Sunday, 27 July 2008

Absent guests

July 21st

It’s one of those frantic mornings. Off to the internet café (email is soooo sloooow that it’s barely worth trying, but blogging is straightforward, even pictures. Send another batch of photos from Gisenyi and Rubona). Then to the bank, then the post office. Monday first thing is obviously a good time to go to the bank here – the queue is tiny and I receive the quickest service I’ve ever had! At the post office there are two copies of the “Guardian” waiting for me. I’m sure that what’s happening is the post office in Kigali waits until it’s got a full sack of mail before it sends the stuff to Gitarama, so you may have to wait a full fortnight for stuff to get to you, or it may come in just a day from Kigali. Poor old Tom, he hasn’t had any mail since the day his parents arrived. Come to that, I haven’t had any letters for at least a month either. He says it’s like that – when you first arrive here everybody wants to write to you; after a few months they all forget.

In the District Office I print off my training letters for the schools, plus formal letter to the mayor and a copy for Claude, and send the school letters for distribution. Even this routine job of communication is a learning experience. There’s a “little man” who drops things off locally, but three of the ten schools in Nyamabuye secteur are judged to be too distant for him, and their mail has to wait until there’s a vehicle going out or until the secteur rep calls in. What a performance, and all because there’s no postal delivery system here. Once again, nobody tells you all these things, you just have to learn from experience. I just hope all the mail gets to its destinations before August 19th.

Venantie’s back working in the education office, I’m not sure what’s happening about her transfer to Family and Women department – whether it’s been rescinded or whether she’s just come in to tidy up loose ends. It’s all a bit political so I’m keeping out of it!

Back into town and round the market; some of the women now make a beeline for me with bowls of shelled peas or bunches of imboga. It’s nice to feel you’re recognised and to be able to joke with these women. Only a few months ago I was absolutely terrified of all of them!

I do a lot of shopping and race back home. The plan is that Els, who is with her parents, is going to come round for lunch and I’m going to cook for them. They’re at Kibuye and travelling through to Butare, and have to come through Gitarama. It’ll make a nice rest for them at exactly the mid-point of the journey. It’s also nice for parents to meet other volunteers and it shares the load. Els panics me by texting to say they’ll be here an hour earlier than I expected, and I’ve also forgotten that Janine comes on Mondays to clean for us. Never mind, I weave my way round Janine’s cleaning and by mid-day I’ve got a nice three course lunch all ready and the table laid.

At this point things all unravel, as usual. Els texts in a panic to say that despite asking the bus driver to drop them at Gitarama, he’s raced clean through the town. At this moment they’re well on the way to Kigali – in the opposite direction to where they want to go. I suppose she was sitting too far back in the bus to be able to shout to him. So for a few minutes we’re busy texting each other trying to reorganise ourselves. Els decides that when they get to Kigali they’ll get an express bus straight through to Butare, otherwise they’ll have too little time to see the town and museum. That means they’ll have to give my lunch a miss. So I’ve got lunch for four people and only me to eat it.

Now if I was clever I’d ring Tom and get him to bring some of his office crowd round for lunch, but I’m not clever and it never occurs to me. Some of the food I can leave for us tonight, and the rest can be boxed up and frozen.

In the afternoon I try my hand at making lentil and tomato soup. The result is edible, but I think the lentils need a lot more cooking than I’ve given them, and I’ve overdone it with Cathie’s dried basil! Next time I’ll try soaking the lentils overnight.

At this point things get better. I get a text from Tu Chi saying she’s on for Cyangugu this week. Yay – I’m off on my travels again and with a gorgeous and clever companion. I hastily book us into the Peace Guest House at Cyangugu, and buzz up to the bus park to book tickets on the only bus of the afternoon. The woman’s there in the Onatracom office with a wad of tickets, but says the system is that they only start selling tickets an hour before departure time. That’s a real nuisance – it means there’s a risk the bus will be fully booked even before it leaves Kigali tomorrow, and if that happens we’re stuck for transport. Why on earth can’t they do advance bookings like all the other operators? So tomorrow I’m going to make sure I’m there by one o’clock to get our tickets!

Not much else to say – Tom and I dine in style again – three courses – with some of the stuff I’ve prepared during the day. It’s not often on VSO that you can offer your colleague a choice of two soups and two puds on the same day! We both spend the evening watching DVDs. Word’s got round the FHI office that Tu Chi is going travelling with me and Tom’s been teasing her all afternoon. Poor girl, she’ll be terrified of me tomorrow!

Best thing about today – all sorts of things. Getting the letters out for my training (today’s only nod towards academic work!), successfully cooking against a tight deadline, Tu Chi agreeing to come south with me.

Worst things about today – nothing really. I’m not fazed even when plans don’t work out. I think I’m getting the hang of this VSO lark now. You just have to be infinitely flexible and adaptable, and every five minutes you have to change your plans and make the best of what’s available to you. (Stop being pompous – Ed!)

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