Tag Archives: Rwanda

Simplicity

There is a small rural village in Rwanda. It spans several hills, as most towns do. I ended up staying there for the first part of my visit to Rwanda, the “culture plunge”.  I plunged thoroughly into the culture! In this town, I drank rosemary tea with creamy milk, I worked the fields with women, I carried a baby on my back, I chewed on freshly-cut sugar cane and enjoyed fried green bananas and my first much-anticipated cassava, I attended a three hour long Catholic mass in the local language Kinyarwanda, I spoke probably more French than ever before, and I took my first trip on a motorcycle taxi.

The Rwandan countryside is incredibly beautiful to me. Far more so than I expected. Often I was left just staring at the hills around us. The earth is so abundant there. Almost everybody owns not only a home, but also a piece of land behind the home – sometimes quite a large piece like a hockey field in total, broken into blocks over the hill.

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The knowledge of how to cultivate one’s own lands for subsistence has not been forgotten in Rwanda. Households, even when some members earn salaries, are encouraged to grow plenty of their own food and the surplus they load in a basket and carry down to the market. Maybe there are parts of South Africa where this still happens, but I fear most of us forgot how to live like this because of urbanisation and land dispossession. I explained to Rwandans that many South Africans live in shacks very close to each other, with no land to grow anything. When such South Africans have no money, they have no food. Standing in a field of sweet potatoes and mielies, banana trees and avo trees overhead, my sketch of South African poverty sounds almost too terrible to be real. No-one seems to believe me.

While there are many things I learned in that town, what God has most strongly revealed to me, so far, about the experience is simplicity. Life in there is simpler than any life I have ever lived. If you ask people what we are going to do tomorrow, they have two, maybe three things on the list. One evening I asked what we would do the next day and the only reply was: we will be washing clothes.

The value of a simple lifestyle is that, with all the clutter of my ordinary life out of the way, I began to hear myself think.

This was not as terrifying as I expected. Maybe you are like me, almost afraid of being too idle because you’re not sure you would like having a conversation with yourself. It wasn’t as scary as that. It was gradual and gentle. I thought more things through, I prayed about more things, and I felt more at peace with myself.

Live closer to the things growing around you, and you will notice your own growth.

It is the third month of the short rainy season. Go down on your haunches in a field. Look down and see the deep red earth, pushed aside with a hoe three months ago to make a shallow planting hole. See the darker bits of composted grass and cow dung, stuck into the hole before the bean was planted there, so that when it germinated it would be surrounded by nutrients. Look how the bean has grown, finding next to it the tall dry branch that the careful farmer has stuck in next to it, and beginning to climb. See the first tender flowers.

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See how green the plant is, seeming like it lacks nothing. It has abundant food, warm sunshine, and plenty of water. Like you. And now let the skin on your feet feel the red footpath, trailing the side of the hill, homeward.

The first few days back in South Africa, I was very pleased when the desire to reflect and to write down brief insights in my journal did not fade. I sensed in myself a hint more grace for people, too; inner peace spilling over in outer peace. I thought that Rwanda has changed me.

But two days later, I was back to rushing from one thing to another and the journal entries dried up. I realised that the peace was a result, at least in part, of the simplicity I had lived. And that I would have to consciously seek out such a life if I wanted to enjoy that peace.

I went to my allotment garden at Ariston. I planted the “dodo” plant seeds that Consellée had given me. And I felt something of the peace return. I will keep seeking.

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Rwanda was, well, it was so many things.

I recently attended the Taizé Pilgrimage of Trust on Eart in Kigali, Rwanda. Before the main gathering I also had the privilege of going on the optional “culture plunge”: living with a family outside of Kigali and just experiencing life with them.

Rwanda was, well, it was so many things.

In the two weeks that I was there…

I filled up that blank notebook, and then another.

I felt my soul breathe at the sight of the beautiful landscapes of the country affectionately known as the Land of a Thousand Hills.

I learned about peace, and discovered that I’m not alone in dreaming of it.

I observed lives lived in a country that is developing in leaps and bounds while grappling with a gruesome, traumatic national memory.

I learned about crop cultivation in Eastern/Central Africa and I helped hoe the fields one morning, too!

I came much closer to the brutality that humankind is capable of. I stood in a church where thousands of people had hidden in desperation, only to be slaughtered.

I was blessed to win the confidence of two or three young Rwandans, who shared bits of their  drastically varying life stories with me. These conversations I will value forever.

I tasted a bit of Taizé and cried my eyes out at sheer relief that God has provided people who know Him and peace so much better than I do. I want more!

I experienced the joyful, abandoned and expressive worship of Rwandans and other Africans who joined us for the Taizé gathering. (I think it took the Europeans a lot longer to get used to than us South Africans!)

I heard stories of reconciliation… but not enough. Give me more!

I found myself living slower and with more time for reflection. This was awesome and it is something I want to cultivate in my normal life.

Even before departing for Rwanda, I discovered a new generosity in my heart, which I think is a result of trusting God for provision for the trip. It deeply affected the way I look at money and community.

I saw the value of officially acknowledging people’s suffering through justice, truth telling, memorialisation, reparations and restitution, and the inverse, the pain of not getting any acknowledgement for one’s suffering.

I got an idea of how much it sucks not having complete freedom of expression.

I learned about the idea of “Shalom”, which is not just the absence of war but complete well-being in every facet of one’s life which flows over into life-giving relationships with others.

On a lighter note, I ate “fufu” / ubugali which was made the right way, unlike our pathetic efforts at the fundraising dinners that I hosted before my departure J

I gave an impromptu South African history lesson to a bunch of rural Rwandan primary school teachers.

I forgot my shampoo and discovered that cold water and Dove soap works almost as well!

I carried a baby on my back, which I thought was, you know, cool but I wasn’t prepared for the total amazement of the locals!

I spoke massive amounts of broken French to people who not only often spoke equally broken French back, but also switch their ‘R’ and ‘L’ sounds around at will so that “J’aime les fleures” sounds like “J’aime réfrères.”

I took several trips on motorcycle taxis! You haven’t lived until you’ve felt the breeze as you cruised up and down the hills of Kigali.

I drank rosemary tea and “sosoma” – a soya, sorghum and maize drink. I ate cassava roots, cassava leaves, fried green bananas, cooked green bananas, dried fishies, and way, way, way too many beans!

The other South Africans and I showed sang South Africa’s national anthem and explained the significance of the flag to about 2000 young people. Feedback was that almost everyone would have preferred if we showed them a Zulu dance. Turns out Zulus are really famous…

God worked. People were blessed by Taizé. Rwandans felt honoured and affirmed by the presence of so many eager youngsters in their towns and cities.

My prayer for you is that you would feel God’s redemptive power in the world around you. Jesus died so that we can draw near to God.

Amahoro.

Cara