Author’s Note: This is blog #5 of nine detailing my trip to Rwanda and Italy in 2020. Links below if you want to start from the beginning. “Winning A Trip to Rwanda” features a more comprehensive introduction. The music reviews continue as scheduled.
Leave it to a well off American to find complete joy in spending one day living life as a Rwandan.
And when I say, “well off” I don’t imply I am rich, by Western standards. Everyone living in America, even those choosing to live in tents alongside the freeway in Portland, OR are rich compared to so many Rwandans.
The week’s stay in Rwanda included a visit to a local village where the natives formed a co-op supported by Azizi Life, a social enterprise focused on maximizing economic opportunity for rural artisans through the development and promotion of crafts. My group was welcomed by about eight local women of varying ages who sang and danced in their custom greeting. After multiple hugs we entered the humble abode owned by one of the women and we sat around the ‘living room.” No TV here. But we sat comfortably in couches and chairs as each of us introduced ourselves. From there…
I helped peel potatoes for the lunch I would eventually eat. I chopped vegetables. Then we fetched water. I grabbed an empty gallon jug which previously contained cooking oil and followed the ladies to the not so nearby watering hole.
Fun for me, but I can’t imagine doing this every day. This was life as a Rwandan. Every day, these women grabbed their jugs and headed for the river where, thankfully, a natural spring was tapped into, allowing them to fill their jugs for the day’s supply of water. This water, though fresh and looked clean, was not for drinking, at least by me. As a foreigner I had yet to stomach, if you will, the not so friendly bacteria present in the water.
Back to the house – carrying all the water. I got to see one of the women carry a jug on her head without any support. Just like you see in all those National Geographic specials. It was a pretty long hike and especially warm considering men do not wear shorts in Rwanda. Carrying two gallon jugs of water while wearing jeans with pretty warm temperatures quickly tires you out. Some local boys just off from school took a curious look and pondered with an inquisitive eye all the white people. No, nothing racial here, you just don’t see that many white people roaming around dusty trails in the middle of Rwanda.
(America, by the way, is waaaay too preoccupied with race and skin color and separating humans based on the amount of melanin in their skins. This trip absolutely reinforced this notion. Sad really. Thank our media. But I digress.)
Once back at the house, we were off to work the fields. Nope not in the backyard, we had to walk a bit to a small pasture filled with not so fresh corn stalks from last season, I presumed, and fresh soybeans. We picked those and once we cleared the area we cultivated the soil using hoes just like home. Then I helped cut down some long grass with primitive looking mini machetes which worked better than anything I have ever purchased at Home Depot. I actually enjoyed it so much, someone else asked for their turn in the grass cutting. I reluctantly gave up my blade.
We assembled the cut grass in piles as the ladies helped create the sitting platform (not the name for it) so we could carry the wrapped up shards on top of our heads – JUST LIKE THEY DO! We brought the grass, very carefully, to their cow who ate it in between a pesky goat who wanted his share.
This was pretty hard work and all we got was a taste. These women perform this work every day, all day. This was their life. No movies, concerts, taking a day off or “let’s eat out tonight.” They worked to live.
Another local woman stopped by and offered some cooked corn. Initially, I was hesitant and was told not to eat it. But because it the corn was hot (cooked) we agreed it was safe to eat. So I sat alongside a dusty road, eating corn on the cob…in Rwanda. Not many American can say they’ve done that.
We finally got to eat which was a delicious meal of the potatoes we cut, red beans with amaranth and avocado. Delish.
Our post lunch activities included more singing, some dancing and we made bracelets made from banana leaves. Once our day of work was finished the women said their goodbyes in traditional fashion singing a farewell to us in their native tongue.
I can’t imagine spending my life working like that every day. Yet, these women take no days off and certainly seemed content and full of joy.
Really makes you wonder.
Start from the beginning: