“Stop making me cry.”

One of my best friends just wrote me that imploring comment about my recent posts on Rwanda. So I figured it was time to break out the upbeat posts for a while, and let you know you can (temporarily)  retire your hankies and wallow in my Pollyanna side.

Actually, there’s a lot to love and celebrate about Rwanda. First and foremost, the people. Almost everywhere you go, little children tear out of their homes, race to your car with arms furiously waving hello, and try out their best English: “Good morning, Muzungu!” (Muzungu means “white person” and as a pasty suburban American, I can tell you it’s pretty intoxicating to finally be considered exotic).

Traveling with my 21-year old daughter Lulu was a total bonus – not only because I got to enjoy her company (and she actually seemed to want to be with me), but because seeing the country through her eyes gave me a totally different perspective. For instance, she was really struck both by how hard the people work (Africans as a whole are industrious beyond belief…

…and how deeply inter-connected the people seem to be (which makes the 1994 genocide even more difficult to understand).

In Rwanda, nobody walks alone. When people are at the water pump filling their 20-liter containers with water for the long walk home, they are laughing, talking and visiting.

When men are hauling 50 kilos of bananas on their bikes, they’ve usually got a friend or two along helping. Rwandans live so closely together (there’s tremendous density of population) and they have such big families (the average number of kids per family is six), there are always packs of kids playing and working together, older sisters tote younger kids on their backs, and families are rarely apart. Lulu loved that! (although it’s also her worst nightmare)Divorce is practically unheard of, everybody walks everywhere, and people spend the vast majority of their time outside in the year-round temperate climate. In rural areas, there are precious few cell phones or electronics and the countryside is spic-and-span. Plastic bags are banned, roadside trash in nonexistent (thanks to a mandatory country-wide cleanup the first Saturday of each month) and women vigorously sweep their dirt front yards every morning and evening.I have to say that I believe President Kagame has done a remarkable job of leading the country, preventing another war, bringing home the educated diaspora to lead the recovery after the genocide, purging the government of corruption, and trying to help the poor find a way out of poverty with a livestock program (modeled after Heifer’s!!) called “A Cow for Every Poor Family.”

Rwandans working their plots in a rice field project created by the government.

I know there is a lot of controversy over Kagame’s authoritarian control, and I’m no expert on African politics, but from what I saw there were a lot of progressive things happening. And less political rancor and toxic discourse than… ummm, here.

Hope was in the air and people seemed really grateful for the things they had….like each other.

Veneranda Mukagakwandi with 4 of her 8 children (plus some cousins).

So there’s my post– and not a tear-jerking moment in sight!

Woman performing the umushagiriro, or cow dance.

Stay tuned for the next post about shiny, happy heifers (not pictured below).

(Sorry, Lulu, I know I promised not to do this…)

Categories: Africa, Children, Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Rwanda, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 22 Comments

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22 thoughts on ““Stop making me cry.”

  1. Anonymous

    Hi Betty,

    It has been April since I last posted. I have been on a non-stop task driven work mode that has left me fairly depleted. I am thrilled to finally have a real moment to enjoy your fabulous blog and view the absolutely captivating photos and stories of the Rwandans. Truly, many Americans could take a page out of the life-styles and values of these awe-inspiring people.

    Lulu, hats off to you as I know this was a hard trip and your mom was blown away by your stamina and good spirits. Betty has been a lightening rod to us all by giving us a healthy serving of global issues on a level that is engaging, informative, uplifting as well as access to make a difference in our own small corner of the world by supporting Heifer International!

    Bravo, Cheers and Hugs!


    • Thanks, Ginger — I am so happy to hear your voice again in my comments; I know how hard you’ve been working, and I am really looking forward to hearing that you’re taking time OFF!! I loved the people of Rwanda and the Heifer projects there have so much promise…. but really, the most amazing experience was having Lulu along on the journey, and realizing how much she saw and felt.

  2. Deb Morrow Palmer

    Your blogs have brought many more smiles and positive feelings about the possibility to make changes in poverty stricken areas. I look forward to reading them because I find them uplifting! The world in general focuses on negative, and that is why I love you for finding the silver linings, but still opening our eyes to the great needs in all the world. You so deserved winning that amazing “Classy” award!! I would love to try and find you when you are in Pa. I have a townhouse in Philly and would come up in a heart beat!!

    • I promise I’ll call before I come next .. but it might be in 2013!! We’ll have LOTS to catch up on then, Deb, but I really appreciate your thoughtful comments and enthusiasm!!!

  3. Beautiful post, Betty. thank you

  4. Oh, I love the Pollyanna you, as well, Betty! And I got a huge kick out the bicycles piled high. One of my friends took a collection of photos of all the amazing stuff we saw stacked high on cyclers there. Great post, my friend.

    • I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the guys with the bananas — those big stems are HEAVY and I have no idea how they get up and down the hills… even pushing! But when they spend $100 on a bike, they are going to use it to transport anything and everything — and you’re right, they definitely do! I was just blown away (as usual) by the work ethic I saw in Rwanda … it’s quite humbling!

  5. Martha Radatz

    I don’t know, but something so very beautiful should not be called a cow dance. I LOVE (among other things…) that they have banned plastic bags, one of the scourges of THIS country. How much we can learn from our neighbors.

    • Well, in the Kinyarwanda language, the dance of cows is called umushagiriro — which is a really pretty word, so let’s use that! Aren’t the women beautiful?? And they can balance those grain baskets on their heads while they whirl and twirl .. it’s really pretty!!

  6. What a wonderful, uplifting post. I enjoyed reading such a positive story about wonderful people. Great photos also.

  7. Love it! Finally, tears of JOY!! Thank you, Betty!!

  8. It’s the least I can do … ( :

  9. A Ciaccio


    Date: Mon, 27 Aug 2012 12:16:26 +0000 To: aciaccio@hotmail.com

  10. pat shropshire

    Jane Hirshfield wrote “…I know that hope is the hardest love we carry.” This post gives hope. Bless Lulu for adding her vision to the wonders you bring into our lives, Betty. And the last photo is beautiful! Thanks, Pat

  11. Oh, Pat — I really LOVE that quote! I’m so grateful for your comment, and by the way you are such a constant and uplifting friend to me. I adore you …. xoxoxo b

  12. Beautiful post and thanks for sharing! I am loving your blog and your stories. How wonderful that your daughter was able to see Rwanda too. I am sure it was a life changing visit for her as is your trip for you.

  13. thanks for sharing a more positive view of Africa. I’m really excited that “Afro-Optimism” is gaining ground. It’s important to think about how consistently portraying the people we are serving as hopeless and depressed influences how we perceive people from developing countries. We shouldn’t be surprised to see smart, hardworking, and happy people in other cultures!

    • Maddy– I love that term “Afro-Optimism” and I’m going to use it to describe how I feel whenever I go to Africa. Seriously — it is SO great to see such hope, faith, commitment, hard work, vision and sheer will to get things done … I’m happy you liked the post!!

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