Apologies for the blog silence these last few weeks. It’s been incredibly busy with moving into our new house, packing and unpacking (still), setting up the Indego office, then layer on that our 12+ hour days trying to get up to speed on all things Indego – including a number of priorities vying for attention. But all of that is an excuse, of course. We just haven’t carved out the time to reflect on our experience thus far. Much of our time seems to get absorbed by daily life in Africa and so when we slow down at night, we’re focused on eating and falling asleep.
It is woeful to say this in a blog but we’ve had many experiences where we’ve commented, “this is definitely for the blog.” Yet by the time we get to our computer or back home from being in the field, it’s on to other focuses like walking up to the market to buy food for dinner or entertaining unexpected (though not unwelcome) visitors. We are finding very quickly that time is just different here in Africa and it often crashes up against my American mentality of time efficiency and maximizing the hours in a day. It can easily take two hours to accomplish something that would have taken 5 minutes in the US because the cognitive framework when it comes to “time” can be very different between the US and Rwanda. I am experiencing what an African friend said to me may years ago: “You Americans have watches, but us Africans have the time.” The guy who was finishing a wardrobe for us this last week took four (!) hours to install two mirrors in prefab doors. He definitely had the time (and of course, I did not). So we’re learning to adjust and adapt.
One of the “this is a blog post” experiences happened this morning during Umaganda. Umaganda is a national day of service that takes place the last Saturday of every month and is based on the premise that communities should work together to improve the neighborhoods they live in. It’s actually a very cool idea and simply institutionalizes what we should all be doing anyways. Plus it’s a chance to get out and meet/hang out with your neighbors.
We walked up the road to where everyone was working on digging out a long ditch and clearing out a pipe that ran under the dirt street. People were walking to and fro, carrying picks and shovels. Some were dressed in their church clothes (we live near an Adventist church) and others in their grungies – though I wasn’t sure if these were work clothes or just clothes clothes. As we walked up to the big ditch were everyone was working, all eyes were on us as we were the only white people to be seen. Fifty to sixty neighbors watched us with real curiosity as we came up to see if there was anything we could do to help. When I looked into the hole a guy handed me a shovel with a big smile (and laughter from the group of forty or so), to which I grabbed it, jumped into the hole, and started digging. Needless to say I was comedy relief for the neighbors.
But the real cool experience came afterwards where we all walked up to the market and sat outside of a hotel and had an Umaganda meeting with the community leaders, including the head of the Umudugudu (“neighborhood” in Kinyarwanda) and the head of security for our Umudugudu. I’m guessing there were about 200 people there and the meeting lasted a long time (inferred from above). But what was very cool about it is that the Umudugudu meeting is essentially a town hall/public announcement venue once a month that covers everything from the security situation in the neighborhood to informing the community that a disabled person recently moved into the Umudugudu and everyone needs to keep a look out for her. They also mentioned that a muzungu (white) couple also moved into the neighborhood – which was obvious who that was about.
It was this great experience of witnessing something unique to the African culture and feeling somehow associated with it. Technically we are part of this Umudugudu now and as such are responsible for doing our part in making it a positive place to live for all. In his inaugural address, President Obama spoke of the “privilege and price” of citizenship. Here in Africa most things are made much more apparent and real, whereas I think in the States a lot is able to be more nuanced and philosophical. Africa is too raw a place to wax philosophical. And when it comes to working together to ensure communal security, peace, and well being, everyone steps up and does their part. In this area Africa has a lot to teach/remind us of as Americans.
Now if I just had the time to learn it.