Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Farewell to the family - so soon!

August 14th

Final day of Teresa’s visit. Beau Séjour is very comfortable except for the fact that all the beds seem to have plastic sheets sewn onto the mattresses. This means every night is “boil in the bag” time, however much you throw off the blankets or keep the windows open.

We have a lazy, long breakfast because after Akagera we need a quiet day to recover. And with flights to catch we have an absolute deadline looming.

Mid-morning we breeze along to the VSO office, do our emailing, generally chill out and wait for Amina to arrive so that we can reclaim our suitcases from the store room. This is not without its moments – Amina is very late arriving, and when she does get in we can’t find the keys. We have visions of having to climb over the partition wall and hand out cases as if we were thieves!

Épi is in the office; she doesn’t look well and is off to the doctors to see if her amoebas have returned. Just as we’re ready for lunch, Joe appears with a bus full of children from one of his primary schools. He’s showing then round Kigali on a day trip and has brought them to VSO to show them what a big office looks like. The children and teachers solemnly troop past us as if we’re part of the furniture. Some shake hands; others glance interestedly at the contents of our suitcases which are in the process of being re-packed. I wonder how many of their write-ups of the visit will include details of muzungus’ dirty laundry…

By late morning we have all the suitcases sorted and are ready for departure. To celebrate, we have lunch at Sole Luna and enjoy the best meal of all our holiday. There’s a wonderful Italian mélange with loads of pasta and sauce and beautifully presented salads. We eat so much we’re groaning and have to sit tight for a good hour after we’ve finished to digest all this stuff! Serve us right. But I’ll be finishing up left-overs at the flat tonight, and Teresa’s got the delights of airline food for the next few meals, so I’m glad we’ve made the most of things. We spend an equally relaxed afternoon back at VSO; Soraya comes in and I learn from her that the training schedule for the next group of volunteers’ ICT is finished. I get a copy so I can bone up on my presentation – I’m down as covering “work specific training” which sounds daunting (especially as I often think I do less work than most of the other volunteers here).

When it’s time to get a taxi to the airport I go to look for one. Just when you want a decent taxi, all the official ones with yellow stripes are gone, and I have to get an unofficial vehicle. This turns out to be the worst car in all Rwanda. The windscreen is cracked in about ten places; the door handles are falling off, and the boot will only shut if it’s slammed. All my family look glumly as if to say “is this the best you can do, Dad?” But it’s only a couple of miles up the road to the airport, and the car does manage to get us there. So I hope they put it down to yet another “typical Rwandan experience”.

We say our farewells and I leave my family to find a moto and get back to Gitarama before everything stops running after dark. I mustn’t bet caught out and not able to get back, because it’s a public holiday tomorrow and I’m not sure how much transport will be running. So I lash out on a moto to Nyabogogo, and a crowded and hot matata from there home.

Back at the flat everything feels very deflated. The place no longer seems right without all the clutter of four people. There should be newspapers strewn across the floor, and playing cards or dominoes clattering on the dining table. Janine has brought my washing back; not before time as I’m down to my last shirt or two. After the delights of a Sole Luna lunch I dine on sweaty cheese from our Akagera trip; synthetic Chinese jam from ditto; dry bread from Beau Séjour’s breakfast table plus stale stuff from my larder. And a manky banana which is nearly black after a day in my rucksack. To finish this gourmet supper I have a couple of biscuits and a bowl of porridge.

I spend the evening ironing until I’m too tired to do any more. I try to do the accounts for our holiday. The hired car has worked out more expensive than I predicted, but everything else is either right on budget or below it, and we have done very well. I think the entire fortnight for four people (flights excluded) has come out at about £1300 - £325 a head. Not bad when you consider we’ve visited all corners of this little country, stayed in hotels and guest houses, and hired a car.

I’m so pleased that Teresa and Rachel and Andy have been able to come and see Rwanda. I’m even more pleased that everyone stayed well; we had only a few minor tummy upsets and no accidents, and really we also had no unpleasant or frightening incidents either. I think what my family found most traumatic was coping with the sheer crowds and bustle in central Kigali at the start of their visit. But having survived that day, everything else seemed easily