A Day’s Work
We generally reach the intended area about 7:30 in the morning. When we approach the village, we call the guide and confirm the pre-arranged meeting place. He climbs in our truck, and directs us to the beginning of the Umudugudu. I am always amazed at the wide range of housing; some are mud brick dwellings with dirt floors, while others are made of stone with steps in front that lead to a “porch” beset with columns. In these homes, the floors have a smooth cement finish, and there are multiple rooms inside, each one with doors attached. One of the rooms is for food storage; it’s filled with grains and roots, much akin to what can be found in the old Philadelphia houses with “cellar kitchens” on the ground floor. What is a novelty in our city is still well in use here in Africa. The smaller dwellings are generally surrounded by a “fence” of a densely packed green plant called finger euphorbia. Interestingly, the sap of this plant has an incredibly high pH and can cause severe burns if it touches you. Specifically, it is well known to cause blindness. It is a better deterrent than it seems at first glance. Behind the home is the compound area; the heart of where the activity happens. There is usually a cow or goat in a rudimentary pen, an outhouse, a storehouse full of grains and roots, and some sort of hearth where food is cooked. No matter the home, the inhabitants are the same. They greet you with arms and faces open to the strangers approaching. A traditional greeting of “Muraho, amukuru? Nimeza” “Hello, how are you? I am fine” is exchanged. This is accompanied by a touching of the inside of your right forearm against theirs, your left hand on their shoulder, in a wide embrace. The physical aspect of their greeting speaks to an intimacy that exists even between strangers; this is a culture and society that has been through so much together. As we wander from home to home, we are consistently welcomed into the compound, into the heart of homestead. There are often a few children running around or helping to prepare the meal for the evening.
Food preparation is labor intensive, to say the least. The family collects the food from the fields, either digging for root vegetables, or carrying bushels of bean pods still on the stem back from the field, and then combing through the bushel and removing each bean from its pod. The water must be fetched for cleaning and boiling the food, and is collected at a source a considerable distance away in the above-mentioned yellow jugs. The fire must be made and kept going. So as we enter their home, we enter amid a whirl of tasks. Children playing, helping with chores, women preparing food, older women making traditional mats, men making rope from vines; all members of the homestead are hard at work. They pause in these tasks to greet us and listen to why we are there. It is customary for one family member to bring all of the handmade chairs and benches into the courtyard for the guests. The elders in the household produce their identification cards to confirm their dates of birth.