“Sois sage, prends soins de ta maman, ta soeur et tes frères ”, translated in English “Be wise, take care of your mum, your sister and your brother”. Dad told me those last words before getting into a Toyota 4x4 to go to the Kavumu airport to catch a plane for Minembwe on September 12, 1997 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
That sentence will later become my hymn. Words are powerful.
Do people know when they are about to die? The excitement around that trip to Minembwe was out of the ordinary. Was it a marketing plot by Ebenezer Ministries? It was a small plane: Twenty-two passengers plus the crew members. Many wanted to be on that plane, but it got full pretty quickly.
Everyone wanted to go, but the plane could only carry a few.
Mum always tells us the story of Pastor Rushambara. He was also part of the plane crash, waking Dad up a couple of times in the middle of the night, thinking they had missed the plane. Pastor Rushambara was a relative and friend of Dad, and we were staying at his house in Bukavu.
The plane carried 22 passengers, if I’m wrong. The majority of them were Pastors and missionaries going to attend the Ebenezer religious gathering in Minembwe. The circumstances of the plane remain unknown. There are many aircraft cashes in the DRC, and some get unnoticed. “google” plane crash in the DRC, there is a least one in every couple of months.
We were on “vacation” in South Kivu. We lived in Bwamanda and went to school in Gbadolite in the Equateur province. Was it vacation or a move? Unfortunately, it had become a permanent move.
The plane crashed while tried to land. All aboard the aircraft died. We didn’t get a chance to bury his remaining. We didn’t have the opportunity to travel for the ceremony. I’m hopeful that that part of the world will have peace soon to at least visit the site of the crash.
Yesterday we remembered them. It has been 24 years. So I thought I would share what I remember about Dad. Dad was a father, a Medical Doctor, a friend of many, and a community activist.
After 24 years, you would think I would get over it, but no. Albert, it’s been a while; move on. I still miss him. I still hear his whistling and his steps in the house. I still hear the car door opening and shutting.
I still remember him putting on some music on a random evening and inviting Mum to dance. Mum would be shy but at the same time smiling. “Dance in the front of the kids,” she would whisper.
I still remember our dinner table. Ours was a lunch table. Dad would always come for lunch between 12-2 pm every day. Dinner sometimes, given his busy schedule at the hospital. At the dinner table where we would talk about school grades. I still remember him giving us kudos and sometimes not the most comfortable conversations. I still remember him getting disappointed at us when we weren’t excelling. Why aren’t you the first of your class this time? What happened? I do have my own opinion about grade-based learning, but it worked. Let’s keep that discussion for another day.
I still remember his smile. I still remember his soft voice. Loud at times.
I still remember him criticizing. I pick some of that or a lot :) He would always raise his bar very high at home and also at work. His colleagues would complain about his rigor, but they all were his good friends.
I still remember his office and his bookshelves. I would sit in his office and pretend I was him. I would try to read some of his books. I still remember his style. He was smart. I didn’t pick his style but his taste in music.
Of course, he introduced me to classic music, African music from West Africa, Reggae, and Congolese music. Michael Jackson, Enya, Salif Keita, Ali Farka Toure, Lucky Dude, Lokua Kanza, and the list goes on.
I still remember his welcoming spirit; he made friends around the world. He made friends that I still talk to today. He made good friends in DRC, West Africa, and Belgium. He made friends from all over the world. I’ve randomly talked to Medical Doctors in Rwanda and here in the States, who say good things about him.
He has done public health research. He made publications.
Dad had discipline, though, but very loving. He would tell us his story, how he went to school in Bukavu and Kinshasa. What sacrifices he had made to take care of us. His generation and a generation ahead of them had suffered to bring up their families and the Banyamulenge community. They would walk 3, 5, 10 miles to go to school. They would travel thousands of miles for education. I will soon ask that generation to give me permissions to write about them. They have given us so much. I’m grateful for all of them.
I miss you, Dad.
Before I go, I also want to share that we are thinking about starting a foundation to honor Dad. We would work in the Great Lake region. We want to go back to the Equateur region and in the South Kivu’s Haut Plateaux to help just as Dad used to do.