Written on 24 October 2011
So you want to give the world a Coke? Too late. It’s already been done. Some days I feel like I’m living in an advertisement, the way Coke has infiltrated Rwandan culture. All Coke products are simply called Fanta here. Produced in 30ml glass bottles, your choices are Fanta Citron, Fanta Orange, Fanta Fiesta (grape), Sprite, or Coca. Make sure you take your bottles back to the boutiques though, or the shopkeeper will hunt you down to get their bottle-return money.
At each wedding I have been to, Fanta plays a main role. During the dowry ceremony, the bride and groom are ceremoniously brought a Fanta of their choice. With a cross between eating wedding cake and taking communion, the couple links arms to serve each other their Fanta. After the first sip, the rest of the wedding party and guests receive a Fanta to enjoy.
For a long time I didn’t understand any of this and thought it to be quite ridiculous. But I realized the tradition is age-old, just with a modern twist…or fizz? Traditionally a cow was given as the gift during the dowry ceremony. Rwandans have special wooden milk jugs that they used to use for storing the milk. Exchanging the first drink of milk signified the families uniting, appreciation for the gift, etc. Now, if only we could genetically modify cows to produce Fanta…
Fanta is not only a special treat for ceremonies or a lazy Saturday afternoon in the village, it can also be a great mediator. Last week there was a dispute at the health center between two coworkers. A man working construction had gotten upset over something and began destroying a nearby bean field. The beans belonged to an employee at the health center (who is also a pastor) and after seeing him ruining his crop, he called the man a dog (an incredibly low insult) and many other inappropriate things. Another coworker stepped in and argued that he shouldn’t be calling the man those things, no matter what crime he had committed. Before things got out of hand, an all-staff meeting was arranged to discuss the matter.
We went around and each employee shared their version of the story. The two main people wrote down what they had said to one another and for about an hour and a half, the incident was discussed. As it was all in Kinyarwanda, I had a hard time following, especially since emotions were not clear as people went from being tense to laughing to arguing. Eventually the various accounts were solidified and a public (forced) hug from the two coworkers took place. However, a punishment had to be made and the first proposal was that the two opposing coworkers should have to buy everyone a Fanta. The staff agreed unanimously that it was an appropriate punishment, and to make sure it happened they added that for every hour the Fantas were late, the number doubled. So they ran into town and I helped to load the Fantas in buckets and backpacks, trekking them back up to the health center. While sipping on the reconciliation prize, we again went around the room to give our thoughts. As one employee thanked the two for arguing because it benefited all of us, I shared the cultural gem of washing one’s mouth out with a bar of soap…adding that Fanta was a much better solution.
This week, I am getting my fill of Fanta as well. Staying at a gorgeous hotel in Kibuye, right on the lake, we are at IST, or In-Service Training. Our group of 18 just finished the first 3 months at site and this is technically the last stage of our entire entry to Peace Corps process. Proudly, we haven’t lost anyone from our group and although each volunteer has their challenges, we are hanging in there. It has been great to see everyone, exchange stories, compare strategies, vent, talk in English, play some games, and just relax. This week is filled with workshops on health programs in Rwanda, practical application of theories, project development, and just the overall discussions of being a volunteer (what that means, expectations from our communities, expectations for ourselves, etc.). Although this week is jammed pack with training, it is like mini vacation for us. I hope to catch up with everyone through email, skype, or facebook. If you are free, I’d love to hear from you all since I have access to internet. Also, with all this Fanta going around, I am trying to come up with crafts or other ways to use all of the bottle caps. If anyone has any ideas, let me know!
Anyway, things at my site are going well. Good days and bad days, of course. I visited the 7th Day Adventist church last weekend and they have a fabulous choir. However, I have decided that having sermons translated might not be a good idea after all. Listening to patriarchal ideas being taught to a room full of youth took a lot of patience and forced smiles from me. Pick your battles, Liz.
A couple weeks ago, I worked with the local HIV/AIDS association on building a kitchen garden at the health center. I thought I would have to explain the concept and process of building it, but they knew exactly what to do and totally went to town, digging, gathering stones, etc. When I picked up a hoe to help dig, I thought I might’ve killed the villagers with laughter. They were so shocked and thought it hilarious that I knew how to use such a tool. After two minutes, they were very concerned about me and tried to get me to rest. I assured them I was fine and they just continued to laugh at me. Crazy white girl…