Aug 28

 

chloe_blog Chloé Fedio

With a 20kg sack balanced on her head, Juliene Njirantibankundiye walks 4km up and down Rwanda’s hilly countryside to deliver her freshly-picked coffee cherries to the washing station in Rushashi. She’s part of the Abakundakawa cooperative, an organization of 1700 smallholder coffee farmers established in 2004. The cooperative produces some of Rwanda’s foremost coffee in the country’s growing specialty coffee market.

Juliene Njirantibankundiye weighs her bag of cherries after sorting out the ones with defects. It comes in at 20 kilos.

Juliene Njirantibankundiye weighs her bag of cherries after sorting out the ones with defects. It comes in at 20 kilos.

Less than a decade ago, most farmers worked independently and processed their coffee at home. Their beans were only semi-washed and not attractive to the international market. But a movement sponsored by the Rwandan government and a host of international organizations has helped organize farmers into cooperatives, giving them access to loans to buy equipment to better process their coffee. The number of washing stations in the country has exploded. Together, farmers are refining how they sort, wash and dry their coffee, creating a higher quality product that they sell in larger quantities to international buyers.

But while coffee washing stations help improve the quality of coffee, farmers are still faced with a tremendous amount of work. And with so many steps from crop to cup, it’s not a foolproof system. It takes a minimum of three years before an Arabica coffee tree — the variety grown in Rwanda — will produce its first batch of cherries. Most farmers, like Njirantibankundiye, have to travel several kilometres to reach a washing station, either carrying the sack of cherries on their heads or strapping it to a bicycle. If the cherries are not processed the same day that they are picked, the quality of the coffee produced goes down.

Once at the station, the cherries are sorted by hand. Those with defects are picked out. They are considered low-grade and sold in local markets for next to nothing. The best cherries are soaked in giant vats and sorted again. Those that float to the top are picked out, while those that sink to the bottom are passed through a de-pulping machine. Each cherry gives two beans.

coffee-treesortingtossing

The beans are then washed and fermented to bring out the flavours. Finally they are dried on giant outdoor racks, which can take up to 15 days depending on the humidity in the air. The beans are separated into lots, based on the day they were processed at the station. At this point they are white — still covered with parchment.

Even after all that work, it’s not guaranteed that the coffee will be sold in the specialty market. A sample of each lot is sent to cuppers for quality testing. They remove the parchment revealing the green bean. Defective beans are removed and the rest are sorted by size to ensure consistent roasting. Roasted beans from each lot are measured evenly into at least three cups and then ground.

The aroma test is done in two parts: first the dry grounds, then the wet grounds. There are 700 discernable aromas in coffee. Chocolate, nut, fruit and floral aromas are some of the best while potato, earth and metal are some of the worst.

After the dry aroma test, boiling water is added. The grinds rise to the top of the cup, forming a thick crust. The crust is broken with a spoon, and cuppers slurp the coffee — sucking in as much air as possible along with it to bring out the flavours. The entire process is graded on a sheet and the final marks are calculated. The grade each lot receives helps determine its price — or in some cases if it’s even good enough to be considered specialty coffee.

Aleco Chigounis is a coffee buyer from the Portland-based Stumptown. While some buyers rely on local cuppers, Chigounis takes part in the process before making any purchase.

Aleco Chigounis is a coffee buyer from the Portland-based Stumptown. While some buyers rely on local cuppers, Chigounis takes part in the process before making any purchase.

Coffee production is a detailed and lengthy process. But it’s easy to take for granted when you’re living in a city with a coffee shop on almost every corner. During a visit with some cuppers in Maraba, I met Aleco Chigounis, an American coffee buyer for Stumptown. He told me he didn’t really appreciate the complexity of the coffee industry until he worked at a coffee plantation in Costa Rica in his college years.

“That really changed my perception of what exactly it takes to create and outstanding cup of coffee and how many hands touch your coffee before you get it in your cup,” he said. “There’s literally a story in every cup of coffee.”


Sep 21
jen_blog Jennifer Moroz

There is no escaping the memory of the Genocide here.

The Gacaca courts are still processing thousands of suspected killers and accomplices cramming the jails, and those prisoners can be seen almost daily in their pink jumpsuits, riding in the back of pickup trucks or working the fields around town. Newspapers and newscasts are filled with stories of others who fled the country and who authorities are now trying to track down to bring to justice. And as you drive through towns, it’s hard to miss the memorials, large and small, to the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives.

