Sunday, 18 May 2008

What's in a name?

May 15th

Isn’t language a wonderful thing! Our macho day guard is strutting all round town this morning in a pink and white tee shirt with “fine pink ladies” emblazoned across his chest. The man doesn’t even speak French, let alone English. I wonder how many of his mates know enough English to enlighten him…….

Over the past two days we’ve done extensive scientific research and made a surprising discovery. At the bakery opposite the flat, if you want fresh bread you go in the afternoon to buy it. The stuff they sell in the mornings is invariably staler, baked the previous day. Yesterday the stuff was so stale as to be almost inedible. I’m joining the ranks of the little old ladies who squeeze one of the rolls to death so they know whether it’s fresh or not before parting with their cash. But his hot, fresh sambosas are really tasty; they’re very more-ish and you can easily eat three at one sitting if your mouth can stand the peppers! Athanasie, the young woman who serves behind the counter, won’t listen to me any more unless I try to order in Kinya-rwanda. But it’s so complicated; there are about six classes of nouns and each class has different agreements. The agreements in Kinya-rwanda are always prefixes. So “I want five bread rolls and five sambosas” is “Ndashaka umugati ‘tanu na sambosa eshanu”. You don’t say “please”, but you always say “murakoze” (thank you) when you’ve checked your change….

Today Cathie and I are off training again, this time to Mata primary school in Muhanga secteur. Muhanga ranges from the outskirts of Gitarama to quite a long way up-country in some of the steepest hills around, and it’s a relief to find we’re not too far away. I go into the office to leave stuff for Védaste, my statistician colleague, and then get a moto. This time the moto arrangement goes like a dream. I know how much the ride costs; I won’t let him try to fleece me; I know roughly where the school, is – I’m in control for once and it feels great! I’m even there before Cathie and have got all my stuff ready before she arrives.

This is a very poverty-stricken area; the children are ragged and constantly sticking their hands through the windows to ask for money or pens, even when there are other teachers in the room. It’s the first time that’s happened to us. Other children, who for some reason aren’t in class, stare at us for twenty minutes at a time through the windows; their faces are pressed against the glass so that their features are distorted. After a while it gets un-nerving.

The teachers this time are a really mixed bag; some have quite passable English but one or two don’t seem to be able to follow the simplest commands. We’re both beginning to get fed up with “Simon Says” and we’ve only done 4 out of 12 training sessions!

What is a knockout, though, are their Christian names. In today’s group of twenty we have Béatrice, Marie Ange, Clotilde, Assoumpta, Papias, Hyacinthe, Alphonsine, Paciphique, Florien and Gelard. Last week we had Dismas, Donata, Librata, Gertrude, Celestin, Fébronie and Salomé (without the veils). Also last week there were Euphrasie, Idebald, Jeanne d’Arc, Auréa, Valens, Spécièse, Liberathe, Agnès, Gratien and Sosthène.

Most of the Rwandan surnames are four or five syllables long and I won’t bore you with many, but, to give you a flavour, today we had Mukarugambwa, Nyirandikubwimana, Mukeshingabire, Mushimiyimana and Ndagajimana. It’s difficult to pronounce any of these without sounding as if you’ve got a mouth full of mashed potato. Maybe it gets easier after a couple of banana beers. But you see why we prefer to address people by their first names!

Training went well today, the best of all the sessions to date for me. What’s made it so good is the weather. At last it’s been raining (all last evening and most of the night), the air is fresh and cool and the mud pools on the roads have drained away in the small hours. The room we’re working in has plenty of windows and a high roof, so it doesn’t get oppressive by mid-day.

The only downside of the morning is that there’s no transport back to Gitarama; we both end up walking about three miles to the outskirts where Cathie gets the only moto around and I flag down a matata coming up from Kibuye. They’re really getting on with surfacing the road around Mata, with crowds of workmen flattening, filling in holes, digging drainage trenches and lining them with concrete and stones. As I’ve already said, this is a very poor and empty little corner of the District; a surfaced road will bring prosperity immediately to anyone living within walking distance of it.

Back at the office Védaste is slogging away, but I’m tired and too hungry to want to stay. I dash back to the flat and get it ready for Soraya, then off to market.

Hooray, the water’s back on at the flat; I’m already fed up with lugging heavy jerry cans around for even the smallest cup of tea.

Tom’s away in Kigali tonight; he’s socialising with a Dutch film maker (called Geert) who’s doing a documentary about the kind of small-enterprise development that Tom specialises in. Poor old Tom, he’s slumming it in the Kigali Novotel. I feel so sorry for him….. Grrrrrrr!

Soraya arrives early, and we go out to eat a whole tilapia fish. It’s the first time she’s had a tilapia in Rwanda, and back home in the Philippines it’s her favourite dish. “Le Petit Jardin” lives up to its reputation for service and we wait for an hour and half for our food to arrive. Fortunately, it’s all worth it when it eventually comes, and Soraya’s a happy bunny especially when we go back home to polish off one of our Gitarama fruit salads!

Best things about today – everything. The training went well, water’s back on, didn’t get done by a moto driver, or lost, ate well. It’s turning into a really productive week so far…..

Worst thing about today – Védaste has got my flash disc. What’s the betting he’ll have shared it with umpteen other people before I see him again on Monday, or that it’s been used in umpteen computers and is riddled with viruses. Oh, and Soraya still hasn’t had her April-June pay sorted out. It seems definitely to be the bank’s fault.

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