Wednesday, 16 July 2008

My shortest church service, ever!

July 13th

Sunday again – the weekend seems to have come round amazingly fast. Tom’s off to the Free Methodist church with Christi; one of their work colleagues is being made a full member of the congregation (I don’t understand exactly what’s involved here). But I do know that it’ll probably be a four hour service and my faith isn’t strong enough for that! I decide to sample the Catholics at Kabgayi cathedral. I know their masses are less than an hour start to finish! I think their service in French starts at half past nine and text Karen to confirm. Right at the last minute she texts me back to say it’s a nine o’clock start, not half past nine, so I catapult out of our front door and stride off up the road doing my muzungu walk. I get to the Cathedral a few minutes late but the door is shut fast. That’s really odd – at Tom’s Presbyterian church people are coming in and out all the service. I wait a few minutes to see if anyone else is going in, but while there are plenty of people standing around, nobody is going in or out.

OK, I think, I’ll wait for the ten o’clock mass. They seem to do masses every hour on the hour; it’ll be in Kinya-rwanda rather than French, but that doesn’t particularly matter to me.

But by a quarter to ten there’s nobody arriving for the next service. At this point I realise something’s seriously wrong, and mooch back towards home. Just as I’m passing a football pitch belonging to St Joseph’s school I meet a Rwandan acquaintance who explains for me. Some of the cathedral roof has collapsed, and it’s too dangerous to hold services in the building. In its place there’s an open air mass on the football pitch. I go down and join them for the last five minutes of the service. The altar is on the centre line underneath a hastily made canvas canopy; there are about half a dozen priests all in flashy pristine green and white vestments officiating under this ad hoc shelter of stained grubby canvas and wonky guy lines, and the choir and most of the congregation are sitting in the stands. It’s a lovely, incongruous sight.

So today Tom’s church service lasted four hours; mine lasted four minutes…..

It’s coming to something when the cathedral at Kabgayi – the headquarters of the entire Roman Catholic hierarchy in Rwanda – is too structurally unsound to use! Another example, I suppose, of the Rwandan lack of any preventative maintenance.

The acquaintance who spoke to me is decidedly one sandwich short of a picnic, even if his French is fluent and easy to follow. He tells me he’s written a document which he wants me to pass on to Tony Blair after I’ve translated it into English. I tell him that, yes, of course I’ll pass it on (that’s how you deal with these things here); I wonder what’s in the document. For all I know it’ll be in Kinya-rwanda and will need translating into French before it goes into English. Jut wait and see…..

Tom’s out for lunch so I have a lazy rest of the day reading, listening to music, and making more resources ready for tomorrow’s training session.

In the evening we split into two groups to eat out. Tom, Karen et all are invited to Marin’s house for supper. But I’ve got Kersti coming to stay with me; Cathie and Elson are back in town, and Han is staying overnight with them. That’s too many to descend on Marin as extras, so we have a VSO supper at “Nectar”. We have the usual farce over orderings – there’s a chalkboard menu but almost everything on it is either finished or not available today. So it’s the usual plates of chips for Cathie and Elson and “omelette spéciale” for me and the others. We natter and natter until the waiter politely suggests they would like to close for the night. Elson’s still waiting for his Canadian visa to arrive from Nairobi; if it doesn’t come on Monday then they’re on to “plan B” with Cathie arranging to fly home on her own and Elson following later. Han and Mans have Mans’ parents (in their eighties) coming to stay with them. Living conditions in Gasarenda are primitive compared with my flat – their water comes in jerry cans; there’s a squatting loo; power cuts are all too frequent to the extent that you always need to have a hurricane lamp and matches in your rooms. I admire Mans’ parents for having the determination to make the trip but I know the Dutch VSOs will be relieved when the old folks are safely back in Utrecht!

Kersti’s brought fresh oranges from her garden at Byumba, and goat’s cheese from Kigali!

We all walk back to my flat (Han’s never been to my place but has heard from Mans that it’s the lap of luxury compared to their house). So I make cocoa for those who want it and we natter more until Tom arrives back from Marin’s. Elson borrows a whole bunch of my DVDs to record on his laptop. Teresa tries to ring me in the middle of all this confusion and I have to put her off for an hour….

By the time we all finally get to bed it’s more like eleven o’clock. What debauchery for a Gitarama Sunday!

Best things about today – seeing Cathie and Elson again – it ‘s ages since we last spoke. It’s also nice to have Kersti to stay – I’ve crashed in her place in Kigali often enough!

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