Monday, February 15, 2010

Back on Canadian Soil

It has been over two months since my return to Canada. The sparkle season has come and gone. My mother is settled into an assisted living facility and is doing better. Relief is pouring into Haiti. Snow is burying the US south while helicopters ship snow in BC to keep the Olympics from stalling. Parliament is prorogued. Again. And we have welcomed a new grandchild into our family. Life, with all its twists and turns, goes on.

And yet…

Although I have been busy, today is the first day I have felt I can write about Rwanda and my adventures there. As yet, I have not been able to put my finger on why. Processing my experience, trying to put it in place, juxtaposed against my life of relative ease and luxury here, has been elusive. It is as though a chapter has closed and another started. Or like I put it all in a compartment and it is over, like a box of archived files I’ll never look at again. Why have I not looked at all my photos? Why have I not been able to prepare presentations that people are so eagerly awaiting? Why have I not tried to sell that quilt? Why am I not filling a box for Rwanda? Am I so cold? Will it just never make sense? Am I still processing?

I know, when I returned, that I was tired and busy and preoccupied with my mother and that this has not really stopped. I know I could easily just tuck this experience into the past, like a great vacation. But the fact is, I don’t want to. Something happened over there. To me. And perhaps more importantly, something happened to all the people whose lives I entered. It is just not fair to go somewhere, give of yourself, form relationships with others and then disappear. Morally, I have a responsibility. To myself as well as to them.

If I close my eyes, I can conjure up their faces and names. Such lovely women. Such generous people for whom life has been a series of losses, large and small. How can I add to that through my silence and inaction? I cannot. But what is my role, here, so far away? For this is actually the place where I live, the place I call home. I know that much is true.

I can see how people can devote themselves to people in another needier place, give of themselves their whole lives. Although there are difficulties associated with living in an underdeveloped country, there is something freeing about it too. You know exactly what you have to do every day from the moment you wake up to the second your head hits the pillow, if you are lucky enough to have one. A bit like an addiction perhaps.

I felt that myself. And I think that was part of my emotional inertia when I returned to Canada. I had lost my way in this western life. It felt too easy. It felt too open, with endless possibility. I was not shocked by the consumerism. I was not shocked by our relative wealth. Perhaps, yes, I did miss the sun and my daily dose of Vitamin D. But still, it all felt like home, just the way it is here. It was this wide open space ahead of me that I had no idea how to fill. My life here felt trite, meaningless. This despite being busy with a range of activities, from yoga to book club to granny group to volunteer work. All of these are things I love.

So time has passed and my heart is lighter and freer. I feel more engaged. I think I am emerging from a minor depression, all to do with all the things above. It is hard. It is hard to have more than so many, especially when you know their names. It is hard to feel joy in little things you love when people are struggling to put food on their tables or to send their children to school.

And yet…

And yet what are the women I met doing right now? They are living their lives. If
they think of me at all, they are happy that I was part of it for a short while. They are finding joy in their lives, despite their hardships. They are finding deep satisfaction in their relationships. They are making the best out of everything that is put before them. They are loving their children and their families. They are making their homes. They are putting food on their tables. They are trying to make their homes and lives better. They are happy to be alive and happy to have the support of others in their lives. Who can ask for more?

I must do the same, here, in my life. And I will.

Saying Goodbye – Murabeho…

My final week in Kigali was spent in a blur of activity. Packing was the easy part. But still I had things I wanted to do. One last workshop. One last English class. Get that bicycle for Simeon. Go to Jeanne’s thesis defense. Give away a bunch of stuff to the sewing students. Plant the orange tree. Final fittings of the clothes I had ordered. Finish the quilt. Have a party to say goodbye. Somehow, God was on my side and I got to do it all.

As I have said before, life in Kigali is simple, and yet everything takes time and offers up complications. Take the bicycle for Simeon. Sandrine, Jeanne’s daughter, found one for sale in Nyamirambo and was able to negotiate a good price. The bike was delivered to Jeanne’s home during the party after her thesis defense, which was awesome! (You see how all these things stack up and blend together?) The bike is glorious. Black, heavy, very used but exactly what Simeon will be crazy for. And for a price that is reasonable. I pay up.

