A Firsthand American Cultural Experience

 

RWANDAN IMMACULÉE “GABIE” INGABIRE ENJOYS STUDYING
IN THE U.S., BEING INVOLVED IN THE COMMUNITY, AND LEARNING ALL SHE CAN ABOUT BUSINESS

by LISA PORTERFIELD THOMPSON

 
photo by natalie haywood

photo by natalie haywood

Immaculée “Gabie” Ingabire grew up as the baby of her family in Kenya, the sibling of two older brothers. She moved to Rwanda, her birthplace, in 2011, but now her daily scenery looks a lot different than the “Land of a Thousand Hills.” Today, she calls Texarkana her temporary home, as she is completing her Masters of Business Administration at Texas A&M University-Texarkana. Gabie is not only an astute student and dedicated community member in Texarkana, but she’s also determined to return back to Rwanda someday and make an impact on her community there.

“In Rwanda, everything is expensive. We don’t have enough jobs, and there are a lot of women-owned businesses because of the genocide,” she said. “I want to get an education, as well as practical experience from a job while I’m here so that if I do go back to Rwanda, I can make as big of an impact as possible. I came here for experience, both in education and work.”

Gabie came to the United States in July of 2018, after having met Texarkana local, and Four States Living Magazine employee Cassy Meisenheimer while working at Belay Global, a nonprofit empowering women to create sustainable livelihoods. “I had some experience working as the program director of a Rwandan nonprofit,” Gabie said. “So when my boss at Belay sent out information about the graduate studies exchange program at A&M, I applied right away and received a scholarship.”

Gabie’s undergraduate degree is in International Relations and Psychology from the United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, so it seems all her educational pursuits have lined up for such an opportunity as this.

Upon Gabie’s acceptance into the graduate program at TAMU-T, Cassy approached FSLM owner Robin Rogers about the possibility of hosting an international student again, and Robin agreed. “Living with Robin and her family has been the best thing that could have happened to me here,” Gabie said. “I get to see American culture firsthand every day, in many ways. I get to see how young people live through Briley, and how adults live through Robin, Ellen, and Robin’s mom. They have been more than kind and generous and have welcomed me like family.

“I’ve been immersed in the culture here; we play cards, hang out with family, go to the movies, we’ve seen Texas, driven all over, travelled, and I’ve gotten to interact with all kinds of different people,” Gabie said. “I get a good feel for all of it, and it’s really pretty cool to get the full picture of what American culture is like. I will cherish my time with them for the rest of my life.”

Briley Court, Robin Rogers, Emily Orr, Ellen Orr, and Gabie during  Four States Living Magazine’s  25th Anniversary Celebration held September 27 in the Regional Arts Center in Downtown Texarkana.

Briley Court, Robin Rogers, Emily Orr, Ellen Orr, and Gabie during Four States Living Magazine’s 25th Anniversary Celebration held September 27 in the Regional Arts Center in Downtown Texarkana.

When asked what the main difference between Texarkana and Rwanda is, Gabie did not hesitate. “There’s food everywhere here,” she said. “People are always eating.” She went on to say that holidays are much different than back home as well. “Everything here is just more,” she explained. “Your holidays are more extravagant, anything you do you go all out. If you go to a sports game, you dress up in all your favorite team colors, for Christmas you spend so much money. I guess Americans have more money to do things, but in Rwanda we focus on people, not giving. We spend time together for holidays, rather than spend money.”

Gabie’s background in Rwanda is not much different than a girl who grew up here in Texarkana’s might be. Her dad is a preacher, and her mother is a Christian counselor. She went to one of the best high schools in her area, and competed in choir competitions, ran track, and played netball. She attended an all-girls high school which she describes as “horrible, horrible, horrible!” Her dislike for the school was not for lack of instruction or extracurriculars, rather a lack of male counterparts. She says the boarding school experience was difficult, but that it helped her grow up and learn independence.

During all important Rwandan ceremonies, women wear a traditional national Rwandan dress similar to this one that Gabie is wearing.

During all important Rwandan ceremonies, women wear a traditional national Rwandan dress similar to this one that Gabie is wearing.

Her parents encouraged education from an early age, both of them seeking higher education as adults. “My parents are very pro-education,” she said. “They are people who believe you should never stop learning and encouraged us always to make sure we were trying to become better people. When I made the decision to come to the U.S., my parents were happy for me. They always told me, ‘Don’t focus on what everyone else is doing, but what makes you happy,’ and so I am.”

Gabie’s experience in Texarkana, and in the United States in general has been a positive one. Her favorite American foods include BBQ and ice cream, but she still is not fond of conventional air conditioning. “It’s so annoying,” she said. “I can’t do it.”

Gabie also pointed out the pause she has about American politics and in particular the current debate over immigration and border security. “Words are powerful,” she said. “In my country, a million people died because the leaders of their tribe said some words that fired everyone up to murder the opposite political party. More than 10% of our nation was eradicated basically overnight, so when I hear the hate and division that is American politics, it certainly gives me pause. You have so much here, so many more opportunities in America. This is a developed country, and you have everything you need. There’s really no need to fight.”

The genocide that Gabie refers to is the Rwandan genocide that happened in the mid 1990s as a result of civil war that erupted in the country and destroyed around one million people of the Tutsi tribe, and left over 75,000 orphans in the country. The genocide took place in a period of 100 days and has crippled the country in the two decades since. “A lot of kids lost their parents in that time in my country,” Gabie said. “So I just hope people here remember that the decisions they’re making now are really determining what kind of community and country they are leaving to their children.”

This past December, Suzan Rogers, Kathy Hudson, Christopher, Mary Beth Dwight and Stephanie Fussell attended Women for the Arts’ Open House and Arts Market at the Regional Arts Center.

This past December, Suzan Rogers, Kathy Hudson, Christopher, Mary Beth Dwight and Stephanie Fussell attended Women for the Arts’ Open House and Arts Market at the Regional Arts Center.

Another result of the genocide was that the country is now led by mostly women leaders. “Parliaments are led by more than 60% women, and most of the businesses are run by women after the genocide,” Gabie said. “Unfortunately, women don’t always have the same educational opportunities as men, so a lot of our businesses are being ran by women who aren’t properly educated. That’s the main reason I want to learn everything I can about business, gain the skills I need to help, and then get back to Rwanda and train other women to fix our problem.” There is no doubt Gabie will be successful in doing just that.