Monday, 7 July 2008

Mending fences

July 2nd

This morning I race around like a madman. Up to the Post Office, but no mail or newspaper for either Tom or me. Into the Office to drop off one lot of school papers and collect another – if I’ve got any time to do academic work today I’m going to do it at home. To the bank to get some extra money changed for the weekend. Once again, an enormous queue and no extra cashiers. It’s too bad that – they know full well that in a week with two bank holidays, the remaining days are going to be manic. It’s poor customer service, and even the Rwandans, so patient and docile in any official situation, are getting fed up. One worrying thing is that my next pay cheque still hasn’t come through – and we’re already into July and it was supposed to have been transferred on June 26th. That’s a whole week to make a simple computer transfer of funds. Does electricity flow more slowly in this country? Or is the cashier responsible on his annual leave and nobody has been delegated to fill his place during his absence. Grrrrrrrh!

I stop in at the internet café to send an email to Teresa and check mail. But the latest virus on my laptop is preventing me from getting online. (Thank you, Védaste!). Even though I try two internet places I get the same lack of result. Curses – I’ll not be able to blog or do any sense with emails until I can get my laptop fixed, and that will have to wait until next week. I have to descend to the last resort solution – use my flash disk and plug it into an internet café computer. With so many viruses around I suppose another one won’t do much extra harm. And because I’m having difficulties, Jean-Baptiste in the café – I’ve used it so much we’re on Christian name terms now – lets me use the master machine with its own built in virus checker. Emails duly checked, but I can’t post my blog diary. I’ve been contacted by a potential VSO at Nyamasheke. Nyamasheke’s in the Western province – he’ll be the first VSO in the West, and very isolated. Tiga was offered this post but turned it down because there was no allowance for transport in a primary liaison role which requires the volunteer to travel from school to school. So this potential volunteer is asking all the wrong but predictable questions, and I’ll send him a reply in due course. But what can I say about transport – don’t even think of going there because VSO won’t give you the means to get around, or do go there but make loud noises about how you’re supposed to do your job?

A quick flick through the market to buy veg, and to the bakery to get hot sambozas, cold mandazis and loads of bread rolls. Athanasie looks at me very odd in the bakery – why this big order? – so I explain I’m having a reunion of muzungus and I want them to try her nice bread. Flattery, flattery….

And what reunion indeed? - a District Education Officer’s meeting (VSO) at my flat, and I’m trying to mend some bridges after the debacle surrounding the Nyanza training day. Mans decided that I’m the midway point between Kersti in the far north and him in the far south, hence the decision to meet chez moi. I don’t mind, it’ll be nice to host people like Mans and Ken who have been very kind to me but have never been to the Gitarama Hilton!

As it happens, there are only five of us able to make it, and most of them are delayed by transport problems. I lay on a good lunch – hot sambozas, and our latest tomato base which, I have to admit, tastes pretty good, and lashings of hot bread. Nobody is expecting to be fed, and everyone ends up in a good mood.

The chaos over the cancelled training is finally explained when it turns out that the crucial text I acted on - from “K”, saying that K was on holiday and who was doing the training - turns out to have come from Kersti rather than Ken. So my reply, to K, went also to Kersti, and not Ken as I thought, and that became the basis of the whole confusion.

Everyone can laugh about it now, but there’s a small financial loss which we’ll bury in our accounting. All the materials which had been bought will be used at future events.

Marisa is at the meeting; she’s really seriously short of money, and because she finishes at the end of August she is going to be tight for the rest of her time here.

And Kersti drops a bombshell – she is leaving VSO at the end of the summer and going to work for the American School in Kigali. The pay is several times better than with VSO, and she will have already worked a couple of years here, so she’s done her time. And, of course, it’s an open ended contract with the American School so she’ll be able to stay permanently in Kigali with her boyfriend instead of weekend commuting to and from Byumba. Unfortunately the car which they’re buying is still stuck in Dar es Salaam waiting for someone to collect it and sort out all the paperwork. And somehow it has collected a big dent in it during transit from Dubai. Nick and Kersti aren’t too chuffed about that!

Her other exciting news is that they have been successful in their offer for the house which Nick is renting. So they’ve bought a crummy bungalow, but on a big plot in one of the most prime locations in Kigali – close to the government and diplomatic quarter, and also with fast access to the town centre and entertainment district. Good for Kersti; she’s a nice girl and I’m glad things are working out so well for her. All they need now is a legacy so they can demolish the bungalow and build a nice western-style place on the same site!

By mid afternoon we’ve caught up on each others’ gossip, and rearranged our training dates. A good job done, and I’m feeling very relieved.

I’ve barely got time to do the washing up before my evening guests arrive. First Els, coming down from Nyamata to help me with my final primary training day tomorrow. There’s a girlie weekend at Kibuye coming up, and helping me is no hardship for her because she’s on her way down to Gikongoro to see Tiga and get her hair braided in the refugee camp ready for the weekend. Unfortunately Tiga’s ill again, and we think it may be a recurrence of malaria. Not good news for the girls.

I’ve just got Els installed when Tu Chi arrives with a loaf of bread, a pineapple, and her laptop. I’ve arranged for her to come and copy as much of my music as she wants because she’s leaving Gitarama for Butare at the weekend, and we won’t necessarily see her again before she leaves Rwanda and flies back to Harvard. Tu Chi enjoys cooking, so we use my final batch of tomato base but completely transform it by adding fresh pineapple, and a liberal splash of marmite. It changes the whole concoction from a Mediterranean into a sweet-and-sour sauce, and goes very well with our remaining veg. And fresh pineapple for pud comes in handy, too! Both Tu Chi and Els are fed up with eating mélange time and time again in guest houses or on training courses, so the Gitarama Hilton becomes the Gitarama restaurant and everyone’s happy.

During the day I’ve managed to text and get a reply from Wellars the moto man – no mean feat because his French is almost as bad as my Kinyarwanda and I’m never 100% sure he’s understood what I’ve asked him or vice versa. But Wellars confirms there’s 2 motos ready to take us up north on our grand adventure to Nyabinoni tomorrow, and the price is agreed even tough it’s extortionate – to transport the two of us for one day will use up an entire month’s transport allowance for me. Even better, he reckons we needn’t set off till 6 in the morning, which gives Els and I an extra half hour’s sleep.

While Tu Chi’s copying music and talking shop with Tom, Els and I spend an hour going over exactly what we’re doing at tomorrow’s training. I’m quite nervous because it’s the first time I’ve done training without Cathie holding my hand; it’s the first time I’ll have been in charge, and it’s the first time I’ve worked with Els, who will not know exactly how to finesse these things! So no pressure then…..

Early to bed tonight because even with a six o’clock start, I’ll need to be up at a quarter to five to get all my bits and pieces together.

Best thing about today – getting the District Officers back on track and acting as one

Worst thing – bloody computer viruses! And where’s my pay cheque? I’m beginning to think Tiga had the right idea when she insisted on only putting the barest minimum of her first three month’s money into the bank to keep the account open, and kept all the rest of her money hidden in her house. Smart girl, that one!

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