Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Exploring Nyanza

May 31st

Umuganda Day. Marisa and I have a lazy morning in the flat while Tom goes to Janine’s for his Kinyarwanda lesson. It’s actually quite nice not to have to rush around first thing in the morning, and means we can pack our stuff at leisure.

By soon after eleven there are matatas running outside; umuganda seems to get shorter every month! There have been people queuing up outside the bakery since just after nine, too, and a steady stream of women on their way to market.

So we leave at around half past eleven and almost immediately get a matata from the garage to Nyanza. It’s a stopping bus, but I get a front seat and after Ruhango Marisa gets the other one with me. At least we have the lovely view all the journey!

At Nyanza we spot the “Comfort Motel”, which is our meeting place for the afternoon, and get off the bus almost outside it. It’s really hot in the sun and we’re glad to get inside in the shade. There’s a bit of confusion; Marisa has been booked into a guest house for the night by Cathy, but it’s not at this Motel. But we only find this out after she’s filled in the guest book and we’ve been shown firstly the executive suite (2 double beds, super view, RwF20,000 per night. A bargain for a group of four people), and some of the other rooms (clean, comfortable, but RwF15000 per night. Marisa’s been told it’s only RwF8000 where she’s staying and at last we twig that we’re not meant to be in rooms here. The hotel manager is even more confused when Marisa explains that we’re not actually together and she’ll be sharing a room with someone else – another woman. And when I explain that I’m not sleeping in any hotel tonight he just shrugs at the weird ways of muzungus and goes off to watch telly.

Actually the motel is clean, comfortable and quiet, and far enough outside the town to be private while close enough to be only ten minutes’ walk to the centre. As all this fun over rooms is going on, a statuesque young woman wearing only a towel emerges from a shower room and struts across the yard to her room in an annexe to the motel. I get a very friendly greeting, which is so unusual that I decide she must be available by the hour. (And what a shame if I’ve just dismissed a genuinely lucky break….)

We sit in the shady, thatched bar and eat omelettes and drink beer for half an hour while we wait for the rest of the gang to arrive. Han and Mans, Anne-Miek, Ken and Kersti turn up, also George and Épi. We have a two hour meeting of District Officers; we have a budget of RwF 1.5 million to plan. Although this sounds a lot, it’s for an entire year and we know there’ll be several more DEO’s coming out to join us in September, so we can’t be lavish.

We decide the best thing to do is to run a long series of resource-making workshops at secteur level. That will mean twelve sessions for me on my own (Cathie Nichol will have gone back to Canada by then, and I ought to get some of them done before her replacement arrives). So we decide we’re all five DEOs going to come together for the first one and see how it goes. We’ll hold it in Nyanza, in the secteur which embraces Nyanza town. That’s actually a much easier journey for me to have to make than to most of my own District!

While we’re having our meeting, the science teachers are planning their training as well at another table, and spending their budget of about RwF800,000. Han is running a science fair at Gasarenda in June, and it means the month is beginning to get really filled up with training sessions.

The teachers, of course, want to get their training sessions all done before the end of term so they can swan off to foreign parts (Tiga is planning to go home to France, then to Armenia, then England and finally Germany before coming back for the Autumn term at Gikongoro). We District Officers don’t get the school holidays, and I’m not sure how the system is going to work. We obviously can’t do school inspections when the children aren’t there. I’ll have done all I can, and all I want to do, on the statistics by then. I gather there is some training which is supposed to take place during the summer holidays, but teachers expect to get paid extra for coming in to be trained during the holidays. (And why shouldn’t they, too!). But there is no money in either the VSO or the District budget to pay per diems for training, so it’s all a mystery to me what will happen. I need to try to clarify things, because if I’m not going to be training I might as well have a holiday and try to get to see Jane in Zanzibar. Whatever happens, I’ll have a couple of weeks off when Teresa and co arrive.

We drift off into town and finally locate the guest house where Marisa and many of the others will be staying. I’m one of a group of about eight who will be spending the night at Cathy and Ken’s house. So I get B and B for free! Yay!

The house is along a dirt road in a quiet residential suburb of Nyanza, which turns out to be a lovely little town. I’ve always rubbished the place before, but that’s because I’ve only ever seen the squalid and grubby town centre. The centre is always full of matatas and loads of beggars – much worse than Gitarama. There’s no separate bus park as at Git, so everything’s squeezed into an area the size of a couple of tennis courts – cross roads, parked and manoeuvring buses, street hawkers, beggars of all ages and descriptions, and the main shops in the town. But Cathy and Ken’s little chunk is like most of the rest of Nyanza – clean, quiet, respectable and a nice place to live. Their house looks across a valley to the Mwami’s old and new palaces – you can see the roof of the old thatched palace from the front garden.

They have a modern bungalow, as with just about every VSO except me, and as usual the plumbing’s not working. The electricity is on, but the sockets are hanging off the wall in places and it all looks as though it just needs a week’s TLC from tradesmen. There is a big garden, and Cathy and Ken have planted carrots, beans, cucumbers and maize. All except the maize is doing well, and we’ll be eating produce from the garden at the party. They have at least one lemon tree, and about ten banana trees which are in full production. It’s the first volunteer house to have bananas you can just go out and pick off the trees! However, they’re not yet ripe, and I think they look like ibitoke (plantains) rather than imeneke (the sweet, little bananas). What a pity!

The party gets going and most of the entire Rwandan VSO contingent is there. Even Mike, our new Country Director, has come. And he has come by public transport, too, which is a real plus point in our estimation of him. He is also staying in the same guest house as the others. And he spends the entire evening getting to know everyone. Good for him. I think he’s going to be a real breath of fresh air.

The food at the party is amazing. Hot brochettes, so spicy they blast your mouth; mine seem to be mostly goat liver which most of the others won’t eat, but I think is a genuine Rwandan delicacy. Ibitoke, again splashed with so much pepper and paprika as to be a real challenge to eat! But vast amounts of guacamole, bread, rice salad, fresh lettuce from Han and Mans’ garden, cucumber salad, beans, and lots of other goodies. We all eat ourselves to a standstill. Meanwhile there are a couple of crates of beer; after that we have to get our own from the little shop just up the road.

We end up taking the matting off the lounge floor and dance most of the evening. Cathie’s a brilliant dancer, but then I discover she did dance as part of her degree, so I suppose she should be good. We talk the night away until after 1 in the morning. By this time a lot of people have gone back to the guest house, and it’s just Épi and a couple of Rwandan men who are full of energy; the rest of us are ready for bed.

It transpired I’m the only man staying in the house except Ken (who lives there), so I get a bedroom all to myself, with a bed! I have the best night’s sleep in ages!

Best thing about today – everything. A really good party – everyone talking to everyone else; nobody getting offensively drunk, and the whole thing ending at a manageable hour! (Oh my God, doesn’t that prove I’m getting an old fogey!) Also, making our plans for the DEO budget for the year in a way which absolutely everyone’s delighted with! You don’t often get that. It proves just how much we all gain when we get into the habit of supporting each other.

Worst thing about today – Umuganda. It’s getting on my nerves when I can’t get things like blogging or banking done on a Saturday morning!

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