Last Saturday 27th January 2018 we held our first Umuganda for this year. Umuganda is the local name given to the communal work done in Rwanda every last Saturday of the month. Ever since I moved to Kigali a year ago today, the thing I’ve felt most in love with is the Umugnda. The last Saturday of the month is always my deal breaker not because I am receiving a pay check, but because it’s communal work time. Umuganda is always opportunity time for me, maybe I am an opportunist. And I am now looking forward to this coming Sunday’s car free day.
The car free day is honored every first Sunday of the month where some parts of the city of Kigali are labeled no car zone. This event which has become a culture is done every month and residents come out in big numbers to match, walk, jog, play, and have fun on the roads of Kigali. The car free day initially was targeting saving the environment from pollution caused by vehicle emissions but has now turned into a culture. For me the Umuganda and the car free day are the most cheerful events in Kigali. Most of my best memorable moments in Kigali so far are from those two monthly events.
One of the reasons why I love these two days in particular is that I get to meet different people free of charge and create lasting connections. I would say I even made my first friendship in Kigali during Umuganda. The thing about these events is that they bring people out of their homes. The Rwandans mostly have nuclear families and prefer to stay indoors most times. I thing here privacy is a necessity. In most cases you can live in a neighborhood without knowing who lives in the next gate. Most houses are fenced and people just live in their boundaries. In the mornings you see cars rolling out, people going to work and they roll back in, in the evenings. Personally, I know my immediate neighbor well because he’s the Umudugudu (the village chief) of our area.
The habit of having nuclear families as opposed to the traditional African extended and polygamous families is backed by the constitution of the republic of Rwanda of 2003 revised in 2015 where article 17 states “a civil monogamous marriage between a man and a woman is the only recognized marital union”. This makes polygamy illegal and an individual cannot dodge being noticed to having more than one marriage partner since the Rwandan marriages are a series of different events that can take up to a whole year. A lot of traditional family knowing ceremonies is conducted before prospective couples are civilly married at the sector (a lower level local government like town councils in Uganda) and then such couples proceed with Ubukwe (introduction) and then wedding. It’s really a long process, and I’m not yet sure if I will handle when my sherry asks for marriage.
Going back to business, let’s see the Pros of Umuganda;
- It’s a nice event to meet people in the neighborhood. Now with the knowledge of how the Rwandans live, you will well agree with me that the Umuganda is one of the best moments to meet all the different people living in your neighborhood because it attracts everyone. Even the president.
- You make friends both personally and professionally. The Umuganda offers the best free shopping center for friends. You can make a lot of friends both as a person and for professional reasons. I’ve made a lot of professional friends lately during this event since I live in a professionally rich neighborhood. The Umudugudu I mentioned earlier is a retired colonel of the Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) and one of the wealthiest men in our neighborhood.
- It brings in community love and a sense of belonging. Every time I participate in these community events I get the feeling of belonging somewhere. This special feeling covers the fact that I am in a foreign land and hundreds of miles away from the place I call home. To me now Kigali is home. And the car free day makes me love Kigali city even the more. I see more happy years here in Kigali.
- It teaches the life lesson of team work. Personally I prefer to do most of my tasks individually. I like going fast and being in a team always seems to slow me down. But I have learnt that it is much better to work as a team. This always reminds me of the popular African saying “alone you can go fast. But together you go far”. I think I’m now discipline enough and I work in teams.
- It shows that baby steps make all the difference. I’ve learnt this by observing that the little work we do as a community every last Saturday of the month compounds and looks a great work done when you see it over time, like five months. I am incorporating this principle in my personal life.
- It’s also a market place. During these events you get the opportunity to sell yourself and what you do as you change and gain new contacts. The key issue is to perform well and leave everybody asking who that guy is. I always do just that. For me every public event is show time. And I sell.
- One can meet a marriage partner as well. These community events are taken part in by everyone and this presents an opportune time for the unmarried to find perfect match. I’m always looking even though I have a sherry. We all know marriage is a lifelong commitment and that means I have to continue looking around just to be sure I am making the perfect choice.
- It’s also an individual corporate social responsibility. We all love giving back to the community we live in, and the Umuganda is the best way to do that.
Thank you for reading. Feel free to comment. And I want to be a better writer this year. I’ve enrolled in a writing class. Happy New Year 2018.