This morning after leading a gorgeous sunrise yoga class (and taking my post-yoga nap), I headed to the library so I could finish season 1 of Serial while I inventory my books using my fabulous library app. I opened the door to find a HUGE puddle of water left over from the kiddos who had mopped the Dining Hall this morning. Every Saturday after Mucakamucaka, every family spends a couple of hours doing service in the Village. Their tasks vary from harvesting crops from our farm, cutting the grass around their houses, pulling weeds that grow along the roads, and pretty much anything else the Village needs done. Usually I’m in the library while they’re cleaning the floor of the Dining Hall, so they’re able to mop out any water that spills in, but this morning the doors had been closed. Naturally, I went to find my friend Leonedas and ask if I could borrow his squeegee so I could clean up this mess.
“I’m a cleaner in Dining.” Leonedas declared proudly the first time we met in January. He speaks Kinyarwanda, French, and just enough English to get by with the crazy cousin who is constantly in the Library. Every morning, after the kids eat breakfast and head to school, Leonedas and his team pick up all 800ish chairs and put them up on the tables. Then they pour buckets of soapy water on the ground and squeegee the clay floors until they are clean. Every. Morning. This dining hall is enormous, and between the creatures that live here and the students that eat here, keeping this room clean is no easy task. And yet, that’s exactly what Leonedas does. I must drive him crazy, because me and my muddy shoes always seem to walk through at exactly the moment he and his team are almost done cleaning. He could probably pick my shoe-prints out of a crowd, that’s how often I ruin his hard work! If I leave the Library open, Leonadas will come in to mop my floors and take out my garbage. One time, I asked him to dispose of a rather tall pile of old textbooks. They were teacher’s editions for a class on Microsoft 2003 and I made the executive decision that no one needed to use them anymore, not even the local community schools. After some miming and some attempts at Kinyarwanda, Leonedas looked at me with pain in his eyes and incredulously said “I’m sorry. You want these out? Why? Can’t anyone use them?” No, I tried to explain to him, I know it’s sad but these books are very old and they cannot be used. He gave me one more dejected look of resignation and threw the books out for me. Several days later, I opened the door to the Library and discovered Leonedas and his friend sitting on the couch enjoying a fabulously well illustrated book about dinosaurs. I decided any person who works so hard to keep this room clean, and who so clearly understands and appreciates the value of books, should at least be allowed to enjoy the treasures I keep here, so I let them stay even after I left the room.
Back to today. I asked Leonedas for his squeegee which he curiously gave me. I could almost hear the thought in his head – why does this muzungu need this? What could this Cousin possibly be doing? Several minutes later he came to check on me.
“YOU ARE CLEANING?! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! The students did not take care of it?!” Leonedas was not happy.
No, I explained to him, it wasn’t their fault. The doors were closed and they didn’t realize the water was coming in. Ntakibazo (pronounced nachibazo – no worries) I said, I’ll take care of it.
This was unacceptable to Leonedas. It’s unclear if he was unhappy because I was doing it wrong (which I probably was) or if it was more that he doesn’t think cleaning should be my responsibility (which it totally is- there’s definitely a line in my contract about ‘all other duties as needed’). Probably it was some combination of both, but either way Leonedas was having none of it. He went right away to get a bucket of soapy water, another squeegee, and another maintenance worker. My squeegee was confiscated and the two professionals got to work.
In minutes my floor was spectacularly clean, and Leonedas had not only taken out my trash, but he had also washed the actual trash can – apparently cobwebs are unacceptable accessories for trash cans. As he returned the trash cans, he looked at a small stack of books I have near the window.
“These books are fine? They don’t need to be taken out?” he said with apprehension.
Yes, Leonedas, the books are fine. Don’t worry my friend, my days of disposing of books are over.
He smiled gratefully and as he left the Library I could feel his pride at a job well done.
“OK, see you later” he said with a grin.
Au revoir, I said, and merci beaucoup for everything you do.