A Trip to the Tinnery

On Friday, we woke up on the earlier side, got breakfast and then took motorbikes to a Tinnery. I had read about it in Carrie’s guidebook and with nothing else planned for the day; an excursion out of Butare was exactly what we were looking for.

We forgot the name of the Tinnery and had to ask the waiter at breakfast if she knew. She wrote down something on a napkin and we took it to a group of taxi men who volleyed for our attention and shoved their helmets into our arms so that we’d be sure to get on their bike. A little apprehensive that we might be going to the wrong place, the bikes took us West out of Butare, past villages and large fields where pink-clad prisoners raised and lowered their trowels.

When we arrived at the Tinnery I was sure we’d made a mistake, or that I had misjudged the guidebook. Sure enough, the bikes had pulled up the Huye Ettinerary but the front gate was locked and I didn’t see anyone. To be safe, everyone stayed with the bikes and I walked around through a side gate and down a little cement path. Behind the first main building were three smaller ones connected by a cement path that met in the middle underneath a circular roof. I could hear the clang of a hammer and smaller noises that indicated we were there.

We went around back and entered the main building through a basement door. In that room was an amazing collection of beautiful statues, bowls, bracelets, animal figurines, salt and pepper shakers, and many more objects. We were slightyy put off by all of the prices but I took lots of pictures! One of the workers gave us a tour of the outbuildings and once we entered the first one I was so glad we’d decided to do this trip. In the first building we walked through a low entry way and came out into a circular room with a high ceiling that met at a point in the middle. Natural light poured in through windows near the top. In the center of the room was a large circular table with a pile of dirt stacked on top and one man kneading it into a wooden frame. Turns out this is where they mold the tin into different objects. A mold, presumably some type of metal, is packed in the wooden boxes surrounded by dirt and then two to three holes are made so that the tin can be poured in and left to form. As we walked around the small room, the man at the center table began pounding the dirt into one box using a large mallet. In one corner was a large pot sitting over a fire with two ladles in it. Our unofficial tour guide picked up a ladle and let the liquid tin pour out, showing us the melted tin. It had a silvery tint and had the same gloss as gasoline.

In the next building we watched men bent over a long table polish and refine the pieces that had come out of the last room. One of the men closer to us had on a Boston Red Sox hat… even the Rwandans are sox fans. 🙂

The whole place was so interesting and also pretty peaceful. The men worked quietly, a radio played in the background, and it was light and airy and really calming.

But we weren’t finished there. With her slight knowledge in French Jaishri attempted to explain that we wanted jewelry. Our helpful guide nodded and told us that just one kilometer up the road we’d find the Benedictine Monastery where we could find a tinnery with jewelry. I think its safe to bet that no translation from English to French, passed through the mind of someone whose first language is neither, won’t be perfect.

We walked, and walked, and walked. Apparently we were supposed to turn down a red dirt road not far from the tinnery, but we thought it safe to follow the straight and narrow. Which we did until we wondered where we were walking. After asking two people on the road where the monastery were – who both pointed across a large field on our right to a hilltop – a young lady with a basket on her head pointed the same direction and that walked with us till we got to a small dirt path that led directly down through the field. Two of the girls with us decided to go back; they weren’t ready to hike through the field, across a stream, and up another dirt road to a monastery that we really knew nothing about.

With nothing us planned for the day besides the general meeting that evening, four of us decided to go for it and we started down through the field. A couple men and women bent over in the sloping field would stand up and smile as we passed. I am really not sure of what they thought as 4 mzungus hiked through their field with cameras and bags and flipflops. We made it to the bottom, jumped over the stream – with the help of two friendly Rwandan men – and started to walk up a longg dirt road. One of the men walked with us, and though he didn’t speak English, it was clear that he was leading us in the right direction. On our left we could see the road we had come from and the field we had just crossed through and on our right were large trees. It was beautiful albeit a little long. Finally, at the top of the hill, we reached the monastery. No tinnery. Not many people. A small room with a Persian carpet and one glass case with wedding bands, a few earrings, and some pendants, and a couple who I figured to be getting wedding bands. At this point we had been walking for at least an hour and all we could do was laugh at where we ended up. Definitely an experience, and if nothing else, we met some friendly people and saw some beautiful countryside.

All and all, the experience was… peaceful. The quite tinnery, the few people left in the field late on a Friday afternoon, the sprawling monastery lawn. The evening ended with loud rainstorms and a trip to the University Club for some of us where we sat and talked.

Again, this post is late. Sorry that we didn’t get anything up last week. Until next week,


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One Response to A Trip to the Tinnery

  1. Susan says:

    Vivid writing. I really enjoyed this post and was glad when you all returned safely. Peaceful beauty.

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