On Thursday, June 7, 2018 we visited the Azizi community to immerse ourselves in the experience in the life of the Azizi community and family. We arrived at about 7:30 a.m. to meet the Azizi womyn in the community. (We were originally expected to begin the experience at 4 a.m., since this is when the Azizi womyn begin their daily activities, but that was a bit early considering our schedule and the 6 hour drive we had to our next location later in the day.) During the visit we were invited to participate in typical daily activities in the community. One Azizi womyn in the community hosted our group in her home and involved 8 other Azizi womyn, 3 babies, and several small children who brought innocence and youthful bliss to the experience. The Azizi womyn gave us a warm welcome in Kinyerwandan, which was translated by two translators who led us into their community. Though language acted as a barrier to direct (verbal) communication, there was a welcoming undeniable communal presence that was communicated verbally through our translators and nonverbally through our hosts (nonverbal) vibrations that made myself and others feel connected.
During our short visit, we were taught how the Azizi womyn prepped yams, cooked, cared for their children, wrapped traditional clothing (for the womyn in our group), constructed/designed their homes, traveled for water, and cared for their cows. These experiences were challenging and made me consider the level of convenience (i.e. privilege) we live with in the United States of America. For example, we trekked almost a mile down and up a hill (with unpredictable terrain and bush, at least for us Westerners) to fill water jugs with water to cook and wash with. The size of jug ranged from less than a gallon to 20 gallons in volume. As you might imagine, when filled, these jugs became heavy quickly, particularly on the way back up the incline to the home! When we made it back from filling the jugs we all were out of breath and the womyn gave us warm smiles after witnessing our fatigue. An Azizi womyn shared that Azizi womyn (and children) made the trip 3 times a day, sometimes with firewood, and a baby on their back. When was the last time you had to hike for water? with child? and firewood?
Another impressive moment in the immersion came when learning about how the cow is revered, cared for, and nurtured in the community. In Rwanda (and other African countries), the cow is seen as a symbol of economic success and wealth. The cow provides manure for crops, milk for children and cooking, and is used as a gift (e.g. dowry-gift for bride; we bought a cow for our hosts that we will give later in the trip to show appreciation to our hosts.)
The Azizi womyn took us to a crop of "elephant" leaves that are prickly and inedible to humyns; however, the crops are tasty to cows and highly nutritious (as opposed to the corn-based feed we feed cows in the U.S. that are heavily processed and have questionable nutritional benefits to the animals that ingest the feed). We were taught to how to chop the plant, tie the plant in bundles using banana leaves, and carry the leaves on our heads to the cows (see below)! When we arrived to the home of the cows it was obvious that the Azizi community cared for the cows deeply. For example, after feeding a cow we saw that an elder cooking in a hut next to a cow and her newborn to assure the care of the mother and calf post-birth.
Later, we learned how the Azizi womyn used plant fibers and dyes to make bracelets, ate a traditional home cooked meal, and sang and danced to celebrate our meeting and time together.
The collectivism in the Azizi community was powerful to experience. As participants in their lifestyle, I recognized the convenience (i.e. privilege) we are afforded in the U.S. It is difficult to understand this if you have never experienced life without electricity, running water/plumbing, vehicles, etc. Nonetheless, the Azizi community does not let this prevent them from living with joy and happiness. Actually, in some ways, their lifestyle is far more 'advanced' than ours because they co-exist with each other in a way that we have yet to figure out in the U.S. How many times have you and members of your community come together to cook meals, co-parent, welcome visitors to the community, and engage in song and dance together?
I left this experience with a greater understanding of the strength, beauty, and challenges of living as a Rwandan Azizi womyn.
**Rwandan Womyn & Leadership**
Rwanda is advanced in its development of womyn in the society, which appears to be intentional considering the brutal experiences of Rwandan womyn during the genocide. For example, sexual violence and other forms of violence against womyn were weaponized on a massive scale during the genocide in 1994 against the Tutsi people to further the political goals of Hutu extremists (Tutsi and Hutu womyn were both victims of this violence from both sides). Now, Rwanda has taken steps to place womyn in positions of power and now has more womyn per capita in leadership than any country in Africa. For example, there is a mandate that 1/3 of Rwanda's parliament must be womyn. Today, 64% of Rwanda's parliament are womyn, which is nearly double the mandate. President Kagame and Rwandan's understand the strength, courage, and leadership ability of womyn, which I have had the opportunity witnessed first hand with the Azizi womyn, Rwandan womyn, and womyn in my personal life.
What do you think the world would be with womyn in leadership positions? How many wars have womyn started in our world? How many womyn are in leadership positions in our country?
Collecting "elephant" grass to feed the cows!
Happy cow eating elephant grass :)
The best tasting yam, avocado, and beans I've ever tasted (no seasoning necessary).
The AFP village and some of the Azizi womyn.
Reuben Faloughi, M.Ed., is a fifth-year doctoral candidate studying psychology at the University of Missouri (MU). He recently defended his dissertation, which examined the effects of an intergroup dialogue-based diversity and social justice course on students' multicultural development. The course, now required for all MU College of Education students, was heavily influenced by personal experiences in the AFP/Dr. Kahn's drama-based education training, Division I athletics, the Fall 2015 student movement at MU, and other transformational life experiences. Reuben will complete his Ph.D. on internship at the University of Florida and graduate in Spring 2019. For more visit: