colors for Rwanda

I’ve been running a bit under the radar since returning from Rwanda.
There was a lot to process.
I fell in love with this country.
Rwandans say “God might visit other countries
by day, but every night He returns to rest in Rwanda”.
But now it’s more than geography.
It’s a solid commitment for me
with a group of women in a place
I can’t begin to describe.
Silence beyond comprehension.
After months in the making,
there is a way you can help these women.
I’ve met each and every one.
They survived the genocide
but they are forever scarred from it.
Read on here for the rest of the story.
This is real.
Thank you for even a moments notice.
It means the world to the ladies if you know they exist.

wrapped up

Coming to work at the center on my last day
there were bundles to open.
It is good to have presents to open before work.
The coreopsis blooms smiled at their marks on cloth.
 Anna Marie had chosen to dye her scarf in cochineal the
day before but after seeing the bundles unwrapped
she decided to add leaf prints to her piece.
Faina is so beautiful in her cochineal dyed wrap.
Heads together and wrapped up.
Alphonsine helped me with my wrap.
Every Friday the ladies practice yoga at days end.
The room is packed. Lots of slow breathing and
‘ahhs’ at good back stretches.
After yoga Katie and I
wanted to teach the ladies a traditional American dance, the hoedown.
We showed them three moves, the do si do, promenade and swing.
Then we put the music on and everyone swung a partner. It was
great fun. After which, with Simon translating, I thanked the group
for all they gave me this week. In return, they asked I not forget them, help them find ways to
earn money, and come back to visit them. I promised all three.
We held hands in a circle and prayed.
The goodbyes were one by one with hugs and kinyarwanda murmers.
I will miss each and every one.
Not everyone was present here but all are in my heart.
Now I need to set the promise in motion from afar.

bundles and blue

Katie and I traveled the rocky road to work with the ladies as usual.
 I began by teaching how to build and manage
an indigo vat. Until their seeds grow for Polygonum tinctoria and woad
they will work with Indigofera tinctoria that I will supply.
I brought silk pieces for each of the 35 ladies so they could make
head wraps from the colors we had created during the week.
We spiced up the dyepots from the day before and gave the ladies
a choice of dyeing a solid color, which many chose. They love bright colors and
the cochineal, weld and onion skins were options.
A happy lot we are.
In the afternoon,
scarves emerged from the dyepots to dry on the far line
with baby Sandrine in the middle of things, enjoying the bustle.
Eucalyptus is one of the plants the center dyes with
and there is an abundance of it here.
So I gave the option of learning leaf bundling
which 8 or so ladies wanted to try. The coreopsis flowers and onion skins
were used with eucalyptus leaves. Many of the ladies wanted
to use just the flowers.
Meanwhile skeins started to emerge from the indigo vat.
We overdyed cochineal and weld skeins and plain white skeins.
The week’s palette grew.
Bundles piled up which we boiled up
after the ladies left for the day.
Today’s lasting impression is how lovely
it is to work with such a large group and everyone is thankful,
loving and happy with what transpired. No one looking for
more, or is less than satisfied. Blissful dyeing.


komera komera

There is no doubt in my mind that I have felt more welcome being amongst Rwandans than any other country in my memory. They are respectful, reverent, generous of spirit and heart even in the midst of their dark struggles. Katie has introduced me to many of her Rwandan friends. They lived through the genocide, barely. They are still hungry, suffer from the bad water, barely have enough money to eat each day. Some are working on their college and masters degrees at the expense of eating. One of the Kinyarwanda phrases that is said over and over to each other is “komera komera” which means “be strong, be strong”. There is no way to appropriately convey how strong these people are.
There is no feeling of entitlement here. There is no automation, electric tools, tractors and mowers. I have seen two tools that are used, a hoe, the other a machete. There is pride in their land. All of the grass is cut with a machete, even at 6″ tall. Leaves are picked up one by one. All of the fields are hoed by hand. If a farmer has a field that needs to be planted the neighbors pitch in to get it tilled. Rwandans function collectively, individualism is unheard of. They suffer in silence yet collectively they support each other.
Each day this week when Katie and I arrived at the center we would greet each lady. A hug with three or more ‘cheek to cheeks’ and a hand hold at the end. Eye to eye contact, many Kinyarwanda words said back and forth then onto the next lady. At first I thought, “oh Lord, how will I get through all 35 ladies.” They patiently taught me the phrases and words, slowly pronouncing them as I would recite them over and over. By weeks end I was communicating. They would smile and hug some more.
Today I feel blessed. I have lived Rwanda. I have walked the dusty roads covered in volcanic rock that make each step difficult. I have been prayed for, prayed to, sung to, sung with and danced with these beautiful people. I will miss this place. I will return.

