The adventures continue as Matt and I criss-cross Rwanda, meeting an array of fascinating people and making great strides on behalf of Indego Africa.
As is the norm, we arose at 6:00 am yesterday and, after a light breakfast, met the renowned Pastor Deo Gashagaza, who is intimately affiliated with the amazing organization Prison Fellowship of Rwanda. Pastor Deo and some of his colleagues requested that we visit one of their cooperatives, Ntibizongere, in the town of Gayonza, and consider adding them as an Indego Africa partner. Gayonza is about 75km outside of Kigali, and the drive was beautiful. Matt and I were more than pleased to sit in the back seat of the Pastor’s truck and watch the stunning Rwandan scenery pass by as the wind whipped at our tired faces.
Ntibizongere is yet another example of the remarkable determination and character of the Rwandan people. Made up of genocide widows working side-by-side with the wives of men who killed their families, their focus is on unity and reconciliation through economic development. Many of you may do a double take at my previous sentence: how can one forgive in such circumstances? I am personally unable to answer this question, but it’s been on my mind quite a bit.
Not surprisingly, the women at Ntibizongere were wonderful, and they even gave me an introductory lesson on how to weave their beautiful and aromatic banana leave baskets! On our way back to Kigali we stopped in for a meeting with the Vice-Mayor of the Kayonza District, Mutesi Anita, a vibrant woman working tirelessly for her constituents.
Now, with regard to the title of this post, I want to discuss what may be my favorite part of this trip so far: Matt’s superhuman – and, in certain Rwandan sectors, infamous – haggling skills. As Matt explained in a previous post – “Frugal, Yet Effective” – Indego Africa intends to turn the common perception of the international NGO on its head, starting first with an intense focus on making every dollar (or Rwandan Franc) count. From taxis to fans, Matt does not settle for prices normally offered to the “mizungu” (which, as a matter of political correctness, I will just say means foreigner). The highlight was late yesterday afternoon when we went to Gakinjiro, the bustling local market, to purchase two cabinets, two chairs and a desk for our partner cooperative Covanya. We were outnumbered, facing off against roughly eight local Rwandan merchants determined to overcharge Indego Africa. But through charm, brains, and toughness, Matt, as he always does, got the right price. I speak neither French nor Kinyarwanda, so my job is to stand by and shake my head disapprovingly throughout the process. The haggle lasted for at least half an hour, with various feigns, jokes, lowballs, highballs, threatened walk outs, actual walk outs, lots of laughter and, finally, an excellent deal for Indego Africa. Matt, I’m in awe.
Today we stayed in Kigali, jumping from meeting to meeting. Our first stop was at the Rwandan Invest and Export Production Agency (RIEPA) to meet with the Handicraft Coordinator, Jean De Dieu Hakizimana. We accomplished a great deal, from training agreements for the women artisans to starting some exciting legal initiatives regarding social enterprises. Indego Africa is thrilled to work closely with RIEPA towards our shared goal of spurring investment in Rwanda.
Our next stop was at the Free University of Kigali, Rwanda’s national university, where we met with Dr. Venuste Karambizi, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, to discuss the possibility of an exciting educational collaboration between Dr. Karamabizi’s students and a Modern Africa class at the University of Houston. Dr. Karamabizi was gregarious and insightful. It was a pleasure to make his acquaintance.
Tomorrow is a big day: installing a computer center and office at Covanya. Time to get to bed…