Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Rwanda progress report - 100 days to go.......

Well, folks, in just over a hundred days I'll be on the plane winging my way over Africa and wondering what the hell I've let myself in for! Part of me wishes I was going next week; the other part is in a slow panic, thinking about all the things left to do and all the "what if"s both out there and back here at home.

At the moment I seem to be half drowning in bureaucracy. Over the past couple of weeks I've sent off all the documents for my work permit (including having to get 6 copies of each of four academic certificates and five copies of my CRB clearance, all notarised by a solicitor). I've arranged for my medical jabs - they start tomorrow. I've also arranged powers of attorney so that Teresa can deal with any financial stuff that crops up during my absence.

I've started trying to learn Ikinyarwanda; I've got about thirty words so far and then I seem to have stalled. I'm finding it really hard because it's so different from any other language I've looked at. The words all seem random and many are very similar to each other ("gatatu" = 3 and "gatanu" = 5).

I've ordered my helmet for moped riding. However, VSO in its wisdom has decided I won't have a moped of my own while I'm out there; I'll either have to be taken as a pillion passenger by someone else or I'll have to hire a bike locally. I can't quite reconcile this with a job description which seems to imply I'll be travelling round from school to school but no doubt it'll all become clear when I get there. In the meantime I've sent off for a International Driving Permit in case I decide to buy a second hand land rover or similar.

I'm compiling a master kit list, mainly to see what things I'm going to need to buy between now and Christmas.

There's also lots of busywork on things like insurance and the VSO setting-up grant.

On a positive note, I went to a local Dorset VSO group meeting last week and met Heidi Farrow who had just returned from three years in Rwanda at Butare, about 50 miles from where I'll be based at Gitarama. In her three year stint she managed to acquire a Rwandan husband, so clearly the country suits some people very well indeed! She was so reassuring about all the stupid things I wanted to know about, and It'll be great to have her on hand to answer any last minute panics. I've also made contact with three Canadians current out in Rwanda, one of whom will be one of my closest colleagues in Muhanga district.

I've spent hours on line googling everything I can think of to learn about the country; google earth is absolutely brilliant. I think I've already got a good feel for what the landscape is going to look like but I'm sure it's going to be a huge culture shock when I arrive. For the first few days I'll be based in Kigale, the capital, for intensive briefings on things like security.

The first question I get asked by friends is "is it safe to go there?" The answer seems to be a definite "yes"; in fact by many measures Rwanda is safer than most other countries in Africa.
It seems to be making an exceptionally fast adjustment back to normality after the genocide of 1994. The remnants of the interahamwe rebels and disaffected Rwandan army soldiers seem to have been pushed into Burundi and the Congo, where they're still causing mayhem but don't cross the borders and therefore don't cause trouble inside Rwanda proper. We're banned from going into the Congo and very strongly discouraged from Burundi because they're so dangerous. That's a shame, but, then, the situation could improve during my year there.

The mountain gorillas are in the north of Rwanda, right up against the borders with Congo and Uganda. So also is the big Karisimbi volcano - 14500 feet, very active, and just begging to be climbed......

So, it's onwards and upwards, and roll on my SKWID training course in mid October.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Grandad's Flight

It's August 16th and we've finally got Grandad airborne (at the third attempt). What a saga! When we arranged this back in Christmas 2006 we thought it would be a doddle to turn up and fly. And with Grandad being 90 it seemed a beautiful way to celebrate his birthday. In the event, however, it turned into such a marathon that we wondered if he would be 91 by the time we got off the ground!

After all the faffing around fixing a date when both Ruth and I were free, after booking ferries to the island, meeting up and collecting "Biggles"................... on the first attempt we arrived at the airfield to find the plane had broken down that morning. On the second attempt we got there to find the weather had closed in and the cloudbase was too low to allow a flight.

Never mind. On August 16th the sun was shining, the plane was working, and we were all there ready and waiting. We were airborne around 45 minutes doing a complete circuit of the island, clockwise from Sandown. The cabin on the plane was too cramped to get any decent pictures of Grandad, but I was able to take lots out of the window. Here are two of my favourites. Firstly the Needles and Alum Bay:

Secondly, Yarmouth harbour:

The views were stunning - everything we could have wished for. Flying through a rain shower, looking at individual houses (we were only about 1500 feet up and only doing about 80 knots), identifying from the air the places we've visited on land - magic! The island looked very green and pleasant.

The only negative thing was the constant lurching around of the plane whenever a gust of wind took it. That took some getting used to!

When we landed we asked the pilot to take a picture of the intrepid crew:

So here's to you Grandad! Not bad at all for a 90 year old. The spirit of Biggles lives....