Rwandans Are Struggling To Love Children of Hate
But Claude Hope fixed her tea in the evening. He escorted her to the gate to greet visitors. He asked her to dance to the Congolese music that pours out of a radio.
"The duties of a husband," he said proudly. "I like it. I am the man of the homestead."
Then he turned to his mother and made a promise as she bent down to wipe some dirt off of his shirt. "I will take my studies seriously and do well and then buy you a big car and big house," he said. "Or I will be a footballer and buy you many cars and too many houses."
"Okay," she laughed. "Let's prepare by reading a storybook."
At first, she was ashamed of her children. Now she hopes that they are not ashamed of her. She has not been able to tell them yet that she has AIDS.
"I am scared. I am feeling miserable," she said. "I don't want them to know."
Claude was already asked to repeat a year in school because he stayed home to care for his mother too often last year when her body went cold with chills.
She has already asked Mukamuranga, herself the mother of six children, to raise Claude and Claudine after she dies. Her friend has happily agreed.
She has not had Claude or Claudine tested for HIV. They appear healthy. But women at the clinic keep telling her she should.
"I know I should," she said putting her hands over her face. "But I can't know if they do. I am too scared."
For now, she just wants to enjoy the time they have together. Her neat home has lace curtains and three portraits of Mary holding baby Jesus. A sign shows a cartoon drawing of a mother and children with the inscription "Happy Days."
When the afternoon gets hot and she feels weak and her children are home from school, they often crowd onto her narrow foam mattress. They giggle. They cuddle. They seem like any loving family.
Sometimes she lies awake at night rehearsing what she will say to Claude Hope. "I will tell him it happened but God is not angry with me or with you. It was war. And God loves us." Other times she does not worry at all.
"Sometimes Claude turns to me and says, 'You are my mother,' " she said, as Claude Hope looked up at her with huge eyes. "But then he says, 'You are also our father.' That makes me so happy, like everything I went through was worth it in order to have them."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company