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December 24th, 2009
11:46 AM ET

Gift #3: Don't spill the words

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I've been to Rwanda before. But I was never invited into a backyard. Now I know why.

Janet Nkubana, Rwanda's master basket weaver, tells me the backyard is where the women of Rwanda gather. It's where they talk. It's where they share their secrets.

No men allowed.

As a journalist, it was my responsibility to convince Janet that it would be a good thing to reveal just a few secrets from the backyard.

I don't have a very large audience, I told Janet. Your secrets will be safe with me and these readers.

Janet ignored my plea, picked up a basket, and walked me through the symbolism of the design.

"In Rwandan culture," Janet explains, "women are not allowed to sit with the men and talk. They are normally in the backyard cooking. But inside the backyard, should other women come to visit, you sit there and talk a lot of secrets.”

Pointing to the basket design, she continues.

“The white area on the basket symbolizes the area where we chat. The black area is where you don't spill the words."

Describing that area, where you don't spill the words, brings a big smile to Janet's face. It's the area where women tell secrets that the men will never know. What is said in the Rwandan backyard stays in the backyard.

Please, Janet. Spill some words.

"I will tell you,” she says, “when you are getting married, they bring your auntie, your mother, and in the backyard they will prepare you… to become a mother. They prepare you how to respect your husband. Everything that entails how to become a housewife."

She wasn't spilling.

"The white area is where you chat."

Yes?"

The black area is where you don't spill the words."

I know. Tell me more about the black area, please?

About 15 minutes after the camera stopped rolling, Janet took me aside and laughed.

She revealed to me that, on the wedding night, alone with her new husband, a Rwandan woman wears strings of beads. Beautiful beads.

One of the baskets for sale is designed to hold the beads. A beautiful bead storage basket.

For a second, I thought Janet was about to take me to the black area of the backyard.

Then I realized, if Rwandan women wear beads on their wedding night, Rwandan men know about it.

So that's no secret.

Janet told me some more. But each time, she stopped short of the black area of the backyard.

Janet Nkubana doesn't spill words.

Go here for Gift #4: Weaving man


Filed under: Africa • Beyond 360 • Michael Schulder • Refugees • Women's Issues
soundoff (One Response)
  1. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    I love my African sisters and brothers and regret not being reunited, living and learning my rich culture. So much is lost and so much is forgotten.

    December 26, 2009 at 6:29 pm |