Sunday, 4 May 2008

How to really enjoy a Friday!

April 25th

This is the day I end up being the Gitarama postman. I’ve got meetings in Kigali, but decide to go to the District Office to collect post and take back some Census forms in case Claude wants to read them. As I pass the post office I call in, and there are packages for both Tom and I, but still no “Guardian Weekly”. I decide to catch the bus from the St Andre church stop, and try hitching a lift from lorries and cars but nobody stops. It doesn’t matter, because in ten minutes I’m in a creaky old matata being driven like a bat out of hell by a crew who appear to be teenagers on a joyride.

As I arrive at the VSO office there’s a posh-looking Range Rover parked outside with the Union Jack flying – the new British Ambassador, three days into his post, has come to pay us a visit. Needless to say, lesser mortals like me don’t get to meet him, but all the staff are on edge. Since most of VSO’s funding comes from HMG, it’s important that he thinks we’re doing a good job and are a worthwhile use of taxpayers’ money!

The computer in our Programme Office has a virus which shuts it down every five minutes, so nobody can get any work done on it and all are complaining. Proof again that we desperately need more than one machine available to us, especially on Fridays when absolutely everyone comes into Kigali. This is becoming my next assignment as Volunteer Committee member!

My first meeting is over lunch at a café where Mans leads the rest of us District Office placements in discussions about all the statistics we’re crunching. I’m well ahead of most of the others, and get some useful hints as well as copies of Mans’ final presentations to his Rwandan bosses. They really do look impressive, and I wonder if everyone realises the sheer volume of numbers he’s got through to be able to do things so thoroughly.

When we arrive at the café for lunch we’re greeted by the manager and ushered to a separate table reserved for VSO We even have a different buffet melange especially for us. It’s not until we’re almost finished that another VSO working party comes in to eat and we realise that we’ve been confused with them and have been eating their lunch…. Oops! Need to co-ordinate more closely with Programme Office to check exactly who’s been booked in for lunch. But, then, everyone at P O was bowing and curtseying to the Ambassador….

Another meeting in the afternoon, and again on statistics. Mans does a “how to” session on excel spreadsheets. Unfortunately the data projector isn’t working properly, which gives him real difficulties, and his audience ranges from people like Ken and me who are well into excel and need help with finer points, to at least one who seems a complete beginner.

By now I’ve picked up VSO mail for Karen, and more for Cathie, from our pigeonholes, and Épi has rung to say she’s going to be late because she’s been stuck waiting for space on a bus in Butare and would I collect her big bag of things from the Office.

(This weekend every secondary school pupil in Rwanda is travelling back to school. Whereas the policy is to locate primary schools as close as possible to the population, even if it means burying them deep in inaccessible countryside, the 10% who make it to secondary school are allocated places anywhere in the entire country. Each secondary school has a particularly speciality in “Key Stage 4” so if you want to do a minority subject like Forestry or Nursing you could well end up at the absolute opposite end of Rwanda. So at the start and end of term every matata is full of students, and with their mattresses lashed to the roofs. Since many of the upper secondary students are well into their twenties or even thirties, you’d never realise what’s going on until you’ve been here long enough to learn how the system works. And the worrying thing is that, after four months here, it’s all beginning to seem sensible to me…..) Anyway, now you understand why Épi had difficulty in getting a bus to Kigali!

Geert was in the office for his last day, doing his signing off interview with Charlotte. When we’d all finished I arranged to go with him to his hotel and download his portrait photos from his laptop. That meant a moto ride through Kigali – my first time in the city. Riding motos in Kigali is a whole different experience from in Gitarama – you weave through traffic, including overtaking on the wrong side, and at times your knees are within a couple of inches of traffic coming towards you. Not for the faint hearted, but with a competent diver it gives you a real buzz!

As well as his photos, which are absolutely wonderful, Geert gives me two books from the P O which he wants me to return for him. This is getting crazy – I have packages for four other people plus a huge carrier bag of Épi’s.

We join forces with Ghislain and Ginette who are also staying in Geert’s hotel and hire a taxi up to La Palisse hotel on the other side of town for drinks with our new Rwanda boss. He looks like a student (one VSO actually mistook him for a new arrival and asked him where he was being posted), but must be at least mid-30s. He seems very pleasant. We tell him that he needs to do a progress round all the placements, preferably starting with Soraya out in Mushubi! He says yes. Ah, but wait until the others tell him how long it takes to get to Mushubi!

I learn two other things at “La Palisse”. African Guinness is truly revolting; it tastes nothing at all like the Irish version. They use different ingredients, presumably to enable it to keep its head in tropical heat. It’s one of the few times in my life I haven’t been able to finish a drink! But the brochettes are the best I’ve ever eaten. Absolutely melt in the mouth. There seems to be an unlimited supply, so we all pig out. I dread to think what all this spread is costing! Just about everybody is there, too, so there’s a lot of catching up on Easter travels. Ghiudi and Catherine tell us about their adventures in Zanzibar; Han about her trip to Uganda. The Deputy Ambassador is here, too. His wife has been a VSO so he’s very much “on our side”. He also looks not much older than a student. (Or is it me - that I’m just getting ancient?)

At eight we commandeer one of the VSO cars and about eight of us pile in to go with Geert to “Sola Luna”, the Italian restaurant where he’s having his farewell bash. When we arrive there’s a beautiful Rwandan woman waiting for Geert, and also Tom waiting for us. We’re joined eventually by more than half the total VSO contingent and a few others from Gitarama including Ulrika from the orphanage. I’m “with” Kersti because I’m staying at her place overnight; almost all the others are staying in hotels because VSO’s agreed to pay the bills.

The pizzas are good, and we all seem to order different and then divide up and share. It becomes a sort of pizza tasting exercise – what a nice way to do things!

At around midnight the party breaks up; most of the younger ones go clubbing with Geert. Kersti’s not feeling too good, and it wouldn’t be gentlemanly to abandon her, so I walk her home (she only lives a couple of hundred yards from the restaurant), and by just after twelve we’re both tucked up in our (separate) beds. It’s really Kersti’s boyfriend’s house; he’s away on a business trip to Kampala, so she’s more than happy to have me for company in such a big house.

All Nick’s younger brothers are out on the razzle. (They’ve worked a system where they party, drink etc till about 5 or 6 in the morning, then go to somebody’s second house, away from the prying eyes of parents, and crash out until they’re sober, un-drugged etc. Then they shower and roll up at their homes to face their parents looking clean and relatively alert. Nice one if you can get it!). So the house is very quiet and there’s just Buffet, the dog, and ourselves.

It’s been a really good day, and I think most of us feel that we’re on top of things – our work, coping with living in Africa; and that our social lives are flourishing. Marisa doesn’t know I’ve arranged to stay at Kersti’s and offers me the second bed in her hotel room. My God, another “is this really happening to me” moment – I’ve got two lovely young women offering me beds for the night……

Best thing about today – everything. I’m so enjoying this VSO stuff!

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