A resourceful sister

Talk of food makes most people hungry. When meals are infrequent and unpredictable, too much talk of food can often be more troublesome than not eating. While nibbling on fresh croissants and sipping orange Fanta, a Rwandan favourite, Mukamuvara spoke of not what she and her siblings eat, but of all she does so they can eat.

Late in 1994, soon after her 16th birthday, Mukamuvara's mother and father became sick and died suddenly. From what exactly, she does not remember. As the eldest of seven children, the responsibilities of parenting subsequently fell to her.

"When my parents were alive, food was never a worry," the 22 year old shares. "Since they died, the tasks involved with having six mouths to feed occupy my every hour." All that she does, from well before sun up to well after sun down, is in an effort to put food on the table. Although her four sisters and two brothers rarely eat more than one plate of food a day, Mukamuvara's unselfish resourcefulness has many times saved her family from starving.

Of the two houses her father built, the family lives tightly in one while the other is rented for Frw3000.00 (less that NZ$20) per month. Also rented are portions of their two hectares. Mukamuvara and her 16 year-old sister, Nyiranziza, cultivate the land that is not. "Daily we tend to our crops of cassava, sweet potatoes and sorghum," Nyiranziza imparts. "Selling the sorghum beer we make is our only true source of income."

Twice a week the sisters produce 150 liters of the bitter, yet vastly popular brew. On market days they sell the beer in one liter bottles for Frw30.00 a piece. When expenses are subtracted, a stall at the market and transport are not cheap, the girls average Frw4000.00a day. Combined with what she receives in rent, Mukamuvara raises approximately Frw32000.00 per month. A meager amount to provide for the needs of seven children.

"What we earn selling the beer and the little cassava and sweet potatoes we do not eat, does not last long," Mukamuvara admits. "How could it? I've six children to clothe and feed."

The monotony of eating sweet potatoes and nothing else for a solid week is broken, on very rare occasions, when Mukamuvara purchases beans. Rice the family would enjoy, but such a luxury is hardly affordable. As are the banana, orange, avocado and pineapple that is ubiquitous throughout Gikongoro. "I know these fruits are very healthy and we all like them," Mukamuvara smiles. "The trouble for us is that none grow on our land."

Red meat or eggs as a source of protein are also beyond the family's means. Purchasing the skinniest goat is only a dream. "A few years ago, our neighbour's cow died," Nyiranziza recalls. "Mukamuvara bought some of what remained at a very good price. We haven't had meat since."