In Kigali, the fourth Saturday of every month is called Umuganda day. All the businesses are required to close for the whole morning. During this time, there is a work project, scheduled by the neighborhood chief (like an alderman) to which all people are expected to come and help with. It’s an interesting attempt by the government to create a sense of community and favor communal priorities over individual endeavors. This Saturday, the work project happened to be just 25 yards from our compound door.
Since the rainy season began there has been a large collection of puddles in the dirt road leading up to our compound. The road was not draining well because of several huge piles of rocks and stones about six inches from the road itself. These piles were on private property, and the chief gave the owner an ultimatum that the rocks had to be gone by Friday night. Well, Saturday came around and the rock were still all there, so the improvement of the road became the Umuganda project for the month. I went out and talked to the chief to learn that the man had not cooperated with the neighborhood leaders, and therefore the whole community was now working rhe whole morning, on private property. It’s supposed to be illegal for private property owners to require Umuganda work to be done on their property, so the chief decided to fine the man, and then use the money collected from the man to buy sodas (Coke, Fanta, Sprite) for all the workers who came to the work site.
It was an interesting couple of hours – if I or Caleb started to pick up the rocks and help with the work, most of the Rwandans would stop working and start pointing and laughing, watching us until we stopped working. I guess they think that Europeans and Americans are so rich that they don’t know how to do work, or don’t need to. So I watched the work happen more often than I did actual work.
The moved all the rocks about two feet away from the road, dug a very shallow trench to try to collect the water, and then filled in the holes in the road with large pieces of broken cinder block. It has been five days now, and unfortunately the road is probably worse now than it was before the Umuganda day. Perhaps this weekend we’ll find some concrete and just build a sidewalk over the road instead