After spending a day with the women in their villages, we truly felt as though we were a part of the family and cooperative at Azizi.
When we got off the bus at the first of two houses in the village, the women were overjoyed to greet us and we all hugged and shook hands, which is custom to Rwandans. Next, the women began to sing and dance and form a circle so we joined them! It was so fun and of course, heart warming. In return, we performed our play for them. My favorite woman who I didn't know the name of, but I will refer to as the Woman in Blue, jumped into our play during the Mwaramutze scene! She was a blast all day long!! Such a cheerful leader. We then split into two villages.
Once we split into our two villages, we went to the house of our respective village and took seats. We began by praying and sharing brief introductions of ourselves with the help of our translator Renee. Then, the women put fabric head wraps and skirts on us. I hope to buy some fabric at home to make a skirt like that to wear when its nice out!
Next, we sat between the house and wood stove building and peeled their version of a sweet potato with a knife, chopped dodo - which is a leafy green, and added the two into the boiling water. We had an hour to wait for that all to cook down along with the beans and scallions in the pot. While we waited, we grabbed hoes and learned how to cultivate the soil and remove weeds. Next, we went to cut some grass for the cows to eat. We used something similar to a mini sickle to cut the super long pointy grass at the base and made piles of it. Then, we used banana leaves to make little head cushions/halos to carry out bundles of tied up grass on. It was so cool to walk to the cows with the grass on our heads. We fed the cows and I loved them! I actually learned a lot about them while we ate. Then we grabbed empty jugs and walked all the way down to the water to fetch some. We saw boys on the shallow water fishing and one boy caught a fish. It was really sad at the time because we kept it out of the water for like 20 30 minutes, but then Crystal finally let it go back thank god and he lived.
It was super hot and humid at this point. Then we made the uphill trek which seemed like FOREVER because we were all very hungry and it was so hot. We washed up and prepared to eat.
The food was inside of 2 huge circular but sort of flat, like a deep plate, baskets that were the circumference of a huge hot water tank. In between the food and the basket were banana leaves. Before eating, they asked if anyone wanted to say grace, which I did! I love doing that and I should do it more when I'm home. This trip has officially reunited me with my faith and I'm so grateful for that. We had huge avocado halves and ate with our hands. It was so good!! Very filling too. After eating and washing up again, we went back to the first house to reunite with the other group to do some weaving.
We were all too sleepy so the women decided to have us dance to wake us up. It didn't sound like it would work, but boy did it! We had a dance off. We all said the word for 'move', which sounded like 'inneega', and the word for 'shake it!' which I have forgotten. We repeated these words as we moved in circles. I was selected to win!!! Then the women enacted an award show which was hilarious. The Woman in Blue was on bended knee, using her elbow as a video camera and her other hand as the lens zoom. Others held up water bottles as microphones. We were given 'gold medallions' which were woven medallions made of dried banana leaves on curling ribbon as awards. The levels of innovation and creativity were remarkable amongst these women.
Now we were ready to weave! We were short on time so we all made bracelets out of banana leaves. This was so cool. Then, we could sense the rain coming. We played soccer and hand games and danced with the kids. This was the best part of my day. When it was time to go, it was really pouring. As we were closing out and saying goodbye, one of our hosts told us that in Rwanda when it rains when you're having guests over, it means they're blessed. My little friend Monica walked me to the bus. This was when I felt as though I wanted to cry. I wanted to stay with them forever!
I spent the rest of my Rwandan Franks at the Azizi gift shop which financially supports the women artisans. I bought cards with banana leaf decorations on them and a pair of hand-woven earrings.
I plan to connect this experience to my classroom someday. I want to start a partnership and promote these women and spread the word of their story. There's still help to be extended even from home, whether it's teaching my students about their developing and joyful lives, or if its promoting their goods to be purchased online. There is much to be learned about how hard these families work to survive and about how much joy they spread simultaneously.
I'll never forget this amazing experience.