Hi from Rwanda! My name is Jenny, and this is my first year volunteering with Hope Shines. Today had us volunteers cap off our busy week with a cultural experience! We left Kigali at 8 am, arrived at the Azizi Life office in Muhanga at 9:15 am, and were sitting in a villager's hut by 10 am. (Side note: Azizi Life is a women's cooperative that sells jewelry, baskets, carvings, etc.)
We were greeted by seven women, aged 27-66, with a couple of mother-daughter pairs in the group. After quick introductions, our host women dressed us in traditional head wraps and skirts. Then they put us to work! We skinned cassava for our lunch, then put it on to cook with beans while we continued the daily work. They showed us how they use banana leafs as lids - one of many ways that the banana tree shows up in their daily lives. Next up was a farming demonstration - we walked down the hillside to where the villagers plant their beans, cassava, and coffee, and practicing tilling. The women explained when they harvested and planted each crop, and inquired about our practices at home - although since none of us had farmed before, we couldn't answer their questions!
Before returning to the hut, we cut grass to take to their two resident cows. The cutting technique was difficult for us visitors to get down, as we used a scythe and none of us had touched one before today. To get the seven bundles of grass back up the hill, we made head cushions from banana leaves to place the grass on. We all tried to carry a bundle on our heads without using our hands, but weren't very successful!
Our next order of business was to fetch water; we were each given a jug to fill, although they gave us ones that are usually reserved for small children to use. (Clearly, after seeing our attempts at other tasks, the women thought that was all we could handle.). Our morning efforts were rewarded, though, with a delicious - and huge - lunch of beans, cassava, and avocados. The avocados were big and perfectly ripened - definitely the best that I have ever eaten! We talked about what their meals usually consisted of, and found out that they eat only one or two meals each day. These meals are usually quite large and filling so that they can fuel themselves for the labor they do. Quite a contrast to my habit at home of three meals a day plus snacks!
Since we'd worked the fields, fed the cows, and fetched water, we kept with their schedule of weaving in the afternoon. The women taught us how they get the fibers from the sisal plant leaves by stripping the outer greenery. As their crafts feature a variety of colors, they also pulled out dye and showed us that process. Next we got to choose a couple of colored fibers, and with the ladies' help, made bracelets that we wore home. Finally, the women performed a short song for us and sent us on our way!
Throughout our activities, questions were asked between both groups about cooking, farming, marriage customs, and other lifestyle topics. I hope they learned something from us, as the day was an eye-opening and humbling experience - these women work hard every day to sustain their daily way of life. Seeing their efforts made me appreciate the privileges that we enjoy in the USA! The women are incredibly resourceful, using whatever is on hand to get done what is needed, without being wasteful. I will certainly evaluate my personal practices when I get home.
As the week wraps up, today is a great reflection of everything we saw as a group. Rwandans have been nothing but welcoming, offering whatever they can to help ... They appreciate what they have and use it the best way that they can ... And they are smiling and looking to the future. I am grateful for the opportunity to be here, be immersed in the country!