people could gather in one place to pray and worship God, which was what I saw in Medjugorje. To celebrate Mass in a place like this was a great novelty for me. I was happy to concelebrate with around 500 priests. I’m still under the strong impression of it all. I was especially thrilled to see the joyfulness of the people with great humility and respect.

Only now I see and understand what sacrifices missionaries have to make when they come to help us. To leave such prosperity and come to Africa, that is a big sacrifice.

I thank everyone we met and those who helped us to come to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I would especially like to thank the Provincial of the Bosnian Franciscan Province, fra Lovro Gavran, who sent us letters of guarantee which helped us get our visas.

Translated by: Branimir Mlakić
Edited by: Valerie Kae Ken

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