my own

My grandma “kaahkah” legacy.

I recently had a conversation with a friend where we were just discussing that same question that pretty much every human being who aspires to be a valuable productive member of society has asked at least once in their lifetime and that is “How do I leave my mark on this planet how do I leave a legacy?”

See, most of what the world projects as actions of heroism are the ones that are plastered all over the news: a person who gave someone a car, someone who paid for a person’s student loans…. in other words the big gestures, and to the small people like me sitting in our tiny bedroom this big “impact moment” as we may think of it may probably never happen. What we forget however are the small everyday actions that we are able to do that mean the world to the person on the receiving end. This whole train of thought took me back to my grandmother, who we dearly call Kaka pronounced Kaahkah (yes I know what a similar word means to the English speakers, no there is no connection in the meanings of these two words and of course I have had people sometimes get a chuckle out of it LOL), a woman who never set foot in the “city”, walked around bare feet because she hated the feel of shoes on her feet and who lived to be 99 years old with all her teeth still intact (I am still amazed by that at this time, who needs a dentist when you got good genes hahah).

My grandmother was a regular farmer like many of the Rwandans who live in the rural parts of the country. What was remarkable about her life though was the legacy that she left behind in her small community. You see, in my grandmother’s community people lived a structured lifestyle that took me a while to understand. My grandmother was what you can call a wealthy woman of the village, she had gotten married young to a carpenter for whom she bore 13 children, among those she lost three and raised ten. They managed to build a wealth through their farming and owned the land on most of the hill they lived on. The “making impact” part comes in by the ways she took care of her community; from family, to friends t neigbors and everyone beyond. Every season, she would hire people in her neighborhood to help with work at the farm, among those were women with young children whom she took on as her responsibility to care for and feed while their parents were out in the farm working. Every night she would cook the biggest pot of sweet potatoes, she used the traditional clay molded pot (she used to say that the mold makes the food smell better). I can still remember the process, she would rinse the pot, put in a little bit of water just to cover the base, she would then rinse the dirt off the sweet potatoes straight from her farm and arrange a basket full of potatoes in the pot one by one with the skin still on, she would go in the backyard of her house and carefully cut a couple of leaves a from her banana plant which she would use as a cover to the pot (the leaves trap the heat inside the pot better).

Clay molded pot similar to what my grandmother used to cook.
The traditional burner similar to what my grandmother used.

She used firewood for cooking that she would place between three stone arranged in the triangular shape and the round bottom of the pot would rest on the top of it while cooking. Alongside the potatoes she would make another separate pot of regular dried kidney beans before calling it a night.

The next morning the workers would show up, those who were working in the farms, the ones who would take the cows out in the fields for feeding, the ones in charge of harvest and storage, this group could easily consist of up to 15 people. Upon their arrival the food would be ready on the table set up on the front porch, those who wanted something to eat before work would grab some as they please, and they would head to the backhouse to grab the utensils to use in their assigned activities at the farm. All the children who were not of school age would gather in my grandmother’s compound and they would spend their day with who they dearly referred to as kaahkah. She would take care of the children as if they were her own, feed them when hungry, clean them when dirty, put them to nap if needed… the women will leave their activities to pick up their safe children and repeat this again tomorrow until the end of the crop season. If one of my grandma cows had a baby, the first milk would be used to feed the youngest of the children’s, she thought of these children as her own and took it as her responsibility to nourish them.

At the end of their work some of the workers would get paid in crops, a basket full of potatoes today, a whole banana bunch tomorrow, a bucket of beans or peas the next day and if available a pinch of milk here and there, you can easily say that they worked for grocery if need be; and that is how some of her workers fed their families. One interesting form of payment that amazes me until today, is when the workers would contract to work at her farm certain days and use that as a form a rental payment for one of her unused fields that they would in turn use to grow their food for that season.

This special arrangement came with a great deal of mutual respect where my grandmother would never think of herself as an employer nor the workers think of themselves as employees, it was just a way of life for them. For some of the workers this went on for generations, always happy to help, tending to my grandmother’s farm as if it was their own. If one of them got sick, the whole community took on themselves to provide and take over the work, if no work was available and they needed food my grandmother would provide as an advance to next season work, and if the season didn’t yield enough harvest they would work for the harvest to come. This is my grandmother’s legacy that she left behind, she lived this honorable life until she passed on in 2011 the age of 99. A woman who never set foot in the city, who lived in a house without electricity, used water from a well, and to whom family extended beyond blood. She used her humble position in the community to make an impact in the lives of many. To this day people who went on to become teachers, scientist, engineers, farm owners, mothers …and whose parents worked at the farm  still remember her babysitting them as children’s and still refer to her as their kaahkah.

My grandma’s way of living has taught me to be the best I can in any position that I am placed in, it inspires me every day to strive to be the best in whatever position am placed in , the best daughter that I can, the best wife that I can, the best friend that I can be, the best mother she modeled for me, to lend a helping hand whenever am given an opportunity. I believe in maximizing any opportunity to be a blessing whenever it is given to me. She thought me how to truly flourish right where I am planted, by living this way, even though it may not mean much to the world, it will undoubtedly  mean the world to the ones I serve.

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