Sunday, 31 August 2008

The church of girls in Kigali

August 24th

Up early for a Sunday and off to Kigali with Tom. I’m going to meet up with Marisa and say my farewells to her before she returns to Canada. She’s done her eight month placement and is planning to travel home via Uganda and Kenya, which is pretty adventurous. Of all our little group of six volunteers, Marisa is the one with an almost identical job to mine, and she’s been great at sharing ideas and making sure we both support each other. There’s be someone new coming in to replace her in September, but I’m going to miss her. Yet another experienced volunteer is leaving our little family!

Tom is coming with me for a different reason. Last week he went to a church in Kigali and was struck by the astonishing number of very pretty young Rwandan women attending. That sounds like a challenge neither of can ignore, so we’re scrubbed and preened and heading to the Free Bible Church by just after nine o’clock. The church is right on the outskirts of town, a brand new building. It is off the matata routes, and runs its own little matata to collect worshippers from a point at the end of the usual bus line. There are two services on a Sunday morning; we have to wait I the shade for the earlier one to finish before we’re allowed in. The church is huge; it has tiered seats like a theatre, an excellent sound system and the words to each hymn are projected on to the walls so everyone can sing. And there’s lots of hymn singing. It’s a far more eclectic and exciting atmosphere than the Presbyterian Church we’ve been going to in Gitarama. The singing is accompanied by real live music, and a drummer who knows when to stop. There’s also a good choir; 4-part harmony and empathy with the congregation. People in front of me really are dancing in the aisles.

And the pretty young girls are there, too, in droves!

I have to stand up and introduce myself as a visitor, which gets me a hug from the lovely young woman immediately next to me. Can’t be bad. Imagine that happening in Bradpole…

The service lasts two hours, of which the entire final hour turns out to be a sermon about sexual faithfulness. They must have known I was coming! The Pastor is a Rwandan who has spent a long time in Uganda; surprisingly he preaches in English and an interpreter translates into Kinyarwandan. The sermon is not without its moments – “if your husband is being unfaithful and then wants to come back home to you, shut the door in his face and throw him out”. So turning the other cheek is passé, now, it seems.

Sexual faithfulness is a big issue here in Rwanda. Many men have two families on the go at the same time, and spend time with each “wife” in turn. Often the wives know of each others’ existence, but they’re economically dependent on the men to provide for the droves of children and can’t afford to boot them out. Of course, it’s a perfect vehicle for the transmission of HIV and every other sexually transmitted disease in the book, too. And there’s still this stupid idea that somehow it’s not “manly” to wear a condom.

So alas, after an hour of dire warnings and Old Testament quotes about adultery neither Tom nor I are mobbed by gorgeous young women at the end of the service. We do meet a bunch of gap students from Oregon who are going to be doing a performance in the church that afternoon. You can tell they have only just arrived because the girls are dressed as if they were on their Oregon campus (i.e. pretty uncovered by Rwandan standards), and the boys are pink from the sun. They look awestruck when we tell them we’ve been here for a year (Tom) and eight months (me).

In the heat of the day we saunter the two miles back to where the public buses run. Fortunately it’s all downhill. Tom’s going straight back to Gitarama, I’m meeting Marisa at “La Galette”. We order our food – much cheaper than buying stuff in the shop, which is wildly expensive – and while we’re eating we watch the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on a television. It’s the only bit of the entire Olympics I’ve managed to watch. Seeing Boris Johnson trying to look dignified as he received the flag ready for 2012 just makes me squirm, as does the entire song and dance routine with a red bus and aging rocker trying to recreate Led Zep from the 1970s. Oh dear, if this is what London 2012 is going to be like, then I want to be volunteering in somewhere like Outer Mongolia - perhaps teaching in a ger for the duration!

Marisa is laughing at my lack of patriotic enthusiasm; if I cringe any further I’ll fall under the table!

As we walk back to the town centre to catch our buses we meet Soraya, who’s on her way home from Kibuye where she’s being saying goodbye to Caroline. (Tis the season for farewells with a vengeance).

Back at Gitarama it’s the usual Sunday night muzungu meal; rather sedate this time with only about six of us.

Best thing about today – a church which is popular, comfortable, and a service which is welcoming, exciting, and funny all at the same time.

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