Monday, 21 July 2008

Dining out at Byumba

July 17th

Early bus to Kigali to meet up with Kersti. Just outside Gitarama yet another juggernaut lorry has come to grief on the main road, tumbled down an embankment and on its side. The cab is badly smashed in, too, so I don’t think the driver would have been lucky enough to survive.

While I’m in the bus Kersti texts me to say she has bought our tickets to Byumba; we agree to meet up in Bourbon café and have a posh brunch together while catching up on all the gossip.

The bus ride to Byumba is very comfortable – it’s one of the big new buses but only half full of people, so not as claustrophobic as every other journey. They’ve also done away with the tip up seats in the aisle, so by Rwandan standards this is outrageous luxury travel! It’s only my second trip to Byumba and once again I’m impressed by how beautiful the scenery is, especially the last section as you climb steeply away from the main Uganda road and up the mountainside. Everything here is still fresh and green, and the sheer scale of the landscape never fails to impress.

We pass Gihembe refugee camp. Today is hot and sunny, quite unlike the dismal weather when I was here in the spring; even so the camp still looks squalid and overcrowded. A desperately unhappy place. (Irene later tells me that there’s a general water shortage in Byumba and the camp is particularly hard hit. Water is brought in by tanker lorries, and people’s daily rations are well below the UNHCR minimum). Needless to say, the weather is still murky and hazy and there’s absolutely no view of the volcanoes from Kersti’s cottage. We truly were far more lucky than we realised when we saw them so clearly last spring.

We do a quick flip round the market in Byumba and buy lots of fruit for lunch and ready for the evening. What I find interesting is that here, high up and in the extreme north of Rwanda, you find different things in the market. Different varieties of maracuja, for example – ours are small and have blackish skins; these are bigger, greener (and taste milder, too). There is plenty of cauliflower on sale at Byumba; I can’t remember ever seeing it at Gitarama.

For lunch we dine on beautiful avocadoes, doused in balsamic vinegar and eaten with rye bread! There’s not been running water in Byumba for weeks (because the town sits on top of a mountain there’s always an issue with water here – it has to be pumped up and so the supply is prone to power cuts, fuel shortages and more than its fair share of breakdowns). It’s funny how you can cope quite easily with either no water or no power, but if you lose both you feel severely constrained!

Just as we’re finishing eating we’re visited by Phineas, Kersti’s old boss. It’s nice to see him and chat. He’s trying to cope with numerous personal and professional difficulties but there’s not a lot we can do to help him, just sympathise.

Then we’re off to Kersti’s office to make copies of more rice-sack wall posters to use as teaching resources in our training sessions. Kersti has borrowed a whole set of posters from Irene, but Irene will need them back tomorrow so we need to make copies as fast as we can. Irene’s posters are the commercially made “Mango Tree” ones from Kampala and many of them are truly works of art. Beautifully shaded, artistic, and so, so pretty to look at. Our copies are hasty and not so impressive, but they’ll do for the time being. This is my whole reason for coming up to Byumba. We’re aiming to get as big a collection of resources as we can, and share then round as we do our various training sessions in each district. I’m leaving my entire stock of materials with her, and she will pass them on to Mans for his session in Nyamagabe, and then they’ll arrive back to me for my Muhanga bash on August 19th. Well, that’s the theory, anyway!

Copying resources takes us all afternoon. Kersti’s office is on the top floor of the diocesan administration block and has a panoramic view across the valley to Gihembe camp. Tom has texted me to say my wooden tangram will be done today; I just hope the craftsman has understood the need to make it accurately and to scale.

By five o’clock we’re just about finished. We’ve got posters of cows, chickens, fish, the human skeleton, the parts of flowers, the human respiratory system, the water cycle, and a rather inaccurate world map. But they’re done.

Back at Kersti’s cottage we draw buckets of water from a tap in the yard – it only comes out at a trickle but if you’re patient you get there. She borrows a mattress for me from the guest house next door – there’s a “World Vision” INSET course going on inside. It’s the usual Rwandan experience: every few minutes somebody abandons the meeting to deal with a call on their mobile phone. Next to the water tap in the yard is a strawberry patch, and while I’m waiting for the bucket to fill I pinch a handful of ripe berries to add to our fruit salad. Adjacent to the strawberries is a big fig tree; its fruit are just coming ripe. So Kersti has access to oranges, plantains, figs and strawberries (provided the guard doesn’t get there first and sell them all in the market).

Tonight we’re eating out with some Italians, and my contribution to the meal will be one of Brucey’s fruit salads, while Kersti’s making coconut cookie biscuits. I get chopping and peeling while Kersti mixes dough. Without power she can’t cook the biscuits, but we’ve phoned the Italians and discovered they’re on a different electricity circuit to us and so they’re not affected. For the last hour before we leave home we’re working by candle light. What we don’t realise is that our power is actually back on now, but we can’t see anyone else’s lights so we just assume we’re still in darkness! Oh well, it felt pretty romantic to me…..

The Italians – Stefano and Giuseppe and Stefano’s girlfriend – are water engineers building aqueducts and ensuring water supplies to rural areas all across Rwanda. Their organisation has been here since the 1980s. The boys have been to my area and installed a water project somewhere in Cyeza secteur, so we know places in common. Also with us for a meal are Irene, and Anna, a lovely young German girl from Cologne, who is working partly in a school and partly as a conflict resolution adviser here in Byumba. And she has met Andreas who is living with the Franciscans in Kivumu (Cyeza) and Andreas is someone I’ve met at our Sunday night muzungu meals in Gitarama. So, as you can see, it’s a small world and if you talk to any of the muzungus here for long enough you’ll discover people you know in common!

The meal is gorgeous – pasta made with real mozzarella cheese; tender brochettes of cow meat with salad fresh from their garden; fruit salad, cookies and jam tart all washed down with wine. We even have a massive block of real parmesan cheese to attack! We talk in a mixture of English, French and German between us and everybody seems to understand each other well. We have four nationalities represented – English, Dutch, German, Italian - but it’s interesting that French is the easiest language for conversation.

It’s late when we leave, and Giuseppe gallantly drives us all home, dropping off all round the town.

What a lovely day – I feel as if I’ve done something useful, but at the same time it feels as if I’m on holiday. I’ve met new people, had a fabulous meal better than in any restaurant in Kigali, and even managed to sort out with Kersti some of the logistics about picking up their car when I need it for Teresa and co.

The only down side is that I still can’t make any contact with Épi so I haven’t any plans for the weekend itself. I wonder about seeing if George or Chris are at Nyagatare this weekend – if I’m in Kigali tonight I’m half way to their place. I’ll give Épi one final try tomorrow, and then try the boys in the north east!

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