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!


Elle est belle la vie!

It’s just another day in the village…”

But I am always surprised and delighted to find moments and glimpses of beauty from the ordinary. Although I find myself in resource-lacking and poor infrastructure villages, I don’t necessarily see ‘poverty’ in peoples’ lives. Yes, children run barefoot in the village (but they do wear shoes when they go to town or school – it’s mandatory by law in Rwanda). Yes, their clothes are not the cleanest (but they are hardworking farmers, and hardworking farmers mean soiled clothes). Yes, they have little disposable income, but they do everything and above their means to feed and stay healthy as best as they possibly can. Perhaps I have hung around long enough that my senses and standards of living have adjusted to their level and I don’t notice the poverty as starkly as my first arrival in Rwanda.

Ah well, I better live and enjoy the fieldwork like there’s no tomorrow. Because tomorrow (when the fieldwork is over, and I’m gone back home) I will probably find myself spending hours in front of the computer piling through the mountains of data. Then, when the data (the monster) that I have collected start to be overwhelming, I will close my eyes and remember the laterite dust and sweat and the heat and the rain from the village work. What stressing over data? Compared to the fieldwork challenges, it’s not a monster. It’s just a paper tiger!

Coming back to ‘now’ – when I look back and remember the beautiful moments that I experienced, all the hardship and sweat that I poured during the fieldwork evaporate like sweet summer rain. If only I had this hindsight right from the beginning of my fieldwork! I guess I learn better doing twice.

Village boys fishing in the rice ditch - with nothing but stick and string (and skills!)

Village boys fishing in the rice ditch – with nothing but stick and string (and skills!)

Today's catch (with a proud smile)

Today’s catch (with a proud smile)

Green, bright sun, and baby blue sky = Rwandan flag

Green, bright sun, and baby blue sky = the colours of Rwandan flag

A thousand blossoms

A thousand blossoms