But now the bike is in Nyamirambo, which is about as far away from Kabeza (where Tubahumurize is located) as it could be. And Jeanne is afraid that if Simeon rides it, the police will seize it as it is illegal to bicycle on the main roads. So another plan is hatched and the bike arrives by taxi in a pickup truck. The deal is that Simeon has to pay for the taxi. That seems fair. And then he is the proud owner of this clunky, overdressed bike with balding tires. He is over the moon! He rides it with gusto! He is already tinkering to tune it up.

Giving away my belongings to the sewing students was truly a joy. Bit by bit, over the course of a few days, I would walk out into the courtyard with some items in my hand. What really blew me away was how the students were not greedy at all. They would see something and say, oh, that should go to Léah. Or to Soulange. Or to Madina. I was so delighted with their generosity towards others, and their sensitivity to those who were desperately poor, but who keept it well hidden. Everyone ended up with one or two things of mine that I hope they will enjoy and perhaps cherish. Certainly, they will remember me by them for awhile.

On the morning of my departure, I got up early and Simeon and I planted a small orange tree. This tradition is for everyone who comes and stays and supports to plant a tree. I packed my filthy jeans! I hope to go back and see how big the tree has grown.

As for the party, I wanted to invite the women of the community to come and join us for a drink (Fanta) and some small tasty appetizers. Jeanne got the word out to the women. I spent a few hours picking up supplies. Sandrine did some baking and the women in the kitchen were amazing. Suddenly it was all ready, trays of food, boxes of drinks, and the women were arriving. Women from the workshops. Women from the English classes. All the sewing students.

It was quite overwhelming when I saw them all there. Some had walked from quite far away. The food and drinks were gone in a minute. And then, even though I had said I didn’t have room for presents, there were some anyway. Along with lovely words to and about me.

I took my time, scanning the room and looking into each woman’s face, remembering them, the details of their lives. There were speeches. Jeanne had some very nice things to say about me, but the most touching thing for me was when Crescence spoke. She said that I had been like a mother to them all over the months. It really jarred me, but in a good way. It made me suddenly fully aware of the loss in their lives. So many women with no mothers. Some of them still so young. I saw that I had, indeed, however briefly, filled that void. I had opened my heard and my arms to them all, and they had felt loved and safe, as in the arms of a mother.

Her words and my thoughts were very much with me as I got into the car to the airport two days later. The weeping of the sewing students was not just for me. It was for what I represented to them. The losses they had experienced so early in their lives. I like to think that these tears they shed were healing tears.

My own tears came later, and they helped me heal too.

The First Quilt

I saved fabric scraps that the sewing students tossed when they were cutting their first patterns. Scraps off the ground. Scraps in the trash. It was used fabric and dirty, but under the use and grime was some loveliness that I saw. I planned to make a small quilt out of African fabrics. Day after day, I brought all the bits inside, washed them and hung them around the rim of the bathtub to dry. I had tried to explain what I was doing to the students, but basically, they thought I was completely bonkers. But I persisted.

Fast forward a month or so. I had not made much progress on my little quilt. All the tiny squares and strips are cut. I had made a few patches. But the only times the sewing machines are free so I can work were in the evenings, when it is dark, and on the weekends. Plus, the machines are quirky and I have not found one I really like. Even when I do, sewing is slow. There is a lot of making do with treadles.

Then, about a month before I am set to leave, a woman comes knocking at Tubahumurize. Jeanne meets with her. She is an American looking for sewing groups to take up quilting. Her group will supply the fabric and supplies. They will sell the quilts in the US. She brought a book about the basics of quilting. She left Jeanne with some American fabric. Not my taste at all, all pastels and teeny flowers. Bo-o-o-ring.

But Jeanne had been following my paltry quilting efforts with interest. This visitor spurred her always active imagination to even greater heights. We talked. Her idea was to get the students started quilting, but with African fabrics, new African fabrics. This is not a well-known craft in Rwanda. So Jeanne thought she could offer her students a niche market, an opportunity to make a little money while in school. And they could start right away in order for me to take a quilt home to sell. It would fetch more in North America.

The idea was presented to the board, which okayed it with enthusiasm, especially after seeing my little pieces. They saw the potential. They saw the beauty. Leone, who was pregnant, showed great interest. I plan to send my little quilt to her for her baby.

