Saturday, May 22, 2010

A visit to Nyagatare

Today, the first day after the conference, we drove up to Nyagatare, two hours north of Kigali, to visit our project sites. Rwanda is breathtaking, achingly serene. The graceful, gentle hilltops slope delicately, nobly, like the cheekbones of a Tutsi woman. Even Kigali, with its overpopulated smog-filled roadways, twinkle invitingly around the valley in the evening.

Like most of our projects, we help dairy farmers collectively bulk and sell their products through training, cooperative development, and small grants. We spent the day visiting bits and bobs of whom we've helped in the past two years. First,we visited a milk collection center, whose compressor struggles to cool all 5,000 liters of milk when it arrived at once (apparently, they are made to take it a little at a time).

Next, we visited a group of entrepreneurs - small grants recipients - who sell molasses to farmers, which they sprinkle on their fodder, making it more nutritious to the dairy cattle. Their shop was a tiny, windowless storage until at the corner of the open market in Matimba. A group of predominantly wazungu walking through any African market draws attention, and this was no different. Talking with the shop keepers, we were instantly surrounded in a fishbowl of curious onlookers. Nonetheless, I was able to break away and walk around the marketplace, which sold everything from tiny anchovies fresh from Lake Muhazi to women's undergarments (no packaging).

On the outskirts of town was Elias, a Muslim farmer who lived on a large plot of land and had a thriving family. Our project gave him an inkind grant of napier grass, and he choose to invest some of his own money (besides land and labor) to purchase more. As we walked through his impressive banana grove, we could glimpse the scrubby Ugandan countryside across the valley. We had just missed meeting his cow, who had gone into heat that morning and was rushed to find the nearest bull. I shook his hand and offered my congratulations. He laughed. A successful calf would double his dairy production, and was good news indeed!

We stopped for a simple lunch at the Savannah cafe in Nyagatare. Our choices were starchy - rice, mutoki (banana), chips (french fries), mashed cassava or sweet potato (the white kind, not what you'd find in the US). For protein, there were eggs, beef, beans or mashed up ground nuts (peanuts). I got the rice and groundnuts, and was surprised only for a moment when a bowl of purple mush showed up, until I realized that they'd blended the nuts without the shell, but with the skin on. So basiclaly, I had purple peanutbutter rice for lunch.

(My colleague got so much rice that the waitress actually came back and "reposessed" some of it for another lunch order when she wasn't looking. No explanation, she just plopped her spoon right in the rice when Gretchen wasn't looking and took it away... kept a firm hand on my peanut butter mush after that...)

After lunch, we visited a very friendly lady and her neighbor, both living with HIV/AIDs. She had used our small grant to create silage to feed their only cow. Although there was a language barrier, we sat and chatted in the shade of her house for several minutes. She was embarassed that we were sitting on (essentially) her stoop, and it wasn't very clean. I liked this woman the best, because she took our hands and laughed with us. Plus, she asked alot of questions, and was clearly excited to have us see her cross bred cow, which provided nutrition and income for her family. Cows in Rwanda (and Uganda) tend to be either Ankole (local), Freisan (Holstein) or a mix.

We walked up the road to a small milk shop, where this woman sells her milk every day. Betty (the milk shop owner) buys 15 liters of milk a day, and sells it to other neighbors after boiling it. There doesn't seem much incentive to sell to Betty, but community members do it, rather than sell directly to their own neighbors. (I didn't quite understand that, but there must be a reason). Next door is a women's sewing cooperative, which decided to buy a cow and collectively care for it. I enjoyed watching them work on the old fashioned Singer sewing machines (pedal pump) circa 1890 (and in good condition!)

We stopped for a sunset beer on Lake Muhazi on the way home, but it was clear we were all knackered. Overall, it was a great way to spend a day, but I was happy to hit the bed when I arrived 'home'.

1 comment:

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