Sunday, 4 May 2008

A lesson in dressmaking

May 3rd

Spend a restless night; up three or four times to go to the bathroom Wake up in the morning feeling lethargic. Fortunately it’s a quiet weekend with nothing planned; I suppose you could it the ideal weekend to be ill.

Tom’s away to Kigali to round up as many more samples of Rwandan crafts as he can fine for his American clients, so I’ve got the house to myself.

Cathie’s coming round to go shopping at the market; while I wait for her I at last manage to unscrew the broken “candle” in my water filter. So I’m able to boil up and sterilise both candles. If my dinking water has been the cause of my tummy bugs, then this treatment should at the very least mean I have clean water from now on. But I don’t really think the water is my problem – I’ve just been careless or unlucky and it’s something transferred from a hand I’ve shaken or even a fly landing on my food before I even realise it’s there.

When Cathie arrives she gets me to describe my symptoms. Over her two and a half years In Rwanda she’s endured just about every bug the country can throw at her, and when I describe burping rotten eggs she immediately tells me I’ve got Giardia. This is a serious bug. It’s a stomach parasite which looks, under a microscope, like a fish with tentacles. There’s no way it’ll clear itself up of its own accord and I need to go to the pharmacist in town. (I understand that in England, Giardia is a notifiable disease). Fortunately Rwanda is one of those countries where you can buy just about any medication over the counter, without having to trek all the way into Kigali and consult with a doctor at the Polyclinique.

So we go into town and get the stuff (Tinidazole) without any fuss. I get the impression that it’s dispensed here all the time. Even better news is that, provided I keep my receipt, VSO will reimburse the cost of all medication we need during our time here.

So within an hour I’ve sorted out my drinking water filter and got medicine for my tummy bug.

As I’m not desperate to make a run for the loo, we now revert to our original plan – to go to the market and look at cloth for a shirt for me. At the market we are absolutely overwhelmed by the variety of cloth on sale – people come down from Kigali to buy material in Gitarama. And there are simply dozens and dozens of seamstresses all waiting to make alterations to off-the-peg clothes, or make up your clothes for you from any material you buy.

I learn a lot very quickly about fabrics and prices. One material, called here “Dubai” is a thin cotton which feels very stiff because of the amount of wax used to produce the pattern. It’s no good for shirts, even though it’s cheap at 2000 Francs a pang. There’s almost no batik in the market; Cathie says there’s a place in Kigali which is really good for it. So if this shirt project works, I’ll get some other fabric in Kigali.
The material I choose is a Nigerian design whereas most of the fabrics in the market come from Uganda or Tanzania. Mine is a good quality cloth, and the woman wants 4000 francs. We knock her down to 3000; this is probably still a lot too much but neither of us has sufficient Kinya-rwanda to be able to barter any further. Cathy also buys a long length of fabric to get a skirt made up. The woman tells me I’ll only need one pang of material whereas Cathie needs two, so my stuff comes out cheaper than I’d budgeted.

Most of the fabrics, and the ones most popular with Rwandans, have enormous print designs on them which are not appropriate for a shirt. They only really work on the full length dresses married women wear. The colours are vivid – I simply must get some pictures of the range of fabrics when I go back on Monday. The patterns are nothing if not all embracing – one racy blue and green number she tried to sell us features a motif of electric light-bulbs! There are huge fish designs, antelope and every geometrical pattern imaginable.

While all this is going on we’re collecting the usual little crowd of onlookers, all both fascinated that muzungus would want to buy material (after all, haven’t we got all the material in the world in our own countries?), and at the same time pleased that we’re buying locally and getting into the negotiating game and speaking the odd word or two in Kinya. It just shows how much more relaxed we’re getting about buying from the market!

Now, at the same time as we’re buying our cloth there’s a young woman helping us who is a seamstress and is eager to make up my shirt for me. She seems very with-it and certainly seems to know her way round all the materials, so we go to the little wooden hut where she works along with about three other women. We negotiate a price for making the shirt (one of the women wants to start at 8000 and we’re about to walk out of the door when it suddenly comes down to 5000. We offer 2500 and gradually we settle at 3000). I’ve taken one of my Marks and Spencer shirts with me to give her a template, but after studying it she decides she doesn’t need it. I insist on a breast pocket so I’ve got somewhere to put my camera or phone. She measures me up (interestingly, she’s using inches not centimetres), and within five minutes she has all the measurements she needs.

My shirt will be ready on Monday afternoon.

In the afternoon I write the letter to Holland to illustrate the state of Shyogwe’s buildings. One of the internet cafes is supposed to open at 7.00 on Sunday, so I’ll try to get down early while there’s the chance of a good connection.

Marisa phones to ask if she and her partner can stay the night. Tom’s going out with some friends to play poker, so the rest of us will try the delights of Gitarama brochettes and ibirayi and I’ll just hop these tablets have cured my Giardia.

In the end Tom decides not to go out and the four of us wait over an hour for our brochettes. Stephane is French by origin but now lives in Canada. He has a lovely Franglish accent. Toma dnd I have fun listening to their exploits so far. (They hired bicycles to ride around Gisenyi. Now, no muzungus cycle outside of Kigali and I think they virtually brought the town of Gisenyi to a standstill!) Stephane has had a problem with one of his camera chips. To be precise, he left it in his trouser pocket while washing said trousers. As a result the pictures - well over 600 - won't view or download. We fiddle around for ages with my laptop, and eventually we get them downloaded. Plus another 600-odd on his second chip. Plus several hundred more from Marisa's camera. My laptop's hard drive is getting chock-a-block with photos, but they include some fabulous ones of the gorillas. For someone who's not paid to go round the gorilla walks, I've now got the best collection of photos of all the VSOs!

Best thing about today - my Giardia has cleared up, at least for the time being. I no longer feel like a walking gas-holder. And I've ordered my shirt.

Worst thing - nothing. A good day.

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