Umuganda is a Rwandan tradition of community service performed on the last Saturday of every month. Theoretically all Rwandan’s would participate – although we learned this week that that is not the case – and projects occur at all levels of government. So that the Muzungus could be seen by a larger group of people we participated in the District level of Umuganda where we helped clear a road of weeds and grasses and such to stop the forest from reclaiming it essentially. So yes, I used a traditional Rwandan ho to clear weeds and grass for around 4 hours and my hands are torn to shreds. Since we are still quite the spectacle we occasionally had to move to different locations on the road so that people working near us would start working again because they would just stop and stare at the Muzungu. Additionally the head of the District level police and Army commander wanted to be seen working with the Volunteers – to their credit I’ve been told they are at Umuganda every month – and thus I was working next to the chief of the police for awhile getting a personal language lesson.
After the road was built with the police/army representatives taking the ceremonious last ho with us volunteers, we entered an amphitheatre to celebrate the accomplishment. When we got to the outskirts of the clearing the 20 or so volunteers there were made to wait with the police and army staff until everyone else had assembled and then music was turned on and we entered into the front of the area as honored guests. The whole thing would’ve felt a little awkward except that it immediately turned into a dance party at the front of the crowd. I got some lessons in traditional Rwandan dance from a woman who I don’t know but recognize and several of the soldiers. Sidenote: I received multiple marriage proposals during this dance party and since I have a feeling its rude to say no to anyone carrying an AK-47 I may have an African fiancé, we shall see I’m unclear on the Rwandan sense of humor on these things… Anyway