It’s a cloudy afternoon in Musasa Sector, Rutsiro District. Earlier today, I visited a remote fishermen’s camp and a busy mining site. The two visits have been very informative. I am ready to leave but an old cargo ship docked in the area is raising my curiosity.
The ship is rusty. I find it difficult to tell its original color. It looks like a ruin that has been rotting here for dozens of years. However, I have noticed an activity that suggests otherwise.
About 40 people are loading it. They are collecting sand from the mouth of a river approximately 20 feet away and pouring it into the carrier. Bags and bags of sand are emptied, refilled and emptied repeatedly. The loading exercise is an indication that the vessel in question is working.
The first person I happen to talk to confirms that the ship is indeed running. It has been here for two days but from the look of things, its captain is likely to set sail in a matter of hours.
The ship’s name, MV Francine, is inscribed on the wall of its rust-gathering wheelhouse. Most civilian ships around the world bear female names with a 2-letter prefix MV, which is an acronym for Motor Vessel. This has been the case for a very long time.
There are two prominent theories regarding the tradition of naming ships. The first hypothesis is linked to the era in which boats were named after goddesses. When societies began losing faith in gods and goddesses, the practice shifted to their female legends.
The second theory has something to do with the grammatical components of European languages. In German and French languages for example, objects are categorized as masculine or feminine. Old English was also characterized by masculine and feminine nouns. Many inanimate objects, including boats were referred to as feminine. As English evolved and got rid of this pattern, the feminine tag attached to ships was maintained.
Fast forward to 2019, ships are still being named after women. In some cases, names are derived from important women in the lives of owners or captains. Turns out, the same can be said about the vessel I have just discovered.
In other societies, ships are named after powerful women featured in their folklore. Naming is done before the ship’s inaugural voyage following a special ceremony believed to ward off bad luck. Before the ship casts off, the chosen name is written on it and blessings are given. Carefully selected names are credited for safety and protection.
MV Francine has a storage capacity of 200 cubic meters. The loading task force has been instructed to fill it.
The captain is in a neighboring village taking care of his personal business while the assistant captain is taking a nap in his cabin. The clock is ticking and the team is working harder to meet the deadline.
As I keep poking my nose into other people’s affairs, the assistant captain wakes up and climbs down the wooden staircase. He seems to be a little puzzled by my presence but we end up getting along very well.
He introduces himself as Callixte Muganga, a resident of Rusizi District. He spends a great deal of time co-steering MV Francine between Rusizi and Rutsiro. A round trip costs him and his crew 24 hours while loading takes 2 to 3 days.
Callixte has been working aboard MV Francine for the past 4 years. In the beginning, he found it hard to spend extended periods of time away from his young family. Eventually, he learned to deal with it. He counts his blessings and takes pride in helping his captain to command their ship.
The sand Callixte and colleagues ferry to Rusizi on a weekly basis is used for construction. The construction sector in Rusizi is booming. As a result, construction materials are on a high demand.
This sand is swept to the beach by the current from the river bed and banks. According to Callixte, it is highly graded and suitable for concrete production and plastering. Finding big quantities of this fine sand elsewhere is a challenge. That explains their regular long journeys.
As I wrap up my conversation with Callixte, his phone rings. The captain wants to know how much longer will it take to fill the remaining space. "20 minutes. Hurry up." He replies.
It is unclear whether the activity I am witnessing here is detrimental to the environment or not. What is obvious is that the ship responsible for the delay of my departure is about to leave and so am I.
The author is an adventurer on a mission to discover what Rwanda has to offer. Follow his awe-inspiring journey on Twitter and Facebook @ExposureRwanda