Life in Muhanga

During my time interning with JAM International, I lived in the Shyogwe sector of Muhanga district, Rwanda. Located to the southwest of Kigali, Muhanga is much more rural than the city I’ve come to call home. Living in a village surrounded by more cows than coffee shops took some getting used to, but after a month I was sad to leave my community in Shyogwe.

The students had off of school one Wednesday, Oct. 5, for Teachers’ Day. That morning I boarded a van with the other JAM teachers to visit to another school. It was a Catholic school, so we started with worship in their chapel. Their choir, which was all women, wore cerulean robes that made them look like the muses from Hercules. Then there was a volleyball game between teachers from two schools. The muses were cheerleaders, and some men played traditional African drums whenever a match was won.

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My home in Muhanga

 

After that, we were ushered into a room where the main event took place. The superintendents introduced each school, a teacher read a poem, and teacher of the year certificates were awarded. My favorite part was when a group of primary students performed a traditional dance. The girls wore beautiful skirts and headbands, and the boys wore something like a toga. Their dancing style was similar to that of Bollywood, but they lift their arms up into the shape of the letter “U,” imitating the horns of the bulls their culture so highly values. It was three o’clock by the time lunch was served; they served some of my favorite African foods: matoke (like a fried banana) and cassava (similar to a potato) with beans. The best part about Teachers’ Day was that I got to experience it through the lens of not an mzungu tourist, but as a Rwandan teacher.

On Sunday my friend Natalie and I attempted to go to town for church. Word on the street was that there was an Anglican church that preaches in English. To reach the main road, we rode on bicycle taxis. I enjoyed the exhilarating bike ride, riding up the dirt road past the rice farms. In the distance we could see acres of cultivated land and pastel houses. On the side of the roads were goats tied to trees and women carrying large baskets on their heads. Once we arrived at the main road, we took a bus into town. We were half an hour late for church when we realized that we didn’t know its name or location. Instead of going on a wild goose chase searching for an English service, we stumbled upon an “ADEP” (Pentecostal) church and walked in. Similar to my professor’s Methodist church, the choirs were the staple of the service. They preached in Kinyarwanda, but one of the parish members sat next to us and translated.

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Natalie’s bike taxi on our way to church

The following two Sundays, we managed to find St. Matthew’s Anglican Church where we worshipped with both Rwandans and people from all over the world. I met two Germans who are living in Rwanda for three years teaching in English. The church felt more like home than anywhere else in Muhanga, but even they struggled with their English. In their prayer pamphlet, the Nicene Creed claims to believe in the “Holy Sprite.” After church, we explored downtown Muhanga. The area isn’t nearly as touristy as Kigali; finding coffee, let alone Wi-Fi, was a challenge. We managed to find a few fun places to spend our weekends, including a soccer stadium and the market. I love shopping for kitange (African fabric) and choosing my favorite colors and patterns.

 

Although almost everything useful is located in town, there is a market every Friday in Shyogwe, the sector where JAM is located. It looked more like a garage sale than the market in Muhanga. They didn’t even sell kitange, only a lot of American clothes, which I’m almost positive were all used. I bought an orange skirt, and the woman who sold it to me laughed. I think she ripped me off, but I didn’t mind because the clothes were so cheap by American standards. There were also vendors selling cabbages, habaneros, and fruit.

On one of my last days in Muhanga, I sat on my porch reading and realized that soon I would never sit there again. Sitting on that porch, I think I experienced a little slice of heaven: free from all the distractions of the internet and life outside of Muhanga, I fully appreciated the cool breeze, the gray clouds, the slither of sunshine, the sound of cows mooing, and the myriad of strikingly handsome birds congregated on my lawn. Muhanga is the most confusing, beautiful, and glorious place I’ll ever live.

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