Saturday, 24 May 2008

Motor cycling in the rain isn't much fun!

May 24th

Up before dawn this morning, and not helped by having accidentally set the alarm an hour too early! It’s a grey, cold morning and it looks as though it’s going to rain before long.

Our macho day guard is wearing his pink tee-shirt again; this time I notice he has the previous owner’s name – “Stephanie” – emblazoned across his back. I reckon it’s the tee-shirt Stephanie wore for her hen night, or something similar!

We’re off training again (seventh out of twelve sessions), and this time we are in Kabacuzi which is decidedly up-country. The first half of the journey, on big motor bikes, is fast and smooth. Then we turn off on an endless run along bumpy tracks. We contour in and out round hillsides for a while, with green views through narrow valleys; then there’s an endless descent down into a deep valley where women are washing clothes and fetching water from a small stream. They glower at us as we pass; our bikes will muddy their water for a while. The valleys get even narrower, with dense woods planted in places where the soil is too poor or the slope too extreme for cultivation.

We reach a hamlet and the drivers stop to ask for directions. The only available people to ask are a bunch of school children; and they point the way to their school. This involves a hair raising ascent up rock outcrops; we just about manage to stay on our bikes, which are jolting and skidding across smooth, polished rock. We finally splutter to a halt in the school yard, whereupon a very surprised head teacher explains that we’ve come to Buramba primary. The training is at Kabacuzi primary. I think the school children gave us the right directions; the drivers just assumed that “the school” they were referring to was the one we wanted to reach!

So back on the bikes, and this time down all the hair raising bits. It’s no easier going downhill, either. Finally, after an hour and a half, we reach Kabacuzi. This is a poverty stricken area, and truly rural. It makes places like Nyarusange (yesterday) feel positively suburban! Many children are barefoot, and many others don’t have uniform. They’re wearing the usual western cast-offs which have come to them via charity shops.

The room we’re using is a church hall, which has doubled for years as an overflow classroom for the school. The walls are bare brick; there’s not a pane of glass in any window, and a cold wind is howling through the place. Fortunately I’ve worn my fleece today; I’m slowly getting the hang of reading the Rwandan weather and coming dressed accordingly!

The teachers are all pretty young, and nowhere near as fluent as yesterday’s bunch. But by the time we launch into Old Macdonald’s Farm, complete with animal noises and gestures, they’re on side and warmed up. The teaching games go well, too, though I trip over my feet in one game and go flying head first into the sand of the school yard.

In a store room behind the parish room there’s a really huge intoré drum. I can’t resist giving it a bash, and the noise makes the whole building echo and brings Cathie in to see what’s going on!

We always end our sessions by giving the teachers an hour or so to copy pictures onto rice sacks which they can then use as teaching materials. With no glass in the windows they can’t possibly trace these, so they take them out into the yard. In the yard there’s the big parish church, and they lay out their sheets on the church porch and copy them freehand. Meanwhile the school has stopped for lunchtime, and immediately there’s about three hundred children coming to see what the muzungus and other visitors are doing. (Each of these training sessions is for around 8 or 9 schools; about 16-18 teachers). It’s a very photogenic place and I take several snaps; Cathie also takes some of me doing exciting things like teaching “The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round”.

While we wait for the teachers to finish their pictures we have a quick look inside the church. The seats are benches made of stone and concrete – let’s hope the services are shorter than at our Presbyterian Church in Gitarama. Three hours on solid concrete would finish me off! And, as in the Gihembe refugee camp chapel, there’s no source of music in the church, but yet another drum strategically placed just in front of the altar. Otherwise the church is remarkably plain; there’s nothing to distract worshippers except for a single statue of the virgin and Christ child on a plinth against one wall. But what’s really striking is that this church, like the one at Cyeza, is swung round 90 degrees on its axis so that it much wider than it is long. It’s completely the opposite from your average English parish church. There’s also no chancel. The altar projects out into the main part of the church so that a service is “in the round”. It’s a beautifully simple and inclusive way of designing a church. It makes the church I go to in Gitarama seem very stuffy and old fashioned.

Meanwhile our moto drivers have been waiting five hours for us because it’s not worth their petrol to return to Gitarama. They’re snoozing under a big acacia tree in the school yard until it starts spitting with rain, and also fending off little boys who want to fiddle with the bike controls. When we eventually finish our training (I’ve brought a bag of sweeties to give to our trainees as a reward), the moto drivers are impatient to get back on the road. And with good reason – we haven’t been going for more than twenty minutes when it starts to rain.

Within another ten minutes it’s pouring with rain and blowing a gale – the strongest winds since I arrived in Rwanda. The hills are covered in mist; it’s freezing cold; the rain is coming horizontally. You’d think you were in Snowdonia, not on the Equator! I can’t wear my glasses under my helmet; my visor’s all fogged up and covered with raindrops, so I don’t see much of the scenery on the way back. We arrive back at the flat wet through on our legs and sleeves. The only consolation is that the moto drivers are even wetter.

Both the Rwandan countryside and the Rwandan people seem to deflate immediately it starts raining. Everyone huddles under cover and looks pathetic as though the rain is some strange phenomenon that has never happened before, and so they don’t know how to cope with it. All the road building crews along the main road are hunched under trees, their tools and wheelbarrows abandoned in the middle of the road so that all traffic has to slalom along in the mud.

During the afternoon it pours steadily for a couple of hours. As soon as their rain stops there’s a frantic flurry of activity as people rush to the market to buy food before the traders go home.

Tom’s not back till late, so I make a meal of leftovers for me and the guard – just for once it seems to work out very tasty! Things must be looking up in the kitchen department!

Best thing about today - the ride out to Kabacuzi. Rwandan countryside at its best.

Worst thing about today - the ride back from Kabacuzi.

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