Sunday, 4 May 2008

A typical "Rwandan Day" - lots of work but nothing done

Apr 29th

Another real “Rwandan day”…..

Go to the post office and there are five letters for Tom, four of them from the bank! Still nothing for me; whatever’s happened to my “Guardian Weekly”?

In the Office I discover Gitarama Primary School has brought in its census form, and I’m able to ask the other District people what I should be paying for a moto to Gisiza. I haven’t a clue how far it is to the school I’m supposed to be inspecting this morning, and only the vaguest idea which direction it’s in. They tell me what I should pay. Hooray, now I can start bargaining with some purpose instead of being ripped off at four times the Rwandan rate!

Outside, where there are always a couple of motos waiting, the problem isn’t negotiating the money but the fact that two out of the three haven’t heard of Gisiza and can’t take me. But I saddle up with the third who seems really confident he knows where it is. A mile down the road my faith in him evaporates as he asks first one, then another colleague where he’s supposed to be taking me. When they both vaguely seem to agree (I can’t understand a word they say but their hand gestures are similar), we roar off again. We go along the Kibuye road, and then along the “road to the end of the earth” (henceforth RTTEOTE). This is the main highway from Gitarama to Kibuye and is still being built in places. It’s certainly new ground for me, and is the road I’ll need to use when I eventually go up to the very far north of my District to inspect the schools in Nyabinoni secteur. Even on my map I can see that it’s an amazing feat of construction, meandering and zigzagging through impossibly hilly terrain. There’s absolutely nothing in England I can relate it too.

The road is beautifully graded, but as yet without tarmac. However, there are gangs of workmen putting in stone drains and culverts, and it’s pretty clear they’re going to surface this section this summer; I expect they’ll lay the tarmac as soon as the rainy season ends. Sure enough, we pass lorry after lorry filled with fine scalpings, and huge graders busy smoothing the surface. The cuttings are deep and the rock exposures fresh – here’s a real geology lesson waiting to be given. There are thick veins of quartz and what look like massive xenoliths among the ancient, rotted granite.

At about this point the land gets very much hillier, with tight, narrow little valleys. The road twists and turns and climbs and falls, and, of course, the moto simply isn’t powerful enough to cope. The driver doesn’t want to go on, and it’s clear I’ll be doing more walking than riding, so I pay him off and flag down a pick-up truck belonging to an NGO which happens to be passing. The Rwandans in it speak good French and agree to take me the rest of the way to Gisiza. The problem is, neither they nor I know exactly where it is. At this point the road disappears under a flurry of contractors’ vehicles, and suddenly gains a smooth tarmac surface.

We go on and on for a few miles until eventually we come to Bulinga secondary school and at that point we decide to stop and ask someone. A couple of guys point back the way we came, so my hosts turn the car round and we go back a mile or two, stopping at a tiny group of huts on a col at a road junction. No school in sight. They speak to some of the unemployed men lounging around outside the first hut. These men gesture way downwards into the valley alongside us, and, sure enough, I can see a primary school about a mile away. So I thank my men in the pick-up and start walking down the valley. It’s not a road at all, put a path. You couldn’t possibly get a four-wheel vehicle down it. At intervals there are log bridges, quite hairy in places, which you have to gingerly ease your way across.

All the way down the path I’m accompanied by a young boy from one of the huts at the top. He jabbers away to me in Kinyarwanda, completely unfazed by the fact that I can’t understand a word he’s saying and can’t reply to what he’s asking me. When we reach the school I give him a 100 Franc note (10p); he’s been good company and hasn’t been begging for money.

As I enter the school several classroom windows fill with little faces all shouting out to me, and I know for certain that these are classes working without a teacher present. A woman teacher comes out to meet me; fortunately she speaks good, clear French. No, they’re not expecting me. No, the Head’s not present – he’s gone with the school football team to a fixture somewhere the far side of Gitarama and won’t be back till late afternoon. No, none of the teachers are actually teaching; they’re busy doing INSET while all their classes are working unsupervised doing “révision”: in other words they’re spending the entire day just going through their exercise books to remind themselves what they did last term. No wonder the slightest distraction, yet along a visiting muzungu, should drive them into a frenzy of excitement.

The reason they’re not expecting me is because MTN reception is impossible in the valley (where have we heard this before…..) so they didn’t get my text. Why didn’t I ring the head on his terracom phone? Because they don’t have his Terracom number in the district office, that’s why! So the woman gives me his Terracom number, and I say I’ll ring him this afternoon and arrange to come in a week or so’s time. At least I won’t have difficulty finding the place!

So the whole day’s activity has been a waste of time in terms of inspection. But what a fabulous day out this is turning into! The hills are green; every single few yards there’s another view to be looked at. Back we trudge (the little boy has stayed put to listen to what he can understand of my conversation with the teacher, which can’t be a great deal). It’s all uphill now back to the road, at least a mile. The path is littered with chunks of mica, so I pick some up and show the lad how to peel it off in layers and that the finest layers are transparent. (Like I did with other children at Gikongoro. Nobody seems to know anything about geology in Rwanda).

Back at the col, and the huts, I have an audience looking on while I take some pictures and look at a vein of kaolin that outcrops on the side of the road. After last night’s rain it’s so pasty I could pick up a handful and mould it into a plate just like that!

Then I try my luck at hitching a ride home. The first vehicle is a huge crane, and there’s no room for me. The second vehicle is a lorry with a smiling Chinese driver who stops for me. He’s with the crane, which is crawling up the hills at just above walking pace. We try to have a conversation. He doesn’t speak French or much English; I don’t speak any Chinese or much Kinyarwanda. But we do manage to find out each other’s names, nationalities and what line of work we’re both in. It turns out he and the crane are both working on the road, and they stop and drop me at the very point where the tarmac ends and the unsurfaced road begins. This is almost exactly the same place that the moto expired on the outward run, which strikes me as very funny. He insists on getting a mate to take a photo of the pair of us in front of his wagon.

The very next vehicle is a lorry full of bitumen, which immediately stops for me. There are already three men in the cab but they shove up so I can get in with them (after all, it’s not every day you get a muzungu hitching a lift in these parts….) and off we go again. The men are great; they all speak some French (which is pretty impressive in Rwanda for manual workers), and they help me when I try out my Kinyarwanda. They laugh like drains at my mispronunciations, but then help me get it right. That’s more than many of the teachers I meet can do!

At the Kibuye road corner they drop me, and I hoof it on foot for about two miles back to the office. Arriving hot and sweaty, I explain to Béatrice my adventures. She laughs. The power cut at the District Office is still continuing, so nobody can get much work done. In other words, they’ve had a “Rwandan Day” the same as me. But I’ve been into the countryside, discovered new roads, new people, and my morning’s been far better than theirs!

There’s no point in staying at the Office if I can’t work, so I walk home to the flat. My tummy’s playing up (I’m burping hydrogen sulphide which is a bad sign). Time for a doze and rest, I think, before going out to the bakery and doing the market.

At this point the day collapses. My stomach goes into full rebellion and I spend the rest of the afternoon running to and from the toilet. Just before I’m about to text tomorrow’s school saying I’m too ill to inspect, I get a text from the Head saying his older brother has just died, so he won’t be there as he has to arrange the funeral. For the first time since arriving here I’m relieved that a school has cried off!

Best thing about today: going out into the countryside. Hey, folks, it was a super morning!

Worst thing: I’ve still not actually inspected a school for the best part of two months. And having the runs is not funny.

1 comment:

DouglasB said...

You should have subscribed to the "Independent"! Serves you right for going for a left-wing rag!!