[pronounded like it is spelled with, u as in super: umu gan da]
this blog is dedicated to umuganda, something that I love about Rwandan culture but haven’t spent enough time examining in this blog.
imagine in the tone of a 30′s radio show:
Americans, can you imagine a day when everyone both young and old, rich and poor, educated and undereducated, minorities and whites, everyone worked side by side to better the community? Can you imagine a time when this country was a better place because we worked together to make it beautiful? Sounds wonderful right? WRONG, it’s socialism. it’s and infringement on your right to do nothing for society, and your right to be okay with that. beware! bewareeeee!
That is kind of how I felt when I first heard about umuganda, something that sounded okay to me but would likely not translate well over in the states. We aren’t living in a socialist state, or a full on democracy- obviously by the fact umuganda exists. And that the police can give you a fine if you don’t participate.
Umuganda literally means pillar, or essential support- like a cornerstone.However, the word is used as a title for the community work day on the last Saturday of every month. I think that is a beautiful depiction of what working together can mean. A cornerstone for a society, without it everything will diminish. On this day all Rwandans get out of there house at 8, or 9, or 9:45 … to work together to complete a necessary project or a beautification project in their area. All of the shops close down, there is no public transportation, virtually everything haults until noon. At noon there is usually a small scale community meeting where they decide what the best project will be for next month- and is also a good time for community leaders to come and make announcements or decisions with the public.
This sounds nice, and it is, yet as with most things there are a few kinks. One is that often there is no plan of action, and so this work doesn’t begin until 10am or so. It is a flaw in the education system here that students are taught to obey rules to such an extreme that their ability to make judgements on their own is impeded. So students go to the location they are assigned [the road, the walking path, the stairs, the soccer field, the classrooms] and stand around for about an hour until some adult tells them what to do. Initially this drove me insane, and I was assigning students to pick little weeds between cracks and begin machetting [a new verb] grass. Now, I think it still drives me mad but I find the morning to be a bit more enjoyable if I am not fighting an institution that has existed for years, but just let it flow. Another kink is specific to schools, it seems the teachers are more supervisors rather than workers and this also bothers me. Granted, I am not exactly cut out to ho chunks of grass and transplant them for 3 hours but I was raised to work hard and find something to do if there is nothing to do. Supervising seems kind of dumb to me so I try to work for a little while to prove my worth and then slump over to “supervise”/chat with other teachers.
Many things are accomplished in a short time. They built stairs from the classrooms to our house- which is in the rainy season. A new bridge was built on our walk to the market. They transplanted about 15 sq meters of grass, which will be more impressive if it actually grows. All in about 3 hours!
a special edition courtesy of Jim’s question: “How do you do laundry? I know water is scarce and a long walk from your home, but I imagine you don’t have a machine much less a dryer?”
You’re right, water is not available at our home and we do not have those machines. Laundry is our least favorite Rwandan chore, and here is why:
First water. Water is a problem for many people in Rwanda [one of our volunteers couldn't find a jerry can [or about 20 liter container] for a month. In general though, Rwanda is a rainy country so the areas in the North, South, and West are not lacking in water. However, transport of water is a problem. Many women have to travel miles to fetch the water for their family in the morning. They carry the jerry can on their heads and use it sparingly. We have water at our school running 90% of the time. We also bought a 250L tank to store water in, so that we always have water on hand. This was a genius move by Aaron, and I have to give him full credit. Also, he sprung for the more expensive mattress [no pun intended because we don't have springs- just thick foam] and having a comfortable bed was worth the extra 15 dollars.
So, getting the water to our container is sometimes difficult. During the rainy season we collect rain off our roof into buckets and have more than enough, but in the dry season we have to go down to the school and bring the jerry cans up to our house. One of our PCV friends makes a 30 minute round trip to get her water every morning, but our round trip is maybe 7 minutes. What we do most of the time is use it as an opportunity to support poor students at our school or a poor member in the community who needs work. We pay 2 people 1000 francs [2 dollars- but probably 1/16 of their normal monthly salary] to bring 10 jerry cans total, which fills our 250L container and will last us about 2 weeks. Now, it is the rainy season so we have an abundance.
I don’t like having someone work for me, I really hate it. This is a huge dilemma for me living in this culture, because everyyyyone has a houseworker. And no one educated does much manual labor. If you have a job, you have someone helping you at home- maybe 2 people if you have a baby. They wash your clothes, clean your house, cook all of your meals, take care of home and yard upkeep, shop for your food, and take care of your children. They generally live with their boss and are able to eat food there. It is mostly poor girls who couldn’t afford school fees and dropped out of school to support their families. Some are boys who had the same situation. It is a really hard to adjust to this mentality- that you can pay someone to do virtually anything for you. Don’t want to clean your toilet- pay someone. Don’t want to carry your bag up the hill- pay someone. When people see an educated person doing manual labor they are astounded, and want to help- even for no money. For example, A and I have started teaching community members English at our friends bar [yay!]. We carried a chalkboard down the hill, which was obviously a show. On our way back up some guy demanded he help us carry it back. For nothing. So for the students to see us doing all of our work, especially when Aaron is working, is a strange deal and hopefully a cross cultural learning experience. I don’t feel like having a houseworker is a human rights violation but I do feel it is a dead end job that prevents upward mobility and creates division. If our schedule were a true 8-5, and we didn’t have electricity and we had to travel on a weekend, it would be close to impossible to complete all of these tasks- even with two of us. It still sits funny with me, and I have made it my objective from the moment I discovered this situation to be extraordinarily kind to all houseworkers, to show them dignity and utmost respect, and to never treat them as less. I tend to get along with my neighbors houseworkers better than with them, even though they are educated working women. I love the umukozis [maids] and communicate best with them.