A few days later, Jeanne came bursting into the centre, her arms laden with fabric bundles. The quilt was on! All the students came in and we talked about size and design. And suddenly, all the scissors and rulers were out and the cutting began. Fast forward a few hours and we have piles of fabric of all sorts. I delve into my fabric stash and add a few pieces to add more character to the selection. Also, to be honest, my fabrics are of higher quality.

Fast forward again. I have taught the students a few shortcuts about sewing pieces together. I offer some more ideas on design. I emphasize over and over the importance of accuracy, so that it all fits together nicely. They are too eager. They don’t have the right tools. The charge forward on this project with naïve gusto!
The top is finished! Not perfect, by a long shot, but big and bold and beautiful. I explain the next steps are to layer the quilt. We use flannelette for the middle and a bright, bold pattern on the back. I clear a place in the middle of the main room. I stay up late and get up early to work on getting it to lay flat, to be square(ish), to fit. I put in a few basting lines to hold it in place and call in some students to help with the basting. It is done. We trim up the borders. We lay down a grid of diagonal lines in chalk, to make a diamond-shaped cross hatch pattern.

All that is left is the quilting. We have a discussion about why we can’t use the machines. The quilt is too big. The machines are too small. Hand quilting is more valuable. They are convinced. Some are appalled, daunted, when they see what we have to do, all by hand, but a few are excited. Everyone takes a turn at putting in the tiny, straight running stitches, some not so tiny and some not so straight. We run out of quilting thread, so we switch to ordinary thread. A core group of four takes over – Epiphanie (the instructor), Immaculée, Epiphanie and Léah. And me.

But I am leaving in two days! How will we ever finish! It is huge. There are so many stitches to put in. And I have tons of other things to take care of. On the final night, the four remain after hours, quilting. Each time I pass the room as I make my own preparations, I hear them chatting together. It makes me thing that this is exactly what a quilting bee must be like. Everyone together for hours, chatting about this and that. I think that this is probably some of the best therapy they have ever had.

I feed everyone supper as it is clear they are in it for the night. They eat, as always with gusto. I get out more food. Simeon’s chappatis with honey. A treat! They gobble them all down. Satisfied, they go back to quilting. They are in it for the night. I fall asleep to the muffled sound of their voices. Indeed, on the morning of my departure, they are all sleeping. They finished it! I offer them soap and towels and the use of the shower. A luxury! Then coffee. Another luxury!

But, of course, the quilt is not quite done. We have to sew on the binding. I had cut out the binding strips and sewn them together. The instructor sewed on the binding and we spent another two hours hand sewing the binding. I am leaving in three hours now! It is done, they tell me. Not quite I explain. We spend another hour wiping off all the chalk marks and checking for missing stitches. Okay, now it is done. Out come all the cameras. Out come all the other students. They are very excited and very, very proud. It is gorgeous! And full of gorgeous, generous mistakes.

It fits in my luggage. (I somehow knew they would get it done, and saved space.) It is really time to go now. I make the rounds with my hugs and my whispered messages. The students are awash with tears. I am holding it together until we turn the corner, out of sight. Then I cry.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Leaving Rwanda

The time is quickly approaching for me to leave this city and country and continent. Just 7 more sleeps, as John would say! So at this juncture it seems appropriate to reflect on my stay here: what I have brought, what I have learned and what I will do next.

As to what I have brought, first and foremost I came with information that the women who are beneficiaries of Tubahumurize did not have before. I have given workshops in first aid, hygiene, women’s reproductive cycle and nutrition to several groups of women as well as to the sewing students. All were well received, but if I had to pick three things that were most useful to these women, I would choose the following.

First, each and every woman, young or old, was totally entranced by how their bodies function, especially their reproductive organs. Women in their childbearing years were super-interested in their menstrual cycles and how to avoid getting pregnant! Everyone wanted to know how twins came to be. Most were delighted to learn that it is the male sperm that carry the sex of a child. Women approaching and in menopause were very interested in all the changes taking place in their bodies. I think all the women were really relieved that pretty much everything they experience is normal. As well, it may have been the one and only time these women and girls have had a chance to talk about such matters frankly in a group.

