Gratitude, Generosity, Faith and Red Clay

In rural Rwanda, red clay covers everything. Not just the roads, but the cars, the plants, and all clothing. When driving to the city, men in their suits and women in their finest cover themselves from head to toe in hopes that they can avoid the red film of dust when they arrive at their destination.  They are occasionally successful, but usually have quite a bit of shaking out to do!  I always suggest that visitors bring red colored shoes to hide the stains. One intern asked me how long it would take for the red coloration of his toenails to go away! Ahhhh…..the red clay!  

When Michella, our project lead extraordinaire, gave me a Gillian Welch CD, the song “Red Clay Halo” was an immediate favorite. The song describes the experience of the people in the rural community of Ruli so well!  Although written as a folk song that describes life in rural America, it could have just as easily been written to describe rural life in Rwanda. To me, the song is a reflection of the commonality of rural life everywhere.

Many people ask me what draws me to Rwanda. My response is that I “feel like I am going home”. I’ve often wondered about this sense of familiarity. Then I think of my Gramma Minnie Lee- a tiny 91 year old spitfire who grew up dirt poor in southern New Mexico during the Great Depression.  Stoic, faithful, loving, and stubborn as a mule, she has always been grateful for everything she has and generous to anyone in need. She has very few expectations for herself, and holds a faith that I have always admired.  When prompted, she tells stories of moving from place to place while her father looked for work. She remembers picking cotton until her fingers bled, and being separated from her family after the only home they ever knew burnt to the ground in a fire.  She tells her stories in a matter of fact way without ever instilling a sense of self pity.

When I arrived in Ruli, Rwanda, I was met with a familiar sense of gratitude, generosity, and faith. I am not speaking just of faith as in a particular religion, but of a faith that sustains one through the toughest of times. I am not sure why these traits are such common threads amongst rural folk around the globe. Maybe they are essential to survival, or maybe they come from living close to the earth. Regardless, they fuel the resilience needed to walk through the challenges in life, and unites all of us as human beings.  

“When I pass through the pearly gates, my gown be gold instead, or just a red clay robe, with red clay wings, and a red clay halo for my head!” –Gillian Welch

The best of mankind is a farmer; the best food is fruit.    – Ethiopian Proverb