ALL of this to say. Laundry. How do we do it? The question is now, how did we do it? but I will get to that.
Laundry is done by putting your clothes in a basin, adding water, and letting it soak for a while [this isn't how I was taught, but I think maybe some magic osmosis sucks the dirt out that way]. Then you get comfortable [as comfortable as bending over a basin can be] and begin scrubbing with your hands and a bar of laundry soap. Afterwards you put those clothes in another bucket of rinse water, and then hang them on the clothesline to dry. It is hard work, and extremely time consuming. I am proud to say that Aaron and I did this for 1 year and 2 months about 3-5 hours once a week.
Then, we went home for Christmas we had the talk. We wanted to have it outside of this environment, in hopes that we could be more objective. We decided that getting an umukozi would benefit our mental health immensely and also we are just kind of bad at washing clothes this way! It’s hard. and they never feel clean when you know you aren’t doing as well as your neighbor’s umukozi who has been at it for 15 years. Laundry was a big stressor and it is not anymore. We had some requirements- we wanted a girl with another job that would come once a week, so our money would be supplementary income. We wanted her to be someone who needed help, and would be open to learning skills from us that could help her move on in her life. We have a sweet girl named Seraphine who comes every Thursday in the morning to wash our clothes. It is a big relief, and she definitely does a better job. She is going to join our community English lessons this week, along with our neighbor’s sweet umukozi- Jean. We still wash our sheets and our undies- because it is not appropriate to have someone clean those for you. A small price to pay for everything else.
English club had a huge welcoming ceremony to the new members last Friday night. The entire school attended, and there was song, dance, poetry, and skits- all in English. A girl did an awesome rap about the problems of prostitution, and though it was in ikinyarwanda she said the “you reap what you sow” verse in this really crazy deep rapper voice. It was pretty impressive. Jonas, my favorite English club poet made a great line about allies and foes [big vocabulary for a 7th grader in his 4th language].
The prostitution rap got me motivated to work harder on bringing up more difficult topics to my glow club this year. It is difficult for me to talk about complex subjects in kinyarwanda, and them in english. but, I am not going to shy away- even a little bit. GLOW is my passion and a life force at times, and I am looking forward to our planned schedule for this year.
Teaching teachers at the small school is going well. They love Aaron and are so appreciative of the lessons. We are teaching together this year, in hopes that my involvement will interest more women.
We started teaching in the community! This is a huge goal that we finally have met! We had 4 students meeting in Jerome’s bar writing dialogues with greetings and introductions. We hope this will provide them more opportunities in the future [all of them are kind of stuck where they are right now].
Edissa, [my first girl friend in the village, who then got pregnant and now is a mommy] is going to university!! When we first met she told me that she didn’t want to have a baby yet, because she thought she might die if she couldn’t continue her education [dramatic, but deep]. I asked her if she was doing anything to prevent it, and she said when you are married it isn’t culture [and it reallllly isn't. if you don't have a baby within 1 year of marriage the country as a whole thinks you have big problems and either pities you or mildly shuns you]. I was heartbroken when 2 weeks later she announced her pregnancy to me. I thought her goals were crushed. But, surprise! She has started going every weekend! But, her English homework is out of this world difficult. So I am tutoring her now, and am obviously excited as you can see by the !!!!’s.
WE PLANTED A GARDEN! wow. hard work… not a lot to show for it, but when the spinach blooms we will be rejoicing. we have spinach, zucchini, cucumber, 5 kinds of herbs, tomatoes, strawberries, and maybe squash.
This may not have been mentioned before, and may be boring- but it is tooting our horns a bit. Two weekends ago, A and I both had meetings for the PC committees we are on. Aaron is our elected VAC [volunteer advisory committee] representative for our region. So he takes any problems volunteers may have and brings them to a staff meeting with our country director, quarterly. I am our PSN [peer support network] representative which takes the emotional needs and problems of the volunteers into consideration quarterly. We are doing a lot of work on projects with both departments to make PC Rwanda a better program.
My curriculum project is going swimmingly! We have volunteers writing every lesson plan for all 7-9th grade with a final date of March 1st. Then we will edit the lessons and hopefully distribute them to volunteers electronically by the end of April break. Huge resource!
Speaking of April break- we are going to Italy!!!! In about a month we will be together with my mom and Steve drowning in gelato and marinara. We are flying into Rome for a few days, then going to Sicily- where Steve’s family originates, then going to Florence and Naples, and back to Rome. A whirlwind of beautiful things and family comfort. so stinkin’ excited!
I think that is enough. We are still missing you all so much, but we are really feeling hopeful about our ideals and projects this year and are also feeling really close to being finished.
Rwandan time is a lot different than American time, and I really can’t explain it well enough without you coming to visit [so do! tickets this month are 1,200 round-trip down from the normal 1,500-1,800!]. We are much more patient and flexible now, but also are living less in the moment than ever before. We have to plan our weekends months in advance. We know exactly what we are doing up until April 13th. And we probably will know beyond that within a few weeks. 2 years feels intimidating and impossible. 1 1/2, the same. less than a year- that we’ve already done once before, a cake walk. We know how to deal with the problems we will face here better. We know how to counter homesickness better. Not that this year hasn’t been, or will not be full of trials. But it is doable, and I couldn’t confidently say that before. 6 months until our COS [close of service] conference and then 3 short months before we finish. Get ready, we’re coming home [in African time]!
love you all.
thanks for reading,
d, a, and igimonster