hope springs

Day two the dyework began in earnest. Simon interpreted my instructions for Virginia, the dyer,
so she can proceed after I leave with a full understanding.
We started by soaking the madder roots, which were already ground to make for
a quicker extraction of the dye.
Then we extracted the dye from the cochineal bugs.
Between the translating, which is naturally slow due to the new information
being absorbed, and working with the tools that we had at hand these two processes took until after lunch to get to the point we could start the actual dyeing.
The rest of the ladies, some 28 of the 35 in the group, took their places
to do their daily fiber work with us as a background to watch.
Many times the ladies have things outside they need to do first such as selling vegetables from their gardens, and also doctors appointments so it’s rare all 35 will be present at one time
In the afternoon, there was much curiosity as the dyeing started.
We got the madder, cochineal and onion skins finished and
then started the weld dyepot.
We were entertained by baby Sandrine who loved to say
“bite’ (beetay) which means “what’s up”.
Virginia was very clever and efficient.
I felt she could save the madder root to reuse again so she went and
tore banana leaves from the trees and laid the roots out on them to dry.
Virginia hung out the skeins to dry. I suggested they
let the skeins cure for a day or so before washing as less dye will wash out.
She hung these skeins and turned to me with a big smile and a thumbs up.
No language barrier here.
My pictures aren’t as rich and bright as they were in real life but left to right
cochineal, onion skins, madder, weld.
Katie and I got back to her dear home about 5:30. It is dark here
by 6ish each day and the sun comes up about the same, year round.
It is customary for families to have house help. There are three familes that live in this
compound, Katie, the landlord, and another family. Each of these families have cooks/house help.
Katie does not. We cook, do dishes, wash our clothes and sweep and mop. Nothing new!
This is the cooking house and Charlotta is preparing dinner
on the tradition imbabura which uses charcoal from eucalyptus trees or other
types of trees for the heat source. They wash all the dishes outside in tubs and of course the clothes
as well. They work hard and are lovely to be amidst.
It was a very good day.


It’s been a week now that I been travelling Rwanda. I’ve met those in utter poverty and chronic sickness, the middle class and the wealthy. Most of the time has been with the poor and it is hard to express the juxtaposition of their complete faith in God’s salvation and the endless knowledge of no way out.

These beautiful ladies greet me each day with a hug, lots of smiles and love. They say “yes’ashimwe” to me and I reply “ahimbazwe”. “praise Jesus”, “let him be praised”. They believe in their heart of hearts this is the best way to give and have hope. And their lives are in a cycle of constant battle on every front. They are sick in the belly from bad water, some have HIV, most are always in a state of feeling ill. Charcoal pills take away the belly aches for awhile. The poor are fighting for their lives.

I am an Anglican and so their undying faith is not foreign to me. I feel His strength in my own life and that goodness will always come from difficulty and sorrow.

As I scrubbed my clothes tonight in a tub and felt the ache in my back, it was tenfold for their ache. My stomach aches because theirs do. My heart is full because theirs is for our being together.

This is Diana, she is sick today. Her throat is swollen and she has a headache.
She’s on antibiotics and will improve.

Thanks for listening….be thankful.

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