One of the most common questions asked of someone returning from a trip is, “How was the food?” It doesn't matter if it was just a quick trip to the coast or a journey around the world. But why do we care? We weren't there, and no description can do justice to tasting a fresh plantain picked from a tree, or the tenderness of the perfect rack of ribs.
So why do we ask, "How was the food?"
Because it connects us, not just to the story, but to the experience. It allows us to "be there", to be part of the story-teller's journey.
A JOURNEY TO RWANDA
On a recent trip to Rwanda, Pete Rogers took our "go-to" video production company, Cineastas, to produce a series of videos that will tell stories from the Rwandan farms. This provided a great opportunity to hear first-hand from a new world traveler. So I asked Sean of Cineastas, "How was the food?"
The Rwandan food was a lot more normal (normal by American standards) than I expected. At least the stuff I was exposed too. For dinner, the standard dish was white rice, boiled potatoes, peas or mixed vegetables, and some type of meat, usually a chicken or goat from the local area. The fruit was super good. They had great pineapples and these small bananas, which were a bit sweeter than what we're used to here in the states, really quite good.
Below is a picture Sean took of one of his meals.
THE PLANTAIN RULES
I was very curious about these little bananas Sean mentioned, and I wanted to know more. I discovered the plantain is very important to the Rwandan people, and according to Our-Africa.org, it is grown on a third of the cultivated land and accounts for two-thirds of a farmer’s annual income. It is also used to make beer and wine, known as Urwagwa. How good does that sound?
The whole plantain plant is valuable. The outer stem can be made into rope, the central rib of the leaf is used to make fish traps and the juice from the stem is thought to have medicinal properties.
In a world of smart phones, fast food, WiFi and electric cars, it is easy to forget that in many countries survival is still a daily concern, and for something as simple as a plantain to play such an integral role in the daily lives of Rwandans, signifies their continued struggle.
(Images from: Foodsoftheworld.activeboards.net, agronigeria.com.ng, whatscookinginyourwold.blogspot.com)
RWANDAN FOOD, CULTURE & SURVIVAL
Today, most Rwandans rely on subsistence agriculture as their primary source of income and their primary crops are tea and coffee, making up nearly 80% of their agricultural exports, estimated at about $180 million dollars a year. By comparison, Brazil exported an average value of $3.1 billion a year from 1990-2011. A stark contrast and with such a small, yet growing, economy the Rwandans must find many ways to generate income. For instance, producing goods only to be sold to other local people, such as farming tools and household items.
Even with a growing economy, life is still very hard for most of the Rwandan people, and women often are responsible for generating the majority of a household's income.
Currently, there are about 5,000 women hand-sorting coffee countrywide.
According to Mario S., our Agronomist in Rwanda;
We are now dry milling tons of coffee, tasting and shipping for the next 100 days. It is amazing to see how much benefit coffee activities can bring to the community.
Rogers Family Company has been working with Rwandan farmers in an effort to reestablish the once robust Rwandan coffee farms with the intent of increasing the living standards for these farmers. We have also put a strong focus on providing facilities to improve education. (See Gashora Academy For Girls.) Through these social programs and job training, we are helping to provide livable wages and opportunities to the people of Rwanda, and we will continue to do so.
A FINAL STORY FROM THE ROAD
You never know what kind of experience you will have while travelling. Maybe, it will be typical or maybe something profound will happen. When speaking with Sean, I asked if he had an experience to share.
Here is what he said:
One day, while staying near Lake Kivu, we got some sandwiches before leaving the lodge because we knew we weren't going to have time to stop at a restaurant for lunch. We went by a small village in the countryside to meet with the people and open a school, they were extremely generous and offered us a meal. After we ate we realized that we still had those sandwiches from the hotel. Being full from the meal that the village offered us, Pete and Gary gave the sandwiches to some coffee farmers at a washing station that we met further away from the village. It was getting late in the day so we had to take off right when we gave them the sandwiches. One of the Rogers field technicians, I think it was Louis, stayed around a little longer and told us that all the farmers started dancing and cheering because we gave them the food. He showed us a cellphone video later of all of them dancing, it was pretty awesome to see.
I guess that sort of speaks to the availability of sandwiches over there.