Sewing machines for the cooperative

Sewing machines being unloaded

We could have sworn it was an electrical shop we were in, but this is Africa and we have learnt long before now just to go with the flow. We are meeting the Rutonde cooperative women in the centre of Kigali to hunt down some sewing machines and the materials they will need to set up their workshop. Zacharie has come along with his pick-up and to help with translation.

This is yet another new experience for us. The technique it seems is to find a shop, any shop, and mention that you want to buy a sewing machine. It may be sound equipment and hair-dryers in this particular shop, but within a minute a boy has appeared with a brand new Butterfly sewing machine on his head and the trestle-table under his arm. Butterfly is the Taiwan equivalent of the good old Singer machine. Then a second-hand machine appears. This one is multi-purpose and electric. The table is hanging together with string and looks as if it will fall apart as soon as a stitch is sewn. It is dismissed by the cooperative lady with a wave of the hand. The Butterfly is inspected and the haggling begins. Eventually we end up with a deal which makes everybody happy and hands are shaken. One down, a long shopping list to go.

The next shop across the road is more obvious. The outside is draped with rolls of traditional gitenge cloth of every colour and pattern imaginable. Several lengths are selected while women appear from nowhere with scissors for sale. Lengths of zip are measured out and a large roll of foam padding appears from the depths of the shop. Just as we are thinking it is all over, but then the second-hand electric machine reappears along with a brand new table. Someone must be making them to order around the corner.

With two sewing machines, and everything else tied down in the back of the pick-up, we head out of town to Rutonde and 10 kilometres of dirt track. The goods survive the journey and are quickly unloaded at the other end with a group of excited women dancing around all itching to play with their new toys. These machines, together with they one they already have, will allow these women to learn their craft and start producing items they can sell.