05 July 2008

Demographic Diversity

I’m typing this as the church choir practices across the street (what glorious voices) and the thunder and wind come crashing through the city. We’ve only witnessed one bout of rain so this weather is incredibly invigorating after multiple days of hot and sun.

On July 1 we traveled to Kigali to spend Canada Day with our compatriots. While drinking some beer and listening to the likes of Avril, Sarah and The Hip, we met up with Lama's old friend from his days in Burundi. Eugene offered us each a bed at his very posh home in Kigali. We arrived and were promptly taken to a tennis club (in a neighbourhood that could easily be Shaughnessy in Vancouver) where we indulged the best African tea, fish brochettes and green beans I’ve ever had (okay, that might be an exaggeration but after days upon days of bananas, beans and rice any food seems exotic!). We brought Eugene some wine as a thank you. If you know me well, you know I was more than delighted to indulge. Of note, his home had a bath tub and while it wasn’t filled up with hot bubbly water, it was the loveliest way to start my day.

All these things were a bonus to the real reason for our journey to Kigali. This was our first visit to Gashora and the women’s cooperative we will work with during our time in Rwanda. To get to Gashora on good roads, we have to travel back to Kigali (2 hours by bus) and then hire a car to take us for the one hour trip to their village.

Notable experiences for me include:
Walking in and receiving a round of applause
That nearly made me cry
Watching the women weave
That clearly takes much care and attention (and they do it with their children right next to them)
Giving them our gifts (eyeglasses and a book on baskets)
And watching them devour the images inside with much enthusiasm
Taking portraits of each woman
And watching their beautiful faces light up when they could actually see their image
Visiting the lake area where they collect the water hyacinth plant
And meeting up with a group of locals to discuss the realities of water scarcity, purity and accessibility
Taking pictures of the local kids
And hearing them giggle when they saw themselves on screen
Finding an inexpensive hotel near to Gashora
That apparently offers hot showers (good for our future trips to work with the women)
Stopping on the side of the road so Mitch could film the sunset
And having kids come up to our car to ask us where the money is. Lama told them that they shouldn’t make a bad impression to muzungus. One kid actually agreed.

This project is revealing many layers (and it is amazing to see how the locals are actually aware of it). They know the water is bad (kids crap right next to it and when the rains come it slides into the very water basin they collect from) but have little opportunity to attend to it of their own means. Evanisi (the leader of COVAGA) is a survivor of the genocide and now works to help these women find ways to get more income than what their current farming roles can offer. By developing this website and film, the cooperative hopes that it could operate full time and allow for even more income to be generated. We realize we can’t promise the world, but the chance to develop an opening for potential is pretty amazing.

Beyond that, the research around the hyacinth has led us to meet with the Center for Innovation and Technology Transfer at KIST, where we hope to navigate opportunities for the hyacinth to be made into alternative forms of energy. We are submitting a proposal as to how this might come about and impact the work this community could be developing to generate more income while dealing with an environmental issue.

I also got to meet a fellow designer (by meeting his parents on the first day who were visiting Kigali). Nat is a Brit who runs Rock Solid and in meeting with some of his team we were able to negotiate some great opportunities. They are responsible for Rwanda Air’s in-flight magazine and have asked me to write a story and submit my photos for the next issue (they indicated this story would not just be told in Rwanda but reach many locations in the world). As well, they may want to join together and create an event promoting the work of COVAGA in some form before we leave (current ideas are a photographic exhibition in the form of a soiree in Kigali)! Needless to say, all these things are seriously exciting to me. Nat even offered me work if I wanted to stay longer. I told him I had this degree to finish but to not be surprised if I show up looking for a job! We’ll definitely be keeping in touch. I’ve said it before: the opportunities for design work are endless. This doesn’t even include the work that Lama hopes to do. I’ll keep you posted on the outcomes of these possibilities.

There are other great stories that happened during this visit but I’ll direct you to Mitch’s blog for those.

1 comment:

Meghan said...

That is SO COOL!

I'm sitting in the airport in Anchorage, Alaska and you are in Kigali, Rwanda. Weird. I just figured out that we are 8345 miles away from each other.

Miss you.