First day in Rwanda and I was off on a ‘culture’ tour with NOUSPR, an organization supporting people who have psychosocial disabilities. We drove out of the beautifully clean capital city, Kigali into the countryside for over an hour. The car journey itself was an experience with the hilly terrain and so many people walking, walking along the side of the road carrying goods: ex-diesel plastic cans full of water, bananas, avocados, fire wood and building materials. Some locals had very heavily laden bicycles which they pushed hill.
As we proceeded the roads no longer had tarmac and the red earth track had many deep ruts. At the side of the road we saw people working the land using big hoes: everywhere were banana trees, coffee bushes and some mature avocado trees. Driving across a big river I learnt that this was where the mutilated bodies were thrown in during the genocide and floated down stream to Burundi.
Arriving at the centre, a mud hut with no running water or electricity, we were warmly greeted with hugs and handshakes by the residents and we started by saying a pray together. Our driver, John, was the translator. We all sat down and three of the survivors told us their stories. After 20 years the stories were very real: the raped women, the lost family members and overall the chaos and the running with nowhere to go and ending up on the streets.
After that things cheered up and we went out to the back to milk the cow! It was contained in a small corral made with stakes and a leaf roof. Poor thing couldn’t move much though she looked well and gave us the most delicious milk which we tasted with a cup of locally grown coffee and chapatti: such hospitable people. We were then taught how to prepare the cassava roots, potatoes, beans and plantains and had lots of fun sharing the few sharp knives as we peeled the vegetables. These crops and sorghum grass which is a grain crop in Africa were grown altogether in the land behind the hut where we were encouraged to hoe the ground around the plants. The red soil looked very fertile. There were more cows in a shed at the back of the land and a compost heap of manure where the ‘legumes vertes’ were grown.
Our next task was to go collect water from the pipes at the bottom of the valley. We walked for 40 minutes along tracks slippery with scree, filled the cans, then the women put it on their heads to carry it back: hard work in the sun. On our return lunch was ready and we sat down together to share the food we had prepared with a lovely peanut sauce. We used plastic plates, cutlery and enamel mugs, all cleaned in the water we had brought back. Despite dire warning about health and hygiene, how could I refuse this welcoming cooked meal? I tucked in and enjoyed it very much!
Our final task was to learn how to grind groundnuts using a wooden pestle and mortar to be used for the peanut sauce; also to mill the grain seeds to make flour by rubbing it between two stones.
After that we learnt how to make handicrafts. Vestine, one of the group leaders, cut out strips from good quality calendar paper which we wound up very tightly and stuck down to make beads which would then be painted and strung together to make a necklace. Another visitor joined in with sewing to make a basket. I learnt how long it takes to make the crafts, the skills required and became more ready to spend money on buying these mementoes of my visit to the NOUSPR group members lead by Vincent.