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.

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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.”


Aug 12

 

chloe_blog Chloé Fedio

I found a little piece of my hometown in Rwanda today.

Ubuntu Edmonton is a non-profit organization that operates in Kimironko, a community on the outskirts of Kigali. It supports orphans, widows and their children in the Umudugudu Imena, a settlement established by the government for those left homeless or displaced by the genocide.

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The Centre César is a community centre for the 750 people that live in the neighbourhood. It has a food bank and clinic, but it is also a place of work for 60 seamstresses and artisans. Their products are sold online, and in some shops in Edmonton and Montreal.

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Claudine Mushimiyimana is one of 19 seamstresses employed by Ubuntu Edmonton. The seamstresses receive a weekly salary while the artisans are paid based on the sales of their crafts.

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The seamstresses make a variety of items, including scrubs for nurses.

The organization also runs a day care just down the hill from the community centre. A group of 31 kids, aged 2 to 6, attend. I visited them over lunch. Despite the distraction of food, their eyes lit up when I started taking pictures. Some were more interested in performing for the camera than others.

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Aug 5

 

chloe_blog Chloé Fedio

All I wanted was a coffee and some meat on a stick. It was foolish of me to think that the waitress scrubbing the table next to me in the empty café would bring me a menu if I didn’t specifically ask for it. Even though we made eye contact. Several times. So I got up from my seat, asked for the menu and ordered. Then I waited. The coffee took half an hour. The food never came.

Customer service can vary from region to region, from country to country, from culture to culture. Even within the same city the type of service you get might depend on where you go and how much you’re willing to pay. But in Rwanda it seems no matter what the situation, you’ll still be greeted with the same blank stare.

Barbequed pork and with bananas are worth the wait.

Barbequed pork and with bananas are worth the wait.

A recent report released by the Rwanda Institute of Policy Analysis and Research suggested that customer service in the country was the worst in the region. Those working in Rwanda’s service sector were criticized for being slow, inattentive and rude. And in a country that relies on tourism to help drive the economy, it’s a potentially damaging reputation. As Amy Dempsey outlined in a previous post the government has recognized the need for improvement and launched the National Customer Care Task Force to rectify the problem.

With that in mind I set off to find out what some of Rwanda’s foreign population thinks about customer service in the country. In a crowded bar filled with ex-patriots and tourists I asked the following question: “What’s your impression of customer service in Rwanda?” Here are some of the responses.

Customer Service in Rwanda

This was originally broadcast on City Radio on Friday, August 7th as part of my weekly show.


Jul 21

 

chloe_blog Chloé Fedio

Kimihurura.
That’s where I live.
One of Kigali’s many K neighbourhoods.

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I only know very basic Kinyarwanda.
Muraho (Hello), Amakuru (How are you?), Murakoze (Thank you).
But if there were a Rwandan version of Scrabble, I am sure there would be more than one K.

This morning I set off to the Rwanda Women’s Network in Kicukiro.
I see a motto sitting idle a few feet away from my driveway.
“I’m going to Kicukiro. Near the World Food Programme and Contact FM.”
He nods.
“500.”
He nods again.

And we’re off.
In the direction of Kacyiru.
A different route?
He would know better than me.
Right?

I sit silently on the back of the motto watching as we drive further and further away from my destination.
Finally, I lean forward, my bulky green helmet almost bumping into his.
“Contact FM. Tu connais Contact FM? Près du World Food Programme?”

We’re approaching a traffic circle.
As we round the bend he turns his head.
“World Food Programme,” he says, this time with a flash of recognition in his eyes, “Kicukiro.”

Did I pronounce it differently this time?
We change course — down a hill then up another.
The wind blows gently as we drive from a paved road onto one of Kigali’s many dirt roads.
Almost there.

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Today’s blog post has been brought to you by the letter K.


Jul 17

 

chloe_blog Chloé Fedio

One of the most basic commandments of journalism is, “Don’t miss your deadline.”
It’s always a race against the clock to get your story finished before the newspaper goes to the presses.
Even more so with live TV and radio because the broadcast won’t wait for you.
At least not in Canada.

I do everything with a sense of urgency.
I walk fast, talk fast, work fast — even by North American standards.
And when a deadline is looming I’m moving at Mach 5.
But the pace of life is slower here in Kigali.
And the culture of the newsroom more relaxed.

So this morning, when it was 9:58am and the technician for my 10am show still hadn’t arrived I tried not to freak out.
I ended up starting at 10:04am.
Four minutes late!
“It’s no problem,” everyone kept on telling me, “Don’t worry.”

On top of my nervous demeanor, there’s also the issue of my own physical appearance.
I regularly show up to work looking like a disaster.
Hair disheveled from my motto ride to work.
Feet stained orange from stepping in puddles of dirt on the road.
Poof! Like a spray on tan.

Motto rides are easy to find.
The challenge is communication.
First, I say everything in French.
Then, I say everything in English.
But sometimes the motto driver only speaks Kinyarwanda.

Before getting on I always negotiate a price.
Sometimes the drivers try to give me a muzungu (white person) price.
Double, sometimes triple what the locals would pay.
I generally pay 500 RWF to get to work — about $1 CAD.

The money is different.
The landscape is different.
The culture of the newsroom is different.
But despite it all, I still feel at home here in Rwanda.