Second, in the first aid course, they were completely absorbed by the large charts I brought that illustrate the digestive, circulatory, nervous and skeletal systems. (These charts, by the way, I plan to donate to a free clinic nearby.) They loved discovering their pulse and having a glimmer of the miracle that is the human body. There is so much that can go wrong, it is truly something that most of the time, it works like a charm! I think they have a much better understanding about preventing illness, through good hygiene habits and assuring the care of wounds and burns. As a sidenote, in Rwanda, the custom is to put oil and sugar on a burn to help it heal faster! This is pretty counter to anything I have ever heard, so I simply told them what is standard practice in Canada. They were all also very interested in learning how to cope with diarrhea, especially in children.

Finally, in the course on nutrition, everyone was very interested in the three major food groups, carbs, fats and proteins, but especially interested in the whys of foods that are not very good for us, especially in the prevention of diabetes, which is rampant here, and heart disease, which is no doubt rising along with obesity. Because meats and eggs and cheese are relatively expensive here, the main sources of protein are from beans and peanuts. The women seemed reassured to learn that beans are actually a very good source of protein and of carbs. Thus, even the poorest women can feel good about how she feeds her family.

I was amazed to learn that here, where just about everything is cooked on wood or coal, which is either hard to find or not cheap, it is not the custom to soak the beans before cooking them! Thus, learning to soak the beans the night before you want to cook and eat them was a real eye-opener, because they can see that this will save them money since the beans need less time to cook over coals. Such a small thing will make quite a difference.

Another thing I believe I brought is a small understanding of the use of herbs and spices in cooking. In Rwanda, basically the only flavouring is salt. And oil. And a spicy oil called Akabanga. Even Jeanne, who has travelled all over the world and eaten all kinds of different foods, here in Rwanda feels limited in what she knows how to cook because she doesn’t know how to use herbs and spices. She and her husband Aaron have loved everything I or Simone cooked and Jeanne pines after this knowledge. Since I brought a bunch of spices and have added to them here, that will be my gift to her: a bag containing all these spices and herbs and condiments plus a few recipes and some information about where herbs and spices are normally used. I think it will please her.

In the sewing area, I have dazzled more than one young woman (in reality, the whole class!) because I know how to sew, and on a treadle machine. I actually used a hand crank for a couple of years in the Yukon, but that is another story. I was sewing something in the sewing room here, with the whole dang group watching me with huge eyes, and I ran out of thread in the bobbin. They were amazed to see me wind it up on the bobbin thingy (I can sew, but I don’t know the names of the parts of the machine… :(). They, including the instructor, had been winding the bobbins by hand because they didn’t know that there is a small groove in the bobbin that allows it to stay in place for winding “automatically.” Again, such a small thing, such a big difference.

As well, my small project using old discarded fabric to make a quilt has become a real item here. They are amazed by the look when different colours are juxtaposed in patterns, random though they may be. Jeanne is completely taken with the idea of this sewing school having a specialty. To be honest, there are hundreds and hundreds of people throughout Kigali who sew, but mostly dresses, skirts, tops and such. She feels that if they can make quilts and sell them overseas, like in Canada, using African fabrics, then the students will both have a specialty and a source of income while they are in school. With luck, I will bring home their first quilt next week when I fly. That is the plan anyway. This knowledge of mine has the potential to really make a difference in the lives of the sewing students -- this class and those to come.

Also to the sewing students, Simone and I brought a sense of imagination through art and through English class. For example, we played Mystery Guest during English class; the students had to guess the identity of another student who was pretending to be someone else, based on the name written on a piece of paper they drew from an envelope. They had a lot of difficulty imagining how the person in front of them could possibly be someone else when it was so obviously Rosette or Jeannette or whoever. But they finally got the hang of it and thoroughly enjoyed trying to figure out the various identities! They have had very opportunities in their lives to imagine things beyond what is directly in front of them or to play.

