Archive for February, 2011

Umuganda and Umudugudu

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.


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Honeymoon Stage (Cara)

Okay, okay, so it has only been about 2 weeks in Rwanda, but I am still in love with it.  Call it the honeymoon stage, or naivety, or just plain newness, but I am indeed very happy here thus far.  We now live in 75-85 degree weather every day (sorry San Francisco, but I don’t miss your cold), are working for/with a company with a true heart for empowering the women of Rwanda (www.indegoafrica.org), living in community with dear friends and spending our days with each other experiencing a new culture.  It is quite lovely.


Don’t get me wrong though – I already really miss my family and friends.  A LOT.  And I can tend to get a little over-anxious in thinking about my need to find a good paying job in the next month or two.  Lastly, I have struggled tremendously over the past few weeks with this whole housing search (we are getting close though – please cross fingers and pray!). But I am thankful for the internet and ability to IM folks, Skype-call and write emails.  I feel so much more connected being here compared to when I lived in Kenya back in 1995 and had to wait 2 weeks before hearing what was happening back home through a hand-written letter (by the way – a hand written letter is still VERY special and very welcomed!  Uh-hum… our local addy is PO Box 5568, Kigali, Rwanda).  My mom and I are getting really good at Skype!


There are certainly many TIA moments (“This is Africa”), for sure, and there will continue to be in the future.  We have

This is Africa. Walking your goat home, or wherever.

to take time to remind ourselves that we can’t expect our normal day to start and end the way in which we planned it, or even hoped for.  Going down to the immigration office to get a work visa one morning, really takes 3 days, an impromptu hour-and-a-half meeting (that was very unpleasant and accusatory), hours of waiting in line, and walking out with only one work visa instead of two.  Now I have to make a new meeting at the US Embassy to see if they will put new pages in my passport (at $85 USD for 6 pages!) before returning for more waiting in line at the Rwandan Immigration Office.  Honestly folks, it is way worse than the California DMV!


The house search has been interesting.  Finding a house for rent in a particular neighborhood in Kigali requires contacting many different brokers, multiple appointments, the acceptance that we will likely see the same place multiple times (because there is no central listing of open houses on the market so owners work with multiple brokers), and the dreaded “negotiation”…


There have been a few houses that we have looked at, where the owner/tenants actually still live in the house while we view it, which can be a bit awkward.  Yesterday we viewed one of these homes, while walking through the kitchen Casey mentions to me, “Mmmm, you can smell pineapple.”  Moments later the owner of the house was yelling at his wife in Kinyarwandan (local language), “Quick, quick.  Chop, chop!  He likes pineapple!  Chop chop!”.  The wife came out of the kitchen with plates full of fresh cut pineapple and my husband was the happiest man in the house!  If you don’t know this about my man, he is a pure fruit-aholic.  We stayed for an extra half-hour getting to know the owner and he getting to know us.  We decided against this place, but it was an experience we will not soon forget.


We are currently deciding between two places and hope to have news in the next day or two.  Prayer for the right place to be is appreciated.  We will be sharing our home with the Indego Offices so we are looking for the right place that will still allow us to have some privacy and host friends, family and be hospitable to those whom are brough our way.  After we nail that down, we have many more logistics to go – we still don’t even own silverware!

Eating out: a local meal is essentially starch and more starch. Rice, beans, cassava, sweet potato, spinach and beef stew.

Here we are with our friend and colleague Jadot.

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Connecting with the Cooperatives

We’re beginning to be introduced to our most senior cooperatives – an amazing array of women who inspire us by coming from such poverty to running successful – and profitable – businesses.  Here’s some pics:

Plateau Baskets - Covanya

Open Air Sewing - Cocoki

Group Picture - Cocoki

More pics to come, but it was a great day of talking with Covanya and Cocoki cooperatives – and being introduced as Country Director for Indego Africa in Rwanda.


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