Gifts from Rutonde

Jul 10 2014

It has been another hot day and I am walking home from Nyabugogo with a basket of beans on my back and a cardboard box in my arms. Inside the box is a live chicken complete with claws, beak and feathers. Today was supposed to be an administration visit to the project at Rutonde but, as ever, ended up demonstrating that in Rwanda, whatever happens probably wasn't what was expected.

Our helper, Steven, had come to Kigali from Rwamagana and we met among the early morning noise of the bus station at Nyabugogo. One of the reasons for our journey today was to meet the new Pastor at Rutonde, Jean d'Amour. The outgoing Pastor Immaculee was coming with us to pay a last visit to her old parish and together we set out on the dusty and bumpy road west.

The taxi we are using has no shock absorbers, not much suspension and yesterday was hit in the rear by a bus. Understandably, the driver is taking the road cautiously and even the bicycles overtake us as we weave around pot-holes.

After an hour of bumps and dust we reach Rutonde. The project widows are sitting on the ground outside the church building waiting for us. After handshakes and greetings several of the widows produce baskets of various sizes and in turn present these to Immaculee. She holds the baskets for photographs and one by one hands them back to their giver. Jean explains that the gift being given is not the basket but something special of the giver which is contained inside. This is something secret which will exist between the giver and the receiver from then on.

I too am presented with a large basket, this one filled to the brim with several kilos of beans. It isn't to be given back I am told, but instead taken home to Scotland. For a moment I can imagine the questions at the airport check-in desk but put those thoughts aside. The gift, I am told later, is not only the beans, but something else as well. Also in the basket is something of the people who gave it. The widows at Rutonde have very little in life, but one thing they do have is beans and gratitude.

After the gifts and a tour around the village we meet with Jean and then set off back down the road in our trusty, if mis-shapen, taxi. It is only as we are reaching Kigali that I am told about another gift which I have been given - the chicken. While we were saying our farewells, a cardboard box with the bird had been quietly placed in the boot of the car.

Back in Kigali there were two obvious choices: wring the bird's neck in the street, or walk home with it. The wringing didn't trouble me so much as getting the feathers out afterwards, so a walk with a squaking bird it was. Having worked out that taking several kilos of beans onto an aeroplane would blow my baggage allowance and that a live chicken would take some explaining, the decision was taken to find a good home for both. There are a couple of families who will eat well this week. In the meanwhile, we have kept some of the beans as a reminder of the widows at Rutonde.