Rwanda. Sitting in the local bar, a dark, 10×15 foot shack, sipping home-brewed banana beer. There was no discount on the bottle even though half of it had sprayed into the air when the woman tending the bar had opened the bottle. The man sitting at the table by the door was drinking his bottled beer with a straw. I had been offered a straw for my banana beer. A woman came in that everyone seemed to adamantly ignore; she wanted to dance with me but it didn’t seem a good idea so I didn’t. It had been a good few hours since I had arrived at the village for a tour. The local bus never came to our stop. The guide was told the bus was filled with people at the prior stops so he arranged for motorcycle taxis. My driver’s name was Innocent and his passenger helmet did not fasten onto my head. After the guide insisted, Innocent gave me his helmet. Once on the road, I noticed Innocent was periodically righting the broken helmet when it flapped over his eyes, I spent the rest of the 25 minute journey holding one hand around his waist and the other holding his helmet onto his head.
When I first arrived at the village, I was escorted to a residential courtyard where a local woman draped me in what I later learned was the local garb befitting a married village woman, but no one had asked me if I was married. While I was inside the wooden enclosure being “dressed,” there were about ten men playing cards at an outside table. The guide explained they were relaxing after the workday. Next, we proceeded further into the village where a woman showed me her home. In the living room was a small (2 inch high) kerosene lamp. The guide said he had done all his studying by a lamp like that. (I mentioned that Abraham Lincoln had studied by the light of a candle.) The front room had paper cut outs hanging from the ceiling. The guide translated that she had made them with the children from their old school books for decorations. Her two 6-year old twins sang a welcome song in English. The kitchen was its own hut just outside the living room/bedroom. The guide noted that the stick protruding from the kitchen roof showed a married man lived in the house. The husband was puttering around the vegetable garden, which included two 10-foot tall tomato trees with clusters of what looked like Roma tomatoes. (It I understood correctly, the government encourages each household to have a vegetable garden for better nutrition.)
Two women sitting in chairs were chatting and making baskets with colorful designs. I didn’t want one but it was difficult not to get one as their wares were for sale. I got to talk to the basket maker (via translator). She showed me how she would put a big basket on top of her head. (I confess I would not have thought of doing that.) Nearby another woman sat on the ground to make a straw mat. I helped with the mat. It took a long time to knot an inch length in a row working with the course straw. She said a 5 x 10 foot mat would take her about two weeks to make. All the women wore colorful garb similar to that I had donned over my clothes. The villagers grew promethium, a daisy like flower. In front of clay houses, 5×15 foot tarps lie on the ground covered with flower tops set out to dry. Once dried and bagged, they sent it to either South Africa or the USA for making insect repellent. There was a beekeeper who said he had 21 hives. He made the hive of basketry and cow dung, put in a queen bee, and then burned a honeycomb inside it to attract bees. He put each hive in the branch of a tree. The bees pollinated the nearby trumpet flowers, bright yellow bell-shaped flowers. A big group of children put on a song and dance presentation. I danced with them and then later jumped rope with them and ran, holding hands, past the cornfields and cows and sheep and goats. That was fun. The people seemed very glad to have a visitor, and the guide, who was from that village, explained that sixty percent of the tour cost went directly to the village.
Next, the guide took me to another house. Just inside the door, a woman demonstrated how she ground the grain (sorghum) on a rock. I asked to try it and after giving it my all, she exclaimed. I asked the guide to translate and she had said my husband would have to get used to gritty porridge. The guide explained the sorghum was the food source that kept most villagers healthy. From there, a woman demonstrated how the ground sorghum was mixed with water to make a ball and cooked briefly over the fire. She washed my hands with the water from my water bottle and invited me to try some “bread.” You took a pinch of the dough with your fingers. It reminded me of snitching a taste of delicious batter while preparing cookies. All the locals were diving into it and acting as though it was delicious. I didn’t like it, but I said it was good. From there, I returned to the courtyard where the men were still playing cards and the same woman removed my married woman’s garb. After thanking her for her efforts and then finding out who was winning the card game, I set off for the bar on the village outskirts. I had asked about that shack on the way in and was determined to check out the local beer. The motorcycle taxi on the way back had two working helmets, but his fuel gauge stayed on empty the whole way.
I got sick approximately 8 hours after that. (It probably would have helped to use soap for the ceremonial hand washing.) But I’m glad I tasted the banana beer.
TATTOO—Journeys on My Mind by Tina Marie L. Lamb
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