When Americans practice good posture, many of us try walking a straight line while balancing a book on our heads. The Rwandese can do better than that. They can balance an entire bucket full of stacked apples on their heads and walk miles up and down unpaved hills.
Historically, carrying on the head has also been referred to as “carrying burdens.” I find this term particularly ironic considering the daily physical and emotional burdens carried by so many in the developing world. Regardless, this way of transporting goods is a common part of everyday life in Rwanda. And, it was one of my favorite things to observe while traveling the country.
The act of carrying goods on one’s head originated as a form of efficiency in areas where no vehicles were available to assist with transport. On a daily basis, I would watch as men and women walked up and down streets balancing countless objects on their heads. Here were some of my favorites:
- Sacks of potatoes
- Baskets of laundry
- Jugs of water
- A coffee table
- An axe
- A bed frame
- A door
- A window
- Metal pipes
- A rolled up tin roof
- Bushels of green plants
- Buckets of shoes
- Packs of toilet paper
- Baskets of fruit
- Two-feet-tall flower pots
- Flattened cardboard boxes
- Five stacked cases of cooking oil
- An umbrella
Two carriers stood out among the rest. One woman walked down the road with a basket of laundry on her head, a bag of groceries in one hand and a cell phone to her opposite ear. At one point, she passed a friend who, instead of simply waving to, she turned 180-degrees around to greet and shake hands with. She interrupted nothing in her original movements but her direction and phone conversation. It was the classiest balancing act I’d ever seen.
I followed another woman on a walk up a dirt road. Like many women in Rwanda, she carried a baby in a cloth wrap on her back. On her head, she balanced an axe with the blade facing downward, inches from the baby’s bald scalp. This may not be a skill to idolize, but the woman walked this risky venture with confidence. And that was something to pay attention to.
Each time I observed the Rwandans’ dexterity in balancing their “burdens,” I considered the way I carry hardships through my own life.
Was I living each day practicing the same elegant balance as individuals of this historically burdened country?
I found their seemingly endless list of carried goods continuously impressive, but the Rwandese reminded me that maintaining grace is less about what burdens we carry than how we balance these weights in our daily lives. No matter the shape or scale, they carried burdens with a subconscious focus and undeniable control.
This is undoubtedly a difficult task, but the Rwandese make it look all too easy. And, this poised stability is something I have begun to consciously practice in my daily life.
We all walk this planet with our own cares, concerns and sacks of potatoes weighing on our heads. And, now when I walk, I remember the Rwandese. After all, I watched a woman balance an axe over her baby’s head. We can’t get much more confident about controlling our burdens than that.