Homecoming

I can’t believe it – I am back in Canada”.

Two days have passed since I am back from the fieldwork. Compared to the intensity and busy-ness of my last week in Rwanda (I was meeting government officials and NGO people up until last minute), I feel out of place finding myself sitting and watching over the Saint-Laurent River with ducks and ducklings peacefully floating on the shore. A sharp contrast from the evergreen hills in Rwanda. It will take a few more days I guess.

But all in all, I am content that the fieldwork is over. I look forward to exploring and analysing the data in detail.

On my last day in Rwanda, my local friends and family organised a farewell party. We slaughtered a goat and had a feast. We exchanged kind words and wishes; shared gifts and fun memories of our time together, and we sang and danced. As always, this visit was no different: their generosity and care yet again moved me. We lived together for over six months, and I feel much more in tune with the local customs and the way of thinking and living. For example, I have developed a very sensitive hearing for water that trickles through the pipes. There is rarely any water in the pipes during the day, but the water usually comes back in the middle of the night (it can be after 10 PM or in the early morning). So even when I am asleep, I sometimes wake up and go out to fill the water cans. It’s somewhat funny, but I think of it as a sixth sense – a survival instinct for water.

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Perhaps you are wondering how my everyday life was like in Rwamagana. Here is a brief rundown.

My local family and home –

My friend Eric is in the middle and beside me is Eric’s little cousin, Providence, who is the only survivor of her family. Eric supported her studies throughout her high school and college. I lived with Eric, Providence and her friend Vestine (first on the left) who is attending a local university in Rwamagana.

family picture

family picture

 

Everyday living –

We used charcoal stoves for cooking. It’s smoky & messy and hard to control the heat and cooking time. I tried cooking several times, but it was so time-consuming that I only managed to cook on weekends.

Mélange - local eggplant, beans and tomato sauce

Mélange – local eggplant, beans and tomato sauce

We don’t use cutting boards in Rwanda. We cut and slice everything in the air. Another thing I had to learn.

Chef Eric showing me how it's done

Chef Eric showing me how it’s done

We washed everything by hand. We had to ration and coordinate together so that we could maximise our water use. We laundered our clothes first, and then we used the grey water to clean shoes, bicycle, and the floor. Water efficiency is a necessity.

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We don’t have a refrigerator. We always bought fresh food from the local market. I am convinced that I can live without a fridge. (If there’s a market or a vegetable garden close by home) Fresh sourcing could have an added advantage of never buying more than what is necessary for two to three days of food needs. No food waste from spoilage, guaranteed. We got dairy and meat products for immediate consumption. If conditions are right, I am going to try this (refrigerator-free living) for myself.

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The question that came up the most during the farewell party was: when are you coming back?

Good question! I don’t know when my next visit will be, but I am so amazed and comforted to know that I have people and place I can call family and home in the heart of Africa – that is Rwanda.

Thank you for everything and especially thank you (yes you!) for reading my posts. Your kind encouragement, interest and readership helped chase away the fieldwork blues. It was an individual work, but I was never alone. Like we often say in Rwanda: Turikumwe! (We are together!)

Murakoze cyane (thank you very much) and take care until next time!

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Long live the (dairy) Queen!

Earlier in June, I attended the 10th Agriculture Show organised by the Rwanda Agriculture Board. It’s an agriculture expo where all the agriculture-related players and stakeholders in the country come and present their work and projects. It was well organised, and I was able to meet several interesting people including officials from NGOs and Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Resources.

On a fun note, I accompanied Patrick – the chairman of the milk coop that I have been working for in Rwamagana – who was invited to participate in the dairy cow competition. The competition rule is straightforward: a cow that produces the most volume of milk wins. After much anticipation, the results came out, and Patrick’s cow (her name is Kakazi, and it means ‘fine lady’) won the third prize. She is the third best milk producing cow of the year (with an average of 9.7 Litre per milking). The first two cows were pure exotic breed (Friesian) but Kakazi was a cross-breed (a 7th generation cross between a local Ankole and Friesian cow).

The objective of this competition was to showcase the potential milk yields of different breeds of dairy cows. The higher milk yielding dairy cows (exotic breeds) are currently promoted by the government as a technological (genetic improvement) solution to accelerate the modernisation and transformation of the dairy sector. On the other hand, there is also a renewed interest in protecting and conserving the local breeds especially the Inyambo. Inyambo cows are the traditional breed that represents the beauty and symbol of the old Kingdom. Some of the traditional dance moves are inspired by the shape of their horns (see picture: notice the dancers’ arms mimicking cow horns).

Although the cow’s value and place in Rwandan culture have changed in the new social order and economic context, I can’t deny the fact that the cows are still king (or I should instead say queen) in Rwandans’ mind and heart. There are traditional greeting and expressions that capture this essence very well:

Gira’inka.” (I wish you a cow | Have yourself a cow) – A traditional greeting.

Yampayinka!  (This one is hard to translate, but the closest equivalent would be: Holy Cow!) – When you receive a gift of a cow from a friend, family or even stranger, you would exclaim this expression with the utmost surprise and gratitude. Holy cow, who wouldn’t be!

Welcome to Agri-Show

Welcome to Agri-Show

Let the milk competition begin!

Let the milk competition begin!

The competition is hot...

The competition is hot…

Patrick impatiently waiting for the result...

Congratulations Patrick and Kakazi!

Kakazi and Patrick

Kakazi and Patrick

Up close with Kakazi

Up close with Kakazi

And the winner is...Kakazi!

And the winner is…Kakazi!

Inyambo cows and the cowboy singing and praising the herd

Inyambo cows and the cowherd singing and praising the herd

Time to celebrate the win - dancing with the Intore dancers

Time to celebrate the win – dancing with the Intore dancers

Yes...I'm trying...

Yes…I’m trying…to surf?!

Asking Patrick to join the dance - but he preferred to sit and watch me embarrassing myself!

Asking Patrick to join the dance – but he preferred to sit and watch me embarrassing myself!