Finally, in terms of what I brought to Tubahumurize (in addition to the funds and supplies donated, which came from all of you!!), I would have to say I brought a lot of love, understanding and happiness to these women. Jeanne has told me that before Simone and I came, many of the women were unhappy and listless. She has noted the difference in their attitude and their sense of joy and even playfulness since our arrival, with the introduction of English classes, workshops and yoga. In English class one evening, Simone and I were a bit stumped about what to do next and we decided to teach the women to sing Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes, a nursery school rhyme for preschoolers as you know. Well these grown women had a blast singing the song and acting it out! It is as though they hadn’t had enough time to play in their lives and were just happy to have ten minutes of complete fun! Our English classes are especially like that – lots of fun!

In terms of what I have been given, I don’t think I can begin to do justice to it using words. But of course I will try. The whole point of a blog, hello! I think the main thing is love. I have most certainly been loved here, for who I am. Nothing more and nothing less. What a gift! So many women have shared their deep gratitude to me for tiny things I have done. Hugs beyond belief. And what a gift to raise someone’s spirits with a word of encouragement or praise. Even remembering people’s names means so much to each person. How is this a gift to me? I think because what makes them feel good makes me feel really good, not for having done the thing but for having made their lives a bit better, even for a moment. The moments actually add up into something significant. I believe that.

As for what comes next, well I understand that returning to a developed country can be quite a shock. I am prepared to have a slow reaction of some kind. And it will take time for me to process my experience here, to make sense of it, the good, the bad and the ugly as it were. I am certain of that. And of course, I will have to send photos and gifts and letters and so on to my new friends here, asap.

But after all that, after I rejoin my friends, my husband, my great, big, growing family, my mother, my puppy, my cat, my book club, my granny group, my choir, my co-workers at the op-shop, after most of the dust has settled, I will be able to focus on the future. The future of me and Tubahumurize. What could I do next? What will I do next? I have a million ideas but am not ready to make any decisions or promises. But I think it is safe to say, “to be continued…”

Jeanne Mwiliriza

So much happens here at Tubahumurize and in general that it is easy to forget that Jeanne Mwiliriza is the sole reason this association exists. It is time you knew more about this amazing woman.

Some of you may know that the reason Jeanne started this organization was because a dear friend of hers, constrained to a wheelchair, had called, afraid that her life was in danger from her husband. Jeanne talked with her and reassured her that it was just idle threats again. They planned to meet the next day. But by then, her friend had been murdered. Very shaken and filled with guilt, she suffered for a few months. But when she made some kind of peace with herself, she also made a decision to start a centre for traumatized women who had lived or still lived with violence. She wanted to do something so that her friend’s death would not be repeated.

But perhaps that is leaping forward somewhat. Jeanne had been married to a successful doctor, Joseph Butara. They had three children: Eloge, Valentin and Sandrine. Prior to the genocide, they had lived in Kigali, but when a new ruling Hutu party was elected, Tutsi families such as their own were no longer welcome in Kigali. They moved around quite a bit searching for a safe place to settle.

In April, at the time of the genocide, her children were ten, eight and five. During this time, the family’s story takes two paths. One results in the murder of Joseph Butera and the escape of the two boys to a refugee camp with their Aunt Charlotte where they lived for about seven months. The other results in Jeanne’s miraculous survival and that of her young daughter.

Over the course of the genocide, Jeanne was taken at gunpoint seven times to be killed, but each time (except the last) there was an argument over whether she was a Tutsi at all. (At this point in Rwanda, identity cards had become a moot point: it was all about madness and murder and how people looked.) Jeanne is not a tall woman, and Tutsi women tend to be tall; thus, the soldiers argued over her “identity.” Each of these six times she was spared and was released.

The seventh time, several soldiers came into her home determined to kill her. The leader was especially intent. He ordered Jeanne to get into the wardrobe in her bedroom so he could kill her. She refused. Her lack of fear really annoyed him and he was hell bent on her death. So instead of the wardrobe, he told her to get in the closet. Again she refused. Finally, he flung open the door to the closet and swept aside the hanging clothes. His abrupt actions caused a photograph of Jeanne and her husband on their wedding day to fall from the top shelf to the floor in front of him. Startled, he looked at the photo and paled.

He asked Jeanne if the man in the picture was her husband. When she replied that it was, he said that he could not kill her because her husband had operated on and saved his own badly mangled leg when he was a young boy. Other doctors had wanted to cut the leg off, but Joseph had wanted to heal his leg because he was still so young. “Without your husband,” he said, “I would not have been able to walk in here to kill you.” Thus, he reasoned, he could not kill her.

