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Igitogotogo

On market day in the rugged mountains of Gikongoro, 160 kilometers southwest of Kigali, igitogotogo rule the road. The two-wheeled cargo bikes are as ubiquitous as women selling bananas. Simple forms of transportation, however, they are not. For 17 year-old Kubwimana and 15 year-old Uwitonze, igitogotogo ownership is a coveted way of life.

In order to join the "society," the two entrepreneurial boys had to raise scarce capital to invest in building material. The wood and nails needed to construct an igitogotogo are not cheap. Nor is the all-important selection of wheels.

"We could only afford cut-rate timber and used wheels," Uwitonze smiles, shrugging his shoulders. "The money we scraped together was barely enough." Of the Frw6,000.00 (approximately NZ$35.00) they managed to save, Frw1,700.00 was used to purchase logs that would otherwise have been burned as firewood. Restricted by their means, the boys fitted the frame with two worn, but sturdy wheels.

The rubber wrapped discs of wood set them back Frw2000.00 apiece. Well worth the expense. "Although they do not cost as much, wheels made of nothing but wood can leave you very sore at the end of the day," Kubwimana chuckles. "For now, slightly used wheels are fine. Besides, one brand new one cost twice as much as two old ones."

The best of friends borrowed a hammer and chisel from Kubwimana's uncle and in two days their igitogotogo was built. Proud of their creation, they immediately went to work.

Early in the morning prior to market days, Kubwimana and Uwitonze travel on their igitogotogo from their Mudasomna village to a friend's farm in Gatare Commune. The two-hour roller coaster journey is over both tarmac and dirt roads. "Although we push the up hills and ride the down hills, the trip to Gatare is easy," Uwitonze admits. "That's because our igitogotogo is empty," the older Kubwimana adds.

Upon arriving to Gatare the boys meet their friend Bihoza and get down to business. Purchasing all the Irish potatoes he has to sell is their mission. A haul of between 125 and 150 kilograms is the average. "We always negotiate for the best price per kilogram," Kubwimana shares. "Never do we pay more than Frw25." Their igitogotogo carefully loaded, the boys make their way back to Mudasomna. The workday is not yet over.

Once at home, Kubwimana and Uwitonze sort the potatoes into individual five-kilogram packages. A time consuming task they leisurely enjoy. All the potatoes sorted, the boys re-load their igitogotogo and usually call it a day.

The excitement of market day has the boys up at dawn. The one and a half-hour commute passes quickly as they are eager to arrive early and begin selling their potatoes. On a good day, a day when every package of potatoes is sold, their Frw10 per kilogram mark-up earns Kubwimana and Uwitonze a nice profit. Any and all profit the partners realize is divided evenly and rarely squandered.

"It is difficult at our age to ask our parents for clothes, food or new sandals," Uwitonze concedes. "They would rather we be in school, but we need to work in order to take care of ourselves."

Their way of life is not without risk. Speeds in excess of 50 kilometers an hour can be reached on an igitogotogo. Accidents are common and often result in death. While both Kubwimana and Uwitonze have crashed, neither was seriously hurt. A topic the boys would rather not discuss.

"What we like best about our igitogotogo is the freedom it gives us," Kubwimana smiles. "It keeps us alive and happy. What more could we ask for?"