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Kivuye, northern Rwanda

Alphonsine has nothing. I’m in her house. It’s a cave. It’s pitch black inside. There are no windows.

Take the braches from trees. Use the larger ones as corner posts and then tie the smaller ones horizontally until you have basic wall-type structure. Then go dig the soil. Add some water so you can make clumps of wet soil in your hands. Now pat this soil against the branch structure, like you would making a sandcastle. Start at the bottom and work your way up. You’ll need to dig more soil and add more water to it. Keep going until the soil covers the branches. These are the walls. The roof is more branches, laid on until the sun cannot come through. This is Alphonsine’s house.

I am inside her house with my videocamera. She is sat on the floor folding three or four items of old clothing in the light of the doorway. Her young daughter, Lorita, is at her side. She is 2 and half years old, wears a pink dress, eats an avocado and stares directly into my camera.

I take my eyes away from the viewfinder, still recording. It’s a trick I use. If I’m looking away from the camera so too, usually, will the person I’m recording. I look around the dark room. Inside Alphonsine’s house there is nothing. I know I can only film Alphonsine in the doorway light. I can’t film the pitch black, the corners of these two small rooms. I look around and think that people will not believe me. Inside her house there is nothing. I don’t mean that she has only a few possesions, I mean there is nothing inside her house. You must have something. Something… a chair, or a bowl, or a piece of paper or something. You must have something, I keep saying to myself. But there is nothing, just the soil floor and soil walls in this dark.

Alphonsine’s husband, a Ugandan, died. She was faced with marrying her late husband’s brother or crossing the border back to Rwanda. She chose the latter and was forced to leave her two children with her late husband’s family. When she came back to Rwanda she was pregnant with her third child, the girl who now sits beside her. Alphonsine works on a farm and makes 400 Rwandan francs per day, about 60p. She spends half on food, one basic meal a day, and the rest on repairing the roof. Rainy season has come early. Alphonsine is 26.

I look around the dark room. In one corner I spot a single, folded-over piece of foam, only an inch thick, with a thin brown cover. It’s old and very dirty, and on the soil floor. This must be where the two of them go to sleep. 

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