Last May, I was with my team getting to know our farmers and preparing for the upcoming coffee planting season. We spent many days simply sitting with people and getting to hear their dreams and the dreams of their children. One afternoon, Maria and Martin said they were getting ready to cook lunch, so our team took a break, hiked down to our truck and made our daily lunch of thick Rwandan yeast rolls and Trader Joe’s peanut butter. Little did we know, Maria was also preparing lunch for us.
While it was a kind gesture, we struggled to accept the offer, as we knew cooking for 6 more adults would use a great deal of their family’s preciously scarce food. Manu, our Rwanda director, quickly informed us that declining the offer was not an option. As always, we followed his direction.
I watched in awe as Maria grabbed a machete and cut down a bushel of bananas, carefully placed them on her head, and then walked back to her home. It took her a couple of hours to peel and boil the bananas over a wood burning stove. While the bananas boiled, she went back to the farm and picked some beans and added them to the boiling water.
Once lunch was ready, the six of us joined Maria, Martin, and their two boys, Sam and Umuheza, in their living room. Maria said the blessing and thanked God for the opportunity to grow food and the “honor” of being able to share it with us. After the blessing, Martin slipped out of the room and returned a few minutes later with Fantas for our entire team.
Martin used two weeks of salary to buy each of us a soda. In my Western mind, I thought “Why would he do that? They need those funds for their family, for their kids’ school…” Manu could tell what I was thinking, as he always can, and whispered, “They gave everything for you. They gave literally everything they had to make you feel at home, to make you smile.” So we toasted our Fanta with joy and gratitude, while Martin and Maria beemed with excitement that we were in this together.
Can you imagine giving everything you have just to make a recent stranger smile? I’ve come to understand that days in Rwanda rarely go as planned. The morning we left our apartment for the farms, we had no idea that a seemingly simple lunch with warm Fantas could teach us so much. I now know it is a sign of disrespect to turn down an invitation to share a meal, for it is an offering of gratitude and friendship. You don’t expect people that you perceive to have nothing try to give you everything, but they do.
It is my wish that Martin and Maria will always know they gave my team and me one of the greatest lunches we will ever have.