Families in remote areas living under grass-thatched houses dread the rain. The rain is more of a curse than a blessing because of the perpetual leaking roof.
However, in Gitarama, there is something unique about the remote houses. Rather than grass for a roof, houses are covered with neatly laid out clay tiles!
The idea is that clay houses always matched well with a grass-thatched roof or rusted iron sheets—but that is not the case in for many Rwandans living in the country because they make use of the plenty of brown earth across the thousand hills.
Making clay tiles in Rwanda
Javier Nsabimana is a resident of Bushenge, Nyamasheke District. At the age of 57 years, he is still unemployed; he earns money from cultivating his crops—in Rwanda, agriculture is still the number one occupation of the rural population. He said that through tilling his land is the only way he can provide for the essential needs of his five children.
With such basic simplicity, one cannot imagine how poor Nsabimana could afford to own a fully roofed house with tiles.
Nsabimana says erecting his house and roofing it up with burnt tiles was a walk over—it wasn’t that hard. He shaped large clay bricks from the earth, dried them up under the scorching sun before setting up a rectangular foundation and he built his clay brick house, with the help of his friends. After that, the roofing process only took a month.
“Out of clay, I made the tiles. All I spent on was the machine that shapes them, “said Nsabimana.
With his neighbors’ help, it only took Nsabimana a week to make over 1,000 fine clay tiles. After two days of drying up, Nsabimana covered the tiles with lots of grass.
“I never left out any uncovered area for it would let out smoke yet that’s what helps with baking red tiles,” he said.
Usually, after building a large make-shift furnace stove, lots of firewood is added to fully bake the tiles. The furnace prevents the tiles from being half-baked. After three days of severe burning, the tiles are ready and often left for a week, to cool down.
“When the bricks turn red, it shows how ready the tiles are,” affirmed Nsabimana.
Selling already made tiles has become a profession for some. One small ready tile costs Rwf25 while the biggest costs Rwf40.
The roofing process
After binding and knotting large eucalyptus branches on the roof using ropes, elephant grass is laid out to create a comfortable base for the tiles, this prevents them from cracking. The tiles are then placed vertically overlapping one on top of the other to avoid any future leakage incase of heavy rain. As two tiles are conjoined, clay is put in between them, to keep the firm. People who can afford, use cement instead of clay.
The simplicity of using locally made tiles
Rwanda has many wetlands and since the raw material for these tiles is clay, everyone can easily get own a tiled roof.
“Rwandans still believe in team work. They will happily help neighbours to make the tiles, as they wait for their turn to be helped,” said Alno Mukiza, a local resident of Bushenge.
The awesome advantages
Unlike the use of asbestos tiles, these locally made tiles are environmental friendly. These tiles have also been credited for creating warm and friendly living conditions. Unlike iron roof tops that make houses extremely warm or cold depending on a season, clay tiles always keep a house cool because of their clay texture.
People also credit the tiles for being cheap and easily accessible.
Tiles are a cheap luxury that changes the simple living conditions of Rwandans dwelling in rural areas.
Nsabimana said: “It has always been my dream to settle in tile roofed house and that is why I love my house.”