While the drive from Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, to the Muhanga district is a short one, the two cities could not feel further apart. The country, appropriately nicknamed the Land of a Thousand Hills, does not appear to have a flat land in site. So while the drive to the People Who Are Together cooperative is just an hour from the capital, the peaks and valleys of the country make you feel a world away.
On our journey to spend time with these women, we piled high in a car and hit the road. After forty-five minutes, we took a turn off the main road, and followed a narrow dirt (and very bumpy) path for a short time. We passed a few acres of rice paddy fields, and around the bend we made it to the cooperative. We were ready to learn all about the ins and outs of their craft, and watch them weaving first hand! We were greeted with warm smiles, open arms, and an indescribable happiness. The women guided us into a small room, and quickly brought out a welcome snack of steamed corn from the farm and Fanta, a very special Rwandan treat. While we hesitated to drink the cherished soda, the women insisted that we join them in a drink, and then, of course, in a dance. As the sweat from our dance moves began to cool, we were brought to the areas which the women work. The women gathered their needles and sisal (the plant fiber that is used to weave the baskets), and showed us to an empty room, about 8 ft x 8 ft, in the brick house of their leader, Atanasie. Mats were lined up all along the floor, with shoes at the end. It is Rwandan tradition to never step on the mats with shoes on, and the women are diligent about keeping them clean. The women peacefully and patiently began to work, sparking occasional conversation with one another. Most of the women weave in their own homes, in between breaks from farming and tending to the children. But as a group, they get together at least once a week. They shared that they are more powerful as a cooperative, because they are able to help one another not only with weaving techniques, but also with other concerns in daily life. Their radiant smiles throughout the day affirmed they cherish their time together, that they support one another, and that they are grateful in finding work that provides them opportunity.