On the last Saturday of every month, Rwandans are required to help beautify and maintain their community. This is called umuganda. Peace Corps volunteers participate in this event as well.
Starting at eight, we gathered community tools (shovels, hoes, baskets, grass cutters, machetes), and headed for a road near the training center. Most of the work involved using the hoes and shovels to remove vegetation from the ditch. Those with baskets gather trash from around the area and those with machetes and grass cutters (thin pieces of metal with no blade) trimmed the grass along the roadside.
There are more people than tools, so the people take turns. The attitude is fairly relaxed and most people end up standing around and talking. Some, even, with tools in their hand. Because I am a muzungu (white foreigner), many people were interested in talking to me, testing my Kinyarwanda and practicing their English.
Many people said they wanted to go to America. A few were curious of my motive for going to Rwanda. Although I’m a white man, people are unsure of whether I am wealthy or poor because I am thin. I encourage this by explaining that I am a volunteer and I work for free and that Americans don’t have any money right after they graduate from university. People will generally be more accepting of me if I am muzungu only in skin.
By 10:30, when umuganda ends, an incredible amount had been accomplished. It’s hard even to imagine almost every grown person in this country getting up and going to work on roads all over the country and all at once, but it happens. After umuganda the people go to a meeting of their local community. The Peace Corps trainees were supposed to attend this too, but for some reason we didn’t. This is not particularly alarming, as plans change so often in our (fairly new) program that it no longer phases us when they do. Hopefully I’ll get to see the town meeting next month.