Adriën Rugambarara (Bujambara, 1975) grew up with three sisters and five brothers in a wealthy family in a big house in the middle of the capital city of the African Burundi. At home there were servants and the family was driven around by a private driver. Father Rugambarara, as chairman of the Supreme Court, had a top position. A military coup made in the mid nineties that luxury life an abrupt end. Adriën was seen by the army as dangerous and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was in prison for two years in harsh conditions. He was beaten and barely fed. During a visit to a hospital, he escaped his guards. He eventually fled to the Netherlands, where he arrived alone in the winter of 2000 without spending a dime. Since 2003 he lives with his wife Doris Kamikazi and son Ricky (10) in the Netherlands. Adriën is youth coach at the local football club.
The living room of the Rugambarara family smells like typical Dutch food when Adriën Rugambara opens the door of his house in a small village in the Netherlands. Dreadlocks, a brightly colored knitted hat, a grin from ear to ear with a roaring smile give the African a nice sympathetic look. In the small living room with mega-large TV the channel is on football, of course. “In my homeland I played in the Dutch league, football is everything for me”, he says in Dutch with a French accent. Large flags of Che Guevare and Bob Marley make it clear that it is relaxed in the house of Rugambarara. Tea? What did your life in Burundi look like? Thanks to the top function my father had as chairman of the Supreme Court, we lived in an incredibly large house: a white villa with a large terrace and a huge garden. Inside there were several living rooms, bathrooms and two kitchens. We employed a cook, cleaning lady, two gardeners and three guards. My father loved his children, but was very strict. When we counted home or did not finish our homework, we got a lot of punishment. He wanted us to work hard and study well. We were taken to school with a private driver, but always told us that he had to walk 18 kilometers every day to go to school. Thanks to that hard work, he has made it so far. When we left school, we first played football in the garden with boys from the neighborhood. At six o’clock we had to do homework until dinner at 8 p.m. Sometimes a helicopter landed in the garden with the Prime Minister of Burundi, because he was friends with my father. As a child, I found that to be quite normal, but if I look back on it now, that is really special. At the same time my father was very warm to others. Poor people could always come to us to eat with. My mother was a very sweet, sweet woman. She descends from the Royal Family of Burundi and always took great care of us. My parents taught me to never live above your class but to work hard and to be good for others. How does an African football player get involved in Balkum? After my flight from Burundi prison, I first ended up in Ruanda. There I went into hiding with friends of friends. I spent six months day and night. I had fled from prison, but now I was stuck again. That felt like an extra punishment. I became crazy, I wanted to leave! Via Ouganda I ended up in Nairobi. I felt miserable, knew no one, and wandered around the streets for the first time. In my homeland I was a good car dealer and in possession of 10 cars. A friend sold a few of my cars at my request. I could rent a small hotel room from the proceeds. At that time I was constantly afraid to be arrested. Especially when crossing the border you think everyone is looking for you. After a while I came into contact with a trafficker who could arrange the necessary papers for $ 8,000. Thanks to my car trade in Burundi, I could afford this. He let me choose: France, Italy, Belgium or the Netherlands. I knew the Netherlands from Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard. Since the victory at the European Championships in ’88 I am a fan of the Dutch national team. Such a nice football! So it became the Netherlands. I met my wife Doris in the Azielzoekerscentrum. She had also fled Burundi. It was love at first sight. At one point Doris was transferred from Ter Apel to Rosmalen. I also wanted to go to Rosmalen, because I could not afford the train journey from my 40 guilder allowance. After a while we went to live together in a small room in an asylum seekers’ center in Rosmalen. Our son Ricky was also born there. For a year we lived with three in a room of three by three meters until we were allocated a house in Berlicum.
What was your first impression of the Netherlands?
It was cold! It was winter when I arrived at Schiphol. After the first snow shower I went down hard and I lay flat for a week. Furthermore, I noticed that everyone is cycling here. We hardly have any bicycles in Africa. The Netherlands felt like a nice and familiar country. You are really helped, especially in that time. In recent years, the Asian policy has become a lot stricter and less human. In the beginning I also had to get used to Dutch culture. At the station in Den Bosch I saw two men kissing each other. I was totally in shock, because in Burundi there is the death penalty. Now I am used to it and I think it’s all fine. We did not like the Dutch food in the beginning. Much too sweet. Now we eat stew and potatoes. Another big difference is that everyone comes together without appointment in Burundi. If you happen to come around dinner time, you just eat. We also had a wedding every weekend somewhere and lived outside for 18 hours a day. There are no diaries. Here in the Netherlands everything goes by appointment and everyone arrives on time, while in Burundi the time of elastic is. What is it like to live in Berlicum as an African? We feel very much at home here. Berlicum is a beautiful, quiet village that suits us well. We have never suffered from discrimination in all those years. When we first looked at our house we thought: wow, what a beautiful one! We were used to our small room in the AZC. A neighbor girl brought a drawing with three hearts. That felt so warm. Problem was that I did not speak the language correctly. I quit my job as an order picker at the Jumbo in Veghel to fully focus on learning the Dutch language for a year. After that I started working again via temporary employment agencies, mostly warehouse jobs. I have been unemployed for 8 months, because of the crisis there are no jobs left. I spend my days in the gym now. Do you already feel a real Berici number? That is becoming more and more. We even celebrate carnival. With the parade we participated and then we went into the pub. Dancing, especially when salsa music is over … So if the Netherlands is playing soccer against Burundi, are you applauding for the Netherlands? Haha, no, inside I remain African. How did you end up at BMC? A neighbor boy was playing football outside on the street. I asked if I could join. In the evening his mother called me if I wanted to become a trainer at BMC. I thought that was something. I started at D4, at that time they played very badly. One of the players spoke English and I immediately appointed assistant coach. I said to everyone: next year we will be champion. Everyone laughs naturally! But we won a year later! We had a great party at BMC where I got all kinds of gifts, including an orange ball. The municipality even appointed me as a volunteer of the year. My strength lies in my enthusiasm. At BMC they know me as open and as a joker. The players must be well motivated and have a good physical condition, but a youth coach must also not be too strict. That strategy works, because in the past eight years we have become champions six times.
What do you want to give your son Ricky?
The most important thing is that Ricky grows up in freedom and can take training here. He is now on the Little Bear and is doing well. The arrival of Ricky was a turning point in my life. In the months before his birth I suffered from nightmares about the time in prison where we were with 10 prisoners in a room of three by three square meters. I missed my family, I thought a lot at home and called at least once a week crying to my family. After the birth of Ricky, I was able to convert the button. The gaze is forward, the focus is on our future in the Netherlands. Do you ever go back to Burundi? I hope to be able to go back again as a visitor to visit my family. My father has passed away, but my mother is still alive. In 2003 I last saw my parents when they went to Canada for a few hours at Schiphol. That was a very emotional reunion. We maintain contact via facebook and a family whats-app. My hope is based on the elections in 2015. If a new government destroys my file and declares a pardon, I may return. My family in Burundi is working on my file. But I will not return to Burundo forever, because we are now fully accustomed to our life in the Netherlands. My future is in Berlicum.
(c) Bart Coolen