At the same time, you get the distinct sense that the country is moving on. While the rest of the world remains fixated on the massacre that took place here, the country is, it seems, trying to get past its past.

The government is trying to replace the image of a country racked by civil war with that of a safe haven for tourists. It’s trying to expand the economy and to cement Rwanda’s reputation as a major force on the world’s specialty coffee market.

And it’s trying to overcome the ethnic divisions that just 13 years ago pitted neighbor against neighbor and tore the country apart. Officially at least, there are no Hutus or Tutsis here anymore, just Rwandans. So-called divisionism is a major crime. Even talk of ethnicity is taboo. When it is mentioned, it’s often in hushed tones, whispers of H’s and T’s.
Everyone here still knows who is who. But an outsider can only guess what group someone belongs to by listening carefully to their personal stories. And those are not often readily shared. Typically, you just get pieces of a puzzle: a student who reveals in a class assignment, for example, that she lost several family members during the genocide, witnessed rapes and murders and lived in a refugee camp. Or people who tell you they grew up or lived in Uganda. In both cases, it’s a pretty good chance they and their families were the victims of Hutu oppression.

Some of those people sit in my classes every day, beside fellow students whose families partook in the killings. There may be some underlying tension, but you would never know it from my vantage point at the front of the class. They work together day in and day out. They gossip. They debate each other intellectually. They help each other with assignments.

They laugh.

There was a lot of that on the first day of my second-year Journalism Ethics class. As I’d done with my first-year class, I had them introduce themselves and share something with the class that nobody else would know about.

I’ve come to learn that Rwandan society is fairly secretive. People are pretty guarded, especially at first. It is, for example, almost impossible to know who is dating whom.

So when one student offered up, as his little tidbit, the name and faculty of his girlfriend (in addition to the fact that he is very much in love with her), the class roared.

Then launched into a series of similar romantic revelations.

Not to be outdone, the girl after him shared that all last year, she’d had a crush on a guy in class. (though kept everyone hanging by not revealing his identity). Two other guys offered up they were “naifs” – the term given to singles on campus – but were on the prowl. Another openly admitted his love for a female classmate who happened to not be in class that day. He added that she doesn’t know of his secret crush.

I’m guessing she will now.

I also learned a lot of nicknames that day. (Rwanda is, I have discovered, the land of nicknames.) There’s Jean Damascene, aka “Makoun” – named for a soccer player. He’s not to be confused with the other Jean Damascene, who goes by JDK. Then there’s Maurice — “the Governor,” because he was president of his high school. Theoneste is “Texas” and Thierry, who does a sports show with him on Radio Salus, “Tigos.” Jean Paul is Masware, which means “questions” in Kiswahili. He asks a lot of them. The class president, Oswald, is Oswalki. The “ki” being short for “kiwi” – as in black kiwi leather polish, which is about the same color as his skin. Shami, meanwhile, is “old white man” because, his classmates told me, he’s like an old white man. Very civilized.

Not exactly nicknames that would go over too well in our race-sensitive society.

The class is, in general, a lot less shy than my first-year class was when we first began. They attribute that to Melissa, who taught them radio production. As one student put it: Melissa broke them in, got them used to having a muzungu at the front of the class.

I think they also just happen to be a pretty talkative bunch. Thoughtful, too.

I had them read and critique the Rwanda Press Law for class this week and the discussion it generated was intense. I’d asked them to pull out what they thought was good and bad about the law.

They started with the negative.

Namely, the amount of control the government has over the media.
They saw a lot of contradictions in the law. It guarantees press freedom and prohibits censorship, they noted, yet contains a number of clauses that limit that limit journalistic freedom. For example, “contempt” of the President is forbidden, as are “verbal assaults” on any head of state or foreign diplomatic officials, and “defamation and abuse” of public authorities and forces there to ensure law and order.

Students noted that the definitions of those terms, as well as many others in the law, were open to interpretation, and could be easily used to punish the authors of unflattering reports.

The law guarantees access to information, but limits that access “where necessary” when it comes to legislative, judicial and executive documents. Some limiting considerations: national security and integrity and confidential government and judicial deliberations.

