Saturday, July 7, 2012
Gardening, Sweating, Teaching, Learning
We meet Rogers and William at the Gashora Health Center around 9:30AM to help them work on a kitchen garden. When we get there, they have already cleared an area for the garden but the rest of the field is full of weeds, dead corn stalks, and patches of grass.
The aroma of mint fills our nostril with sweetness as we hack at the dirt with hoes. Children line up on the outside of the fence screeching “Muzungu” repeatedly as we work. In no time, there are several knee-high piles of weeds and the area is mostly clear, while our faces are red and our upper-lips are soaked with sweat. We pull all of the weeds into one pile, which takes a lot of effort, and then begin to help with the garden.
As mentioned in a previous post, the kitchen garden is a tiered structure that allows for a trickling affect with water. Plants with longer roots (like carrots, karoti) go on the top tier, and plants with lower roots (like spinach, epinari). Many Rwandans from the village come to help with the garden. Rogers and William, who are the force behind the kitchen gardens, hope that Rwandans will take up the old tradition of helping each other build gardens, and that they will take on the form of kitchen gardens, which can provide more types of nutrients.
The Rwandans at the Health Center bring us to a tree which can be cut back. The branches tumble to the ground and crack. They use machetes to cut the leaves off of branches and we haul the branches to the garden site where they are cut into appropriate sizes and chipped into sharp stakes.
Some people break-up soil in one area so that we can use it in the garden. Sticks are hammered into the ground in a circular fashion using a “Rwandan Hammer” (as Rogers calls it) which is a large rock. This makes the outline of the first tier. We line the sticks with plastic-like bags to hold in the soil. Using large buckets, and other bags which two people carry to the garden, we fill the tier with soil and move on to the next tier.
This process continues until we have to go into town for lunch and teaching English at Covaga. We wash dirt off our hands, arms, feet, necks, chests, backs, legs, and faces, and change into business casual clothing. Baby wipes, which we used to be extra clean, form a pile of brown on the bench. Wilson, the IT tech at the Health Center, is happy to see us change into more appropriate clothing since we will be returning to teach his staff English later in the day. He says that we are role models for the youth in Gashora, and that when young westerners come dressed inappropriately, it upsets the elders in the village, because the young Rwandans attempt to dress similarly.
Rogers, William, and some locals stay behind to work on the fourth and last tier of the garden. In town, at Yvone’s we eat.so.much.food.
After a review lesson at Covaga, we head to the Health Center to teach English for the first time. Steve Vanderstaay put together a great lesson and has worked very hard on all of the English lessons during the trip. We really appreciate all of his hard work, all the times he leaves dinner quickly so he can work, or the time he didn’t join us in Kigali. At the Health Center, the students are very educated and motivated to learn English. We nestle in between the students, tap our toes on the slick, white tiled floor, and watch Steve’s energy radiate through the room.
We begin by teaching them some basic verb conjugations for present tense, explaining that all of the conjugations are the same except for in the case of he/she. For example: I read; You read; She/He reads; You all read; We read. The students pick up on this very quickly and are soon translating sentences from Kinyarwanda.
Today marks the beginning of a lot of long days with multiple English lessons and a lot of gardening.
Today, it’s back to the Medical Center in the morning to work on gardens. This time, we’re creating a spiral garden. First, men chop grass into small piece with a machete and place it in a pile. Then, soil is piled on top of the grass until the grass is no longer visible. While a few people pile the soil on, some people begin searching the grounds for large rocks which will be spiraled up the mound, to prevent erosion of soil.
We are having trouble finding rocks when Rogers appears with a stack of bricks. He brings us to the old Health Center, a dreary building where a room is full of old bricks. Thin, black wasps hang from the ceiling in pieces of hives. We quickly pile up with bricks and hustle back to the garden.
We bring way too many bricks. More for next time.
During lunch time, Steve brings up the topic of an island in lake Kivu called Iwawa, where orphans or street boys and girls were sent after the genocide for a sort of rehabilitation. The way in which the government took the boys and girls, which was without their permission, was scrutinized by Human Rights Watch. However, the children were brought to the island, educated, taught life skills, and given the opportunity for government loans when they went back into society.