He left with all the other soldiers, telling them and everyone else that she was to be left alone as though dead. For the remainder of the genocide, Jeanne and Sandrine were untouched and unmolested.

Rwanda is not that big and people have connections everywhere. Through these, Jeanne finally found out that her husband had been killed, as well as her parents and two sisters, but there was no word of her two boys. She was sure that they too were dead along with her sister Charlotte. She cried all the tears she had, dried them and turned the page onto a new life as a widow and mother to young Sandrine. She also took in children who had become orphans overnight, and whose parents had been Jeanne’s friends and neighbours. Eventually, she “adopted” five orphaned children.

Only in December did Jeanne discover that her boys were alive and well with her younger sister, Charlotte. She was overjoyed to welcome them home into the family. However, Jeanne was never able to find her husband’s body, though she looked frantically for many long months. His bones were never recovered or identified, and to this day, her greatest sorrow is to have been unable to lay him to rest in the ground with a proper burial.

Jeanne is a beautiful and charismatic woman of fifty now. I can only imagine her in her thirties, even after three children. She was, no doubt, still a beauty, filled with intelligence and sparkling charm, despite her many sorrows. She met her second husband, Aaron, a few years later through the church where he was pastor. His own genocide story is of utter loss: his wife, his siblings, his parents and all seven of his children were killed. I cannot conceive of the loss and emptiness he must have felt and, no doubt, still feels from time to time.

Jeanne and Aaron married and continued to raise Jeanne’s expanding family. Memories of the genocide haunted them both, and Jeanne began meeting with other women to share stories and hardships and to comfort one another. They healed slowly, in the knowledge that they were not alone and that their stories mattered.

After the death of her friend, after Jeanne had determined that she would open a centre for traumatized women who were once or were still victims of violence, she began taking the steps she needed to take to be able to do a good job: a sociology degree, courses in trauma counselling, youth training, first aid, health education, Grameen banking and micro-credit loans. Jeanne has founded several associations of women as well, but since opening its doors in 2006, Jeanne has worked full-time for Tubahumurize. She works without a salary to this day and her own home is used for the centre, thus forgoing the rental income she would otherwise have recieved.

One thing Jeanne is really passionate about is that the future of this country depends on letting go of ethnic divisions. Thus, the mandate of the association is specifically inclusive of all women, no matter their religion, ethnic background or economic status. Everyone is welcome. That does not always sit well with some women, but in order to build something new, something old has to be left behind. Jeanne is a devout Christian actually, but is not narrow minded. Indeed, I believe Jeanne has captured one of the great strengths of Christianity, perhaps its best, and that is a belief in the equality of all people.

I witnessed her listening to a young woman recently, a sewing student, who was relating some information to her about her family situation. Jeanne was totally present for this young woman, listening attentively, gazing at her with her warm eyes, asking questions, saying reassuring things. It was a joy to behold. Jeanne, filled with boundless energy and enthusiasm, filled with ideas and plans and dreams and more ideas, sitting so quietly in the presence of this young woman. This is an example of how she works. A whirlwind sometimes, not always organized or on point, but always, always has her priorities straight when it comes to the women. She is there for them.

Jeanne certainly cannot run this place alone, nor should she, but she has many qualities that assure this organization’s success. I am certain that through faith and determination, she will make sure this happens. One dream at a time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sub-Saharan Flora

I inherited my mother’s love of flowers. Here, I find it amazing here that there are always flowers blooming on the trees and shrubs, flowers that I have never before seen. Flowers of all shapes, sizes and scents, some so powerful and fragrant you could just lie down and drink in each breath and never stop inhaling. Avocado trees so tall that the fruit is completely inaccessible.

I have taken a little time with my camera to photograph just a few of the trees and shrubs that have caught my eye. Because there are no real seasons, except two rainy and one dry, there are even trees blooming at the same time that fruit is ripening! Amazing, eh? Or perhaps that is something that other people have realized and I am the last to know. Whatever...

Just in the front yard here at the association there are three small orange trees, one mango tree, a guava tree, two large lemon trees, a vine called ‘prunes du japon’ and an avocado that is still a baby but growing rapidly, having just been rescued – fertilized and disentangled from a crop of weeds – so it is now in full sun. It is a charming garden, especially because each of the plants gives something delicious to eat! Charming and useful, a great combo.