Also problematic in the eyes of the students and many journalists here: the role of the High Council of Press, which was created by the law to ensure press freedom and adherence to journalistic ethics, to license media outlets and recommend their suspension or closure. The council is supposed to be autonomous, but how can it be, students remarked, when it is attached to the President’s office.

Another article of the law guarantees that all journalists’ sources and notes are confidential, except when a court demands that they be released. And who do you think controls the courts? one student asked.
Some students argued that the government needed to have some control in a post-genocide era, to prevent abuses of the past – namely the use of the media by Hutu extremists to incite killings.

The law, passed in 2002, directly addresses such abuses, containing, for example, a provision making it an offence, punishable under the penal code, for the press to incite a crime. Everyone seemed to agree that was a good thing.

Other positives they pulled out: that authors must sign their names to articles, and that personal privacy of individuals is guaranteed except in cases where the information affects their public lives.

The class will get another chance to discuss the law and media ethics in general next week, when we head to Kigali, along with my first-year class, for a field trip to the High Council on the Press. I’ve organized a panel discussion there for them to ask questions of the council’s executive secretary as well as the editors of the pro-government New Times, an English language daily, and Umuseso, an independent Kinyarwanda paper known for riling authorities – and getting into some serious trouble.

It should be an eye-opening discussion – for both the students and me. Several Umuseso editors have been jailed or fled the country after publishing controversial stories. The current editor, Charles Kabonero, has had his share of problems, too. He was brought up on divisionism and defamation charges after the paper ran a story accusing the parliamentary vice president of abusing his influence – and plotting to seize power from President Kagame. Prosecutors were seeking a four-year prison sentence and hefty fine, but the courts ultimately acquitted Kabonero of the divisionism charge. He ended up escaping prison and paying a fine on the defamation charge.

The other panelist is David Gusongoirye of the New Times, who visited the campus this week to speak to students about working at the paper. He got some tough questions, especially about press freedom. He openly acknowledged the paper was pro-government, but said there was always room for independent journalism. He pointed to recent stories staff had done about suspicious government contracts and spending irregularities in several different ministries.

“Does that suggest we’re so muzzled?” he asked.

But when it comes to Kagame, he acknowledged, the paper had to be careful.

Running the wrong photo of the President, for example, can cause problems.

The discussion immediately brought to mind a recent incident in which the Sunday Times editor was fired after an unflattering picture of Kagame appeared on the front page.

Gusongoirye spent a lot of time addressing the paper’s leanings, but he really came to woo students into writing for him. The paper is expanding, he said. Not many of his staff are professionally trained, he added, and many can’t translate well from Kinyarwanda to English. He needs good people, good stories.

And he can pay.

Freelancers get a retainer plus 3,500 Rwf ($7) for articles under 400 words, 8,000 Rwf ($16) for articles of 800 words, and 15,000 Rwf ($30) for full-page features.

Staff writers get 250,000 Rwf ($500) a month, while editors can make 350,000 ($700) a month. Many of the people who are filling those editor jobs – jobs that should go to you, Gusongoirye told the students — right now are from Uganda, Kenya and the U.S.

I’ve told my first year class that I’ll work with them to get their final stories for the class published, so I was happy to hear Gusongoirye was actively seeking submissions. I’m meeting next week with a handful of students whose stories really stood out to fill in any reporting gaps and polish the English. I’m hoping they can present them in person to editors when we go to Kigali.

They’ll get their chance when we visit the New Times and Umuseso newsrooms, which we’re scheduled to do before the panel discussion on media law and ethics. The second year students, meanwhile, will go with Lee, a CBC reporter from Newfoundland who is now teaching them television production, to tour the state-run TV Rwanda.

The trip will mark the end of my teaching stint at the National University of Rwanda. It’s been seven weeks, which seemed like an eternity before I got here.

Now, I just wish I had more time.

Still, I couldn’t ask for a better or more fitting ending.

We’ll probably leave several hours late, because the bus doesn’t have fuel, the driver hasn’t shown or some authorization hasn’t been signed.
But when the bus starts rolling, as it invariably does, I’ll be surrounded by all my students, probably listening to them singing songs in Kinyarwanda at the top of their lungs. Maybe even recognizing a few lyrics myself.

Really, I can think of a lot worse goodbyes.