This gem of a feel-good story comes in from Senzelwe Mthembu, a South African traveler, digital content creator and creative photography enthusiast who currently resides in the vibrant city of Johannesburg in South Africa. It chronicles her recent trip to Rwanda.
I knew as soon as I drove out of Kigali International Airport that Rwanda had something special in store – the brightly painted local-beer branded walls, Coca-Cola kiosks, old furniture roadside warehouses and the beautifully manicured pavements. In the not-too-far distance the many rolling hills in the distance, the curious gaze of locals from their seats in minibuses while on their commute and the agile motorcycles effortlessly making their way through traffic. My eyes absorbing the vibrancy of Kigali’s early-morning bustle.
It was on the third day of my visit to Kigali when I would take the scenic one-hour long drive to a rural village in Rwanda. While other members of the group leaned into their seats in search of a comfortable position to dose off, I eagerly set my eyes on the views beside me so that I could satisfy my curiosity. The scenes before me changed from maneuvering motorcycles and pedestrians pacing through town to crowded markets and locals transporting an array of goods by bicycle and finally, to the blankets of never-ending rolling hills and the vivid green expanse of vegetation. Finally, we arrived at Cyeza Village in the Muhunga District of Rwanda. We were introduced to and greeted by the staff at Azizi Life. When Mama Juliette, who would later go by the name Mama J, introduced herself she declared with warmth, “My name is Juliette. I am your mom.”
Scanning the compound I noticed the drying beans and peanuts hanging almost like ornaments on the outside of the house. I would later learn how important these ingredients were in Rwandan cooking. I also noticed that each house had a modest stable with a cow inside it, a main house and kitchen and an outside area resembling a courtyard which brought the house together. The courtyard was a place to gather and prepare meals together. This is where we met the soft-spoken Papa Jean, his kind-hearted wife Grace and their daughter Estelle. They welcomed us into their family and community with genuine smiles, warm hugs and colourful kangas cut from vibrantly patterned African fabrics.
Before we could help prepare the food, Papa Jean led the way to the watering hole. We were given large, yellow water jugs and excitedly journeyed down to the bottom of one of the many rolling hills to a communal tap mounted onto a weathered but stable concrete slab.
I knew when signing up for the tour that I would be hosted by a local family in the village but the chance encounter at the well made the experience all the more special. My eyes rested on a slim but sturdy physique approaching us – like me, wearing a colourful but faded kanga around her waist over a long-sleeved shirt. As she came nearer her faraway yet warm eyes, which I am sure had witnessed a plethora of events in their lifetime, met with mine. Her warm and wide smile created creases on her forehead and around her eyes and she embraced me – her rosary making contact with my chest while she muttered a string of incomprehensible words. Although I did not understand I exclaimed, “Murakoze mama” which means thank you in Kinyarwanda. Papa Jean explained that she was praying for me and giving blessings.
I walked back up the hill with a warm feeling in my belly. The tour would continue with the washing and chopping of veggies, the hissing and sizzling of onions and tomatoes being fried in clay pots, the pounding of and then the stirring of sticky, starchy cassava and the aroma of a peanut sauce rising into my nostrils but I would be fixated on the local connection made with a stranger at the watering hole in rural Rwanda. Two kangas – one brightly coloured and the other faded sharing a special moment in the land of a thousand hills.
This immersive and truly authentic rural cooking experience in Cyeza Village was booked through an organization called Azizi Life and they support multiple families and enrich communities through sustainable tourism and local development. Book your next experience with them by heading to www.azizilife.com.
Written by Senzelwe Mthembu.