Rogers becomes very passionate about the discussion, speaking in a preach, using his hands, as the veins in his neck protrude. I don’t have an exact quote, but he said something to the extent of: “Where was the Human Rights Watch during the genocide? They are so quick to criticize Rwanda from a distance, but they don’t come here and see the way things really are. The kids, they go to Iwawa as nothing and they come back with a life.”
Rogers also mentions how, after graduating high school, Rwandans are required to go to a month long service in which they all work together and eradicate any ideas about ethnic division. There are no Hutus or Tutsis, only Rwandans.
After lunch, we don’t go to Covage because it’s the 4th of July, which in Rwanda, signifies liberation from genocide. The women weavers are home, relishing in the security of Rwanda. We go to the Health Center again to teach English. On the way to the hotel, we see Lama pull up in a van. Tim told us that he would be coming to Gashora with a group of “middle-schoolers.” Apparently, there was some miscommunication. About ten middle-aged Canadian Muzungus pile out of the van. We look at each other, confused. These are not middle school students. It’s just another example of a language barrier.
In the morning, a few of us, me, Tim, Carrie, Jon, and Filimon take bike taxis to a house in Gashora where Rogers and William are working on another kitchen garden. This time, the garden is for a genocide survivor named Doritea, a 76 year old woman living by herself in Gashora. From her house which is on Lake Milayi, we have a view of the huge Gashora Girls Academy compound.
A couple of women and their babies rest on a straw mat in front of the house, but Doritea is not home yet. We get right to work. Filimon takes a machete and sharpens branches for the structural support of the garden. Carrie and I help place bags and hammer sticks.
Whenever a stick needs to be hammered, Rogers shouts, “Rwandan Hammer!”
When Carrie hammers the sticks, Tim says “Powerful woman technician!”
To fill the tiers, the men lift a wheel barrel full of soil and pour it in to the compartments lined with bags. Dust from the soil puffs toward our faces. Doritea arrives and when we’re almost done, we get a chance to sit with her and ask her questions about her experience with genocide.
She tells us that all three of her sons died, and that she was hidden with her sister by a local Hutu family who had power, though her sister later died. Though her face is wrinkled with pain, when she smiles, it’s like a flower reaching for the sun.
We ask her if she sees improvement happening in Gashora, and she says, yes, very much. When we ask if things are better now than they were before the genocide, she says things are way better. She also loves Paul Kagame, wishes he could be president forever and thinks that reconciliation is working very well in Rwanda.
She thanks us for helping her with the kitchen garden, since previously, her only way to get food is through other members of the community and her granddaughters who visit her. During the conversation, a baby boy crawls over, his bum naked, and hands Doritea a small chunk of maize. She picks each kernel out of the cob and throws them on the ground, as if to feed a chicken. The baby plops down, puts a kernel in his mouth, and stares at us.
He proceeds to throw the empty maize cob at us as though it’s a ball. In the middle of an intense conversation about genocide, we have a child, the future of Rwanda, doing what he can with his resources. This is the Rwandan way.
When we go to leave, Doritea walks us a little ways down the road and says goodbye, thanking us again, and clasping her hands around ours.
We join the rest of the group at Yvone’s for lunch where the middle-aged tour group from Canada eats with us. Then, it’s off to Covaga for a cultural exchange. The Canadians will join us and allow the Covaga weavers to practice their English.
When the Canadians enter, the women converse with them in English, “Hello,” “My name is…” “Nice to meet you,” “Would you like to see our baskets,” “Thank you,” “We have baskets, tray, hot pads, and bags.” We squeal! Our students do so well with their English and are incredibly bold about approaching the tourists and speaking to them. We give them high-fives and hugs, so happy to see them using what they’ve learned.
Then we all sit down, the women pat their straw mats, inviting us to sit with them and resting their hands on our thighs. These women, we’ve grown to love them. We appreciate our relationship with them, how they teach us Kinyarwanda and open up to us to learn English. We are surprised when they tell us their age because they all seem so young and full of life, surprised when they tell us they have six kids at home and walk 10 kilometers just to reach Covaga.
These women are amazing. They smile, happy to weave us into their lives.
Please look back to day 5 to read a great description of recreation in Gashora, written by our very own Jon Kaimmer :)