Unless you’ve accidentally stumbled upon this website, I’m guessing most of you reading this are living in Kigali. You know as well as I do that life here can be comfortable. It’s easy to stay connected to Western life and, for some, all too easy to disengage from the real daily life of Rwanda.
Well just outside of Kigali there’s a great opportunity for you to connect to Rwanda in a cool way. Starting last September, Azizi Life in the Muhanga District began offering experience days to anyone interested in learning hands-on about rural life in Rwanda.
Azizi Life began a few years ago to help with trade and community development in Muhanga, working closely with 20 artisan cooperatives. Azizi Life noticed considerable customer interest in the lives of the artisans, so Azizi asked women from the cooperatives if they would be interested in sharing. The women planned a schedule that would give a good insight into their world. The first trials were met with great success and Azizi Life Experiences was born.
Three of the largest cooperatives of women all host experience days. Within the group, the women rotate hosting the curious visitors in their homes. The experience is an intimate opportunity to get to know some incredible women.
Azizi Life contacted Living in Kigali and I got a courtesy invite for myself and a friend to try an experience day and share it on the website. (Job perk!)
Before our day, we were told exactly what to expect so there were no surprises. Azizi Life emailed an itinerary and directions days ahead of time. On the day of, My friend and I were giddy with excitement – a day away from our computers and paperwork and Kigali – we always liked educational field trips.
A 7am bus from Nyambugogo got us to Muhanga by 8.
When we arrived at the Azizi Life office, we were given a safe place to lock our belongings and one last chance to use a toilet (on location there are only pit latrines). Our translator introduced herself and briefed on us who we would be working with for the day; we were going to work with the 9 women of Abarikumwe, “People who are together.”
Azizi Life provided a lift to the host home, just 15 minutes away. We were greeted by the women who brought us inside to meet the family. Together, we sat in a cool, dark room illuminated only by a window and made our introductions: our names, our ages, our marital status, how many children we have… you know, the usual.
Even though my Kinyarwanda is basic, the women were friendly and chatty. Language barrier problems were nil with the help of our translator and of course a room full of cheerful ladies. It may seem funny to point out, but I think it’s important to tell you nothing about the experience felt phony or forced. We were a group of people simply enjoying each other’s company and learning about our very different lives. They were familiar from the start.
They wrapped us in Kitenge and head scarves and we were officially part of the group. After all, it was time to get to work.
Our first task was to light the fire in the kitchen so our midday meal would be ready on time. Half a box of matches later, we were ready to tear it up in the field. No pun intended, we tilled. We worked right behind the house on a hill, starting at the bottom and side-by-side, we worked our way up the grade. If you are wondering, the cultivating wasn’t all too strenuous. We worked at a slow and steady pace and were encouraged to stop whenever we wanted a rest.
After cultivating, we moved onto shelling beans. So much fun! I’ve always been a proponent of anything stationary and repetitious but the nicest part was more time to talk and share and laugh – A LOT! The good humor throughout the day made the experience even nicer.
The day was well organized. Dare I say, the most efficient day I’ve had in Rwanda ever? And it wasn’t rigid at all. Visitors are able to sit out of any activity they don’t want to do and there’s no pressure to strain yourself – only to enjoy learning from the women.
Up and moving again, we went on a beautiful walk through some fields to fetch water from the local well – ie. the sort of task some people may wish to sit out on. We hiked down a steep hill (the views were great) and luckily there was an easier way back up with full jerry cans in hand. The water was for the house; Azizi Life provided plenty of bottled water for us visitors.
We worked up our appetites and for lunch we all sat inside and enjoyed our meal of potatoes, beans, and avocados. Simple but delicious! I’d go just for the food again. And duly noted, during the formalization of the program, the women were given food handling training so no worries about sanitation (if you’re one of those people), just dig in.
The afternoon was my favorite part: crafts! Before beginning, we were taught the full process of making sisal crafts, starting from cutting the plant itself. My friend and I each had one-on-one instruction on how to make bracelets and earrings and in the end, got to keep what we made. I worked with a real spitfire, Alice. My utmost respect for sisal artisans – when you look at my earrings, it’s obvious which of the two I started. But sorry, I won’t let you look that close.
Our day ended at 3 with goodbyes, thank-yous, song, and dance. Before you go out for your experience day, you better prepare a little ditty. The day was inclusive right to the very end and after the ladies sang and danced, we were asked to do so as well. Our Three Dog Night rendition was sub par but greatly appreciated anyway.
At the end, we were brought back to the Azizi Life office to gather our belongings, freshen up, and have a cold drink. Azizi Life sat down with us to hear about our day. This wasn’t because we were a special case, but because they genuinely want to hear about each visitor’s experience and they were eager for our feedback. The thoughtfulness of Azizi Life was plain to see and we had nothing but good things to say about the day. I imagine that’s why their experience day program runs so smoothly – they’ve thought of it all.
I’m wholeheartedly recommending trying Azizi Life for yourself. Take a day away from the office to get your hands dirty in Rwanda. An experience day is the perfect solution to shuffling visiting friends and family around! They host big groups and make real life Rwanda accessible to everyone. As a bonus, an experience day helps provide disposable income to rural communities.