When Theresia Ukwitegetse thinks of her old house, she remembers how when it rained, “slimy” waterlogged grasses would fall on the floor of her home. She remembers the birth of her seven children and how only three survived: her baby boy and three baby girls are buried on the other side of the village. “Diseases. There were no vaccinations then.” And finally she thinks of her husband who died too many years ago to remember. “I think it was witchcraft.” A local diagnosis for events that can’t be explained.
But now she has a new house with a front door, and interior dividing walls; and a new toilet, with a corrugated iron roof which gleams in the sun. Her previous toilet was open to the elements which meant it offered privacy but didn’t stop her getting drenched in the rainy season.
She wishes it was a little closer - she is 80, after all, and sick with recurrent malaria - “my whole body aches” - but is pleased with the drape across the entrance which she bought with her pension (around 7000 Rwandan francs a month; £6).
Her joy in the house and toilet go beyond the solid structures. “When you die people gather in your home,” she explains. Relatives hold a wake with the body laid in an open coffin. “They walk around you, and one by one, they say goodbye.” That family and friends will now gather in the superior surroundings of her new home, rather than in the shameful situation of her old home, is of huge significance. A local insult is to say, “I hope you die on a mountain.” In other words, on your own, where no one can say goodbye.
Not that she is frightened of dying. “Why should I be frightened? I am old. I gave birth to seven children. I was not barren.” But now she feels at complete peace. “Dying in a place that you like means a lot.”
1/5 Theresia Ukwitegetse’s toilet. With its corrugated iron roof, she no longer gets wet in the rainy season.
“Dying in a place that you like means a lot.”
2/5 Theresia’s joy in her house and toilet go beyond the structure itself - she feels at peace.
3/5 Theresia Ukwitegetse is a widow, she has three children.
4/5 Theresia takes pride and pleasure in her surroundings.