As I tried to describe in my blog about the gorilla trek, the cultivated fields abut the wilds of Rwanda. Anything left uncultivated reverts very quickly to jungle and weed, the result of plenty of sun and rain and very rich soil.

We put in a small garden here at the centre, growing carrots, beets, beans, spinach, celery, garlic, zucchini, cucumber and leeks. This will supplement the diet of the sewing students, giving them a bit more variety than just beans, rice, sorghum and bananas. After two weeks, everything had sprouted and now is growing rapidly. Soon, some things will need to be thinned! I imagine it would be easy to have two or three crops per year, although I don’t think that is the custom because it is too dry for several months and too costly to irrigate.

It is heartbreaking to me to see the farmers (both men and women) at work in their fields, barefoot, using very crude implements. Every blessed field and crop is cultivated and weeded by hand. They often walk long distances to reach their fields. These rural farmers work so very hard every day and remain very poor. I don’t know if there is resistance to change in these communities, preferring to use traditional tools, or if there is simply not enough money to purchase anything more efficient. Also, I don’t know if the traditional ways of planting various crops produces the highest yield it could. From my perspective, there is a lot of space between rows that is wasted, but likely to make room for humans to weed the crops.

I leave you with a few photos, which give just a hint of the beauty that is around every corner.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Another Atypical Day

My niece Marie mentioned recently (complained?) that she still has no real idea of what Simone and I do all day, here at Tubahumurize. So this blog perhaps will give a clearer idea of our daily activities, although it must be said that one day is never the same as the next so there is no truly clear routine. And to be honest, yesterday, Friday, the day I am going to describe, was a very busy day.

Our day began in earnest around 8:00 am, with the arrival of the sewing students who bring a lot of excitement and energy and chatter. Simone was already up, doing yoga in the morning sunshine with Simeon, who is a natural. Though I usually stay in bed as long as possible, just listening and thinking and gathering up energy for the day, yesterday I got up quickly, knowing it was to be a full day.

By 8:30, Simone and I had cadged a lift from Aaron to go to the huge indoor market at Kimironko, about a half hour walk from the centre. I even skipped my cup of coffee to leave early! We spent about an hour there, buying a few items to bring home as presents, and of course, I had to fondle all the fabric and buy some too. Then we tipped the young man who helped us find things and we hopped on moto-taxis back to the centre.

After my coffee (!!)(half hour to prepare and drink), Simeon and I walked to the local market to look for a woman named Anatalie. She had been ill and had come to the centre to see if I could help fill her prescription. I had called a nurse who works in a free clinic; she was able to fill the prescription and had dropped it off at the centre the day before. At the market, we asked a few people where to find Anatalie, who works there sewing. I ran into Prosperine, one of the beneficiaries at the centre, who told us that actually Anatalie had gone to Tubahumurize to see me!

But before returning to the centre, Simeon and I needed to buy some vegetables. I found another lovely woman I know, Febronie, who sells tomatoes there. She filled our bag with fresh tomatoes and helped us get potatoes, garlic, carrots onions and rice at a good price. She seemed very proud to be able to help me and for sure we were surrounded by a great gaggle of people the entire time, all clamouring for me to buy whatever they had for sale and just wanting to shake my hand or greet me.

I actually love this environment, so full of smells, sights and sounds, the hustle bustle of people working and chatting and arguing. It feels very relaxed, and though people want me to buy from them, they accept when I make a choice and don’t seem to hold a grudge against me or their “competitor.” I guess what I am saying is that the atmosphere does not feel at all competitive. Just noisy!

Bags full, Simeon and I walked home. I went to tend to Anatalie, giving her clear directions about the medications and putting in the first dose of eye ointment that was prescribed in her eyes. I think she has a touch of pneumonia actually, so I hope the antibiotics she takes will kick in. I told her if she does not start feeling better in three days, she should return to see her doctor.

After this, I had promised Valentin that we would (finally) build a composter for the garden. Two days before, we had gone to several shops down the road to find some stiff wire mesh (about ¼” holes) and some heavier wire for attaching things. Mission accomplished, we had returned with 2.5 metres of wire mesh and a roll of heavy wire.

So Friday, we began by cutting four stakes from wood that had been stored in the garage. Then, we prepared the area where the composter was to go, digging a shallow round hole, into which we inserted the ring of wire mesh and bury it a few inches. We covered all the edges with duct tape to avoid the nasty cuts that wire can give (though it is not sticking that well, so we may need to find another solution).

Valentin drove in the stakes, I cut wire to attach the stakes to the mesh and in about an hour, we had our composter up and running! I even started to fill it with some garden waste. Several people watched this process, especially Simeon and the two Erics from the sewing class. It is going to reduce the landfill wasted generated by the centre and will also enrich the garden soil. As a sidebar, the garden seeds we planted are all sprouted and growing away!

Then, I sent Simeon up the lemon tree with gloves on and a pair of secateurs in hand to prune off a few ridiculously tall branches – so tall it was impossible to harvest the lemons. Also, the two lemon trees need pruning in other ways, but that can wait for another day. We started with the tall branches. So he did that. It looks much better already.

During this time, Simone was busy working on the newsletter and finishing a funding report. Jeanne was off having her hair done. Epiphanie, the sewing teacher, called me to try on the skirt she is making for me, which I did! It fits perfectly. No more of that off-the-rack stuff for me! Made to measure rocks! Simone and I consulted a bit on the day ahead, especially a project we were planning with the sewing students and we divvied up the work.

I took a few minutes to read my email and especially to read Sarah’s blog, about her (my daughter-in-law) amazing, excellent and thankful recovery from brain surgery! Another story for another day, but she is doing well. I spent some time organizing all the photos of the sewing class into one large folder as we were going to present a slide show after their class. Jeanne had returned and prepared a meal of leftovers, which we all ate with gusto. It was almost two o’clock after lunch and we had a class with the sewing students at 3:00 pm.

What we wanted the sewing students to do was to write to the many individuals who were part of a large fundraising effort in Alberta. A program called Green and Gold out of the University of Alberta, had planted an enormous organic garden and had given away all the produce, only asking for a donation. This raised over $16,000 CDN and all the proceeds are to come to Tubahumurize! (The connection to Simone is through her boyfriend Eloge, who is the son of Jeanne, who runs Tubahumurize. Networking, networking…)

Simone and I got the paper, pens, pastels and coloured pencils ready, as well as a template for the students to follow when writing their letters. Valentin and I hooked up my computer to a larger flat screen monitor and Simone got together some music to accompany the slide show.

Shortly after three, the students finished cleaning up for the weekend and came around to get their “lesson.” They were very diligent in their work. Once completed, they took some time to add illustrations to their “cards”. I think these notes will be very much appreciated! They are really sweet. Then, everyone came inside to watch the slide show. They loved it! Laughing and hooting and pointing, seeing pictures of themselves and each other. It was a great success! Something to be repeated for sure. Everyone wants copies of these pictures and that is something I plan to do on my return. It is too expensive and complicated here to make prints.

After the students left, Simone and I got busy in the kitchen, baking a chocolate cake for the birthday party we were invited to that evening, the now-13-year-old son of one of Jeanne’s sisters. One hour later, we had two lovely round Ultimate Chocolate Cakes, covered in chocolate peppermint icing.

At this point, I took a short nap! Shortly before seven, Jeanne, Aaron and Sandrine (Jeanne’s youngest daughter) arrived to pick us up. Simone looked stunning in her new African outfit! We spent a pleasant evening with a very nice family, mostly eating and chatting quietly. All very subdued and dignified. The cakes were a hit! We did not stay late as everyone was tired.

On our return, Simone and I sipped glasses of wine and talked for quite awhile pretty much about life, the universe and everything. She is feeling a bit sad about leaving but also excited about a two week stint in Europe with friends and then her return to Montreal – and Eloge!

I have no idea what time it was when I untied my bed net and arranged it around my bed. I only know that I slept soon after and stayed that way till morning. I think Simone is still sleeping, a wonderful thing as she often has insomnia.

So that was one day. Not typical, but frankly, none of them are. Hope this helps you picture our lives a bit better Marie! Over and out. Elaine