It’s a cloudy afternoon in Musasa Sector, Rutsiro District. Earlier today, I visited a remote fishermen’s camp and a busy mining site. This was a great opportunity to experience the day-to-day lives of fishers and miners. It’s a different world out there.
I am ready to leave but one cargo ship, docked in the area, is raising my curiosity. The ship looks like an old shack. From the distance, I thought it was an abandoned, rotting vessel but I have just noticed an activity that suggests otherwise.
About 40 people are loading it. They are collecting sand from the shore 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 ship 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. From the look of things, its captain is likely to set sail in a matter of hours.
The ship’s name is MV Francine. The said name is inscribed on the wall of its corroded wheelhouse. Most civilian ships around the world bear female names. The MV prefix stands for Motor Vessel.
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 French and German for example, objects are categorized as masculine or feminine. Old English was also characterized by masculine and feminine nouns — boats were in the feminine category. As English evolved and got rid of this pattern, the feminine tag attached to ships was maintained.
Fast forward to 2021, ships are still being named after women. In some cases, names are derived from important women in the lives of their owners. Turns out, the vessel I have just discovered was named after the conqueror of its owner’s heart.
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 taskforce 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 introduces himself as Callixte Muganga from Kamembe Sector, Rusizi District. He spends a great deal of time co-steering MV Francine between Rusizi and Rubavu.
Callixte has been working aboard MV Francine for the past 6 years. In the beginning, he found it hard to sacrifice family time. 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. This sand is swept to the beach by the streams pouring into Lake Kivu. 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 say goodbye to Callixte, his phone rings. The captain wants to know whether the ship is fully loaded or not. "They are almost done. Hurry up." He replies. The ship responsible for the delay of my departure is about to leave and so am I.
The author is visiting all 30 districts of Rwanda. His tour of Rutsiro is sponsored by Ikaze Rwanda Tours & Travel, Kivu Tours & Travel, The Click Creations and Exposure.