Fiston’s shoes were always clean. In the two weeks we were there, the five of us—Evan, Robin, Luke, Fiston, and I—trounced through some of the muddiest places, walked over some of the dustiest roads. Our shoes became filthier and filthier, turned deeper orange as time passed. But Fiston’s shoes stayed immaculate, spotless. I watched his shoes the whole time. He had brought three pair with him from Uganda, where he’s living with his brother in Kampala. The first day, when he was at the Kigali airport to pick us up, he wore a smart-looking pair of brown leather shoes, shoes that seemed distinguished. These he reserved for Sundays, for special occasions. The other days, he alternated between a pair of white leather tennis shoes or a pair of dark gray Converse Chucks.
One day, after a night of rain, we visited a woman to film her getting ready with her kids in the morning. The sun was just starting to come up, and we slipped our way down steep muddy pathways to her house. Fiston was wearing his bright white shoes, and they were quickly becoming bright orange.
To my surprise, a few days later he was wearing those same shoes, once again bright white and nearly spotless. But there are many surprises in Fiston. He’s incredibly quiet, with an intensely gentle disposition—yet he has one of the strongest, most lovely singing voices I’ve ever heard. He’s introspective and at times brooding—yet he speaks with conviction, passion for his country, the place where he grew up, the place where he’d like to one day raise a family. He knows at least four languages, possibly more, has grown up in a house with a spectacular view of the lake but cannot swim, is the second to youngest of ten children and everyone we met on the streets near his family’s house was “a cousin.”
There are two things that define Fiston in my memory. The first, how gentle he was with the women he translated for, the rape survivors, how soft his voice when he was around them, the tender way in which he helped them put on the microphones for the camera, the trusting way they looked at him, the way their faces broke into smiles every time they saw him. And his shoes, which even after slogging through the muddiest places always came out clean, always ended up pristine.