Sunday, June 8, 2014


Translated from Kinyarwandan to English, muganda means reconciliation.  After the 1994 genocide, the country wanted to make sure that people learned from it, never forgot it, and grew from it.  To help do that, the last Saturday of every month is dedicated to muganda and everyone, whether 5 years old or 75 years old, is required to participate.  Each village does this together and from around 8am to early afternoon, everyone works together on a specific project to better their village.  In the city, it tends to be road maintenance or trash clean-up and in the more rural areas, it tends to be construction.  Some people aren't a fan of muganda since they lose a free Saturday, but I think it's an amazing program since the whole entire community comes together as one to work on a common goal and regardless of any income, ethnicity, or cultural differences, everyone is working side-by-side to better their village.

Last Saturday our group had the opportunity to participate in muganda with one of the villages, Mayange, in the Eastern Province.  The current project in Mayange was working on building 5 houses for refugees that were returning from Tanzania.  The walls and roofs of the houses were made, but they still needed to be 'insulated'.  We arrived at acres and acres of open dirt fields with hundreds and hundreds of people ready to work.  There were dozens of wide, shallow holes dug near the houses and by a giant water tank truck that was being operated by the military.  In order to make the mud for bricks, water was emptied into a large 'reservoir' hole and then distributed to other holes which people hoed dirt into and then others would stomp around to mix the dirt and water until the correct consistency was reached.  Once this was made, another group of people would carry by hand the mud to individual houses where another group would take handfuls and literally throw the mud onto the houses until all of the walls were covered.

When our group arrived, it felt like there were 1,000 eyes questioningly staring us down.  Soon after we got there, the military men on top of the water tanker truck distributed the water and the entire process began.  At first, all of us stood around just watching how the process was done, but eventually some of us hopped in the mud pit and helped to hoe dirt or stomp around to mix the mud.  As soon as we did that, all of the locals started cheering and laughing.  Some people in our group even started to dance around while mixing the mud and chant while hoeing which made everyone there laugh.  Some locals even joined in with them and many people pulled out phones to videotape the spectacle.  Once the first batch of mud was made, the enormous group split into smaller work groups and went to individual houses to carry mud and to plaster the walls.

I foolishly wore a skirt that day since the group thought we would be walking around in the heat all day, but I still hopped in to join the mud-mixing brigade.  All I could pick up from their kinyarwanda conversations was 'muzunga' which means white person, but I'm sure they all got some entertainment out of watching the white girl in a skirt stomp around in the mud.  Swap the hot African sun for the cool mountain climate, and it was like mixing cob for the natural oven in Guatemala 3 years ago.  After mixing some mud, I got to put my softball skills to use and have fun chucking mud at the house walls.  In order for the mud to stick to the walls, you had to throw it really hard, which meant that you inevitably got a nice back-splash of mud of you. Most of the time it felt like target practice because there was always that one little spot you still had to cover and sometimes you would hit it and sometimes you would just keep circling it.

One of the interesting stories from muganda happened when myself and another student in our group took a short break to talk to one of the locals there and practice our French.  We might have been there for 10 minutes when one of the other workers from the area we had previously been at came over and told the local that he needed us to come back to work for 15 more minutes.  I'm pretty sure we didn't help that much, but it was really neat having them want us to work with them.

Something that really stood out at the end of our time at muganda was the change in how we interacted with the people in Mayange.  At first, we were the typical white people who just stood around and watched and they seemed to expect that.  Then they let us hop in and help out some and occasionally laughed at our techniques or just stared at the muzungas working .  Once they saw we really did want to work, they would show us their proper technique and teach us some.  By the end of the morning, they were calling us back to work from social breaks.  Although we were only there for about 2 hours, it was amazing to experience their sense of community.    Getting to work alongside someone who could be my grandfather's age and then 30 minutes working alongside someone my age, I got a glimpse into what it's like to have an entire village spend time getting to know each other and work to make an impact on their community.

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