Monday, 21 July 2008

Farewell to Cathie and Elson

July 20th

Off to church in good time this week. Past the football pitch where last week they were having the alfresco service. Today it’s all marked out for sport, and there’s a match in progress. Past Kabgayi cathedral itself; they’ve got round to cordoning off the entrance in case masonry falls down the outside of the building. I think it might be the bell tower where the problem lies – the cross on its summit is certainly at a jaunty angle. There are crowds of people in white robes shuffling into a big, low building like a parish hall close to the cathedral, so I decide to follow them and sure enough it’s where Mass is being held. The previous Mass has only just finished, and in true Rwandan style they don’t let the previous congregation get out; there’s a monumental scrum round the door with one group pushing and shoving to get out while the others, just as determinedly, try to elbow their way in. To add to the complications there are several steps up from the hall to the alleyway outside, and a deep storm water gulley. It amazes me that nobody is injured in the crush. Once again it’s the little old ladies who are the most unashamed pushers and shovers!

The Mass lasts a full two hours, and is all in Kinyarwanda, so I’m not much the wiser by the end of it. There’s some nice harmony singing by the choir- about thirty people, predominantly youngsters, and led by a very young man whom I guess is a seminarian. There’s an electric keyboard for accompaniment but the guy on it shows a lot of restraint and above all else he doesn’t ever use the drum ‘n’bass accompaniment which ruins so much Presbyterian music. The sermon is about twenty minutes long, as at “my” Presbyterian church, but much more low key in delivery. Only in the very last piece of singing do people start jigging around in the pews, and waving their arms about. There’s absolutely no acknowledgement whatsoever that there is a visitor in the congregation, and I don’t have to introduce myself. Needless to say, I’m only muzungu in the entire place.

As we leave the church, fighting out way through the incoming eleven o’clock worshippers, a procession is winding its way from another part of the Catholic complex of Kabgayi. There are several hundred people; at the front is a “Legio Mariae” banner, the most kitsch statue of Mary imaginable, and bunches of plastic flowers. But the number of people in the procession is easily the same as at the Mass I’ve just been to.

During the service Cathie rings me. I can’t speak to her, but during some of the prayers I crouch down as if deep in contemplation and text her back saying I’ll come round as soon as I can get out!

At Cathie’s house all is bustling activity; Elson’s family has arrived in force and everyone’s busy packing stuff ready for departure. There’s a lorry coming in the afternoon to take all their belongings they intend leaving in Rwanda; it’ll leave them at one of the relatives’ houses. Cathie’s VSO furniture is going to Karen’s house where no doubt Bosco or Enias will come and collect it in the next few days. Cathie and Elson are staying two nights in a hotel in Kigali. Cathie leaves on Tuesday. Elson’s visa has arrived at Kigali, and all he has to do is go to the Canadian Embassy and collect it. It’s too late for him to fly out with Cathie, so he’s going to spend the next fortnight with his family up near Gisenyi and fly out with Anne-Miek for company when she leaves Rwanda at the start of August. It’s a real shame – for the want of a week’s urgency at the Canadian Embassy in Nairobi Cathie and Elson could have left together as husband and wife.

Cathie has various bits to give me – her crash helmet to pass on to Soraya (the Philippine volunteers don’t get issued with them in the same way as we do), some cooking spices and herbs for Tom and I, and various papers which may come in useful. And an electric hotplate which is promised for one of the teachers at Ahazaza primary school. Joseph, Cathie’s houseboy, helps me carry it all to the flat; he parades through Gahogo carrying an electric hotplate on his head. Talk about how to make yourself conspicuous!

At the flat Tom’s busy cooking; we’ve defrosted two big loads of meat and he’s been cooking them up ready to re-freeze them. We’ve got a gallon or so of beef stew, and another big saucepan full of home-made Bolognese sauce done with mincemeat. They’ll pretty well fill the freezer for the first time since either of us has been here. See, I told you things were looking up on the catering front!

During the afternoon I try to buy bread, but discover this time that the bakery really is shut. They’re doing a lot of alterations inside it, and a man is busy painting all the woodwork battleship grey. Athanasie takes pity on me and goes to find a loaf from somewhere.

In the evening we dine out at “Nectar”. There’s a big crowd. Me, Tom, Karen – who’s just had her handbag snatched from her shoulder on her way to the restaurant. Her bag contains her phone, but fortunately not a huge amount of cash. She’s spitting rivets! There are three young Americans on short-term placements working in orphanages. There’s Marin, Ward, and two extra FHI people – Kathy who is working with Tom, and Tu Chi who’s back in town. Christi’s in Kigali, and the two deaf girls staying with Karen are somewhere on their way back home but haven’t arrived yet. Ulrika and Nix are both busy at their orphanages. So that’s a pretty impressive collection of muzungus for Gitarama. One German, one Belgian, four Americans, three Brits, one Vietnamese; and among the missing there’s one Candian, one South African, one German and one American.

During the evening I invite Tu Chi to come to Cyangugu with me during the week. She’s never been there and it would make an interesting break for her, as well as giving me a travelling companion. The fact that she’s very intelligent and completely gorgeous has absolutely nothing to do with it…….

Teresa rings quite late; it’s the last really useful phone call we’ll have before she arrives. I can’t believe the visit is coming so quickly – when we first planned all this, July seemed ages into the future.

Best thing about today – it’s been another one of those days when what starts off as a blank sheet with no fixed points, takes on a life of its own. The evening meal was really good tonight with new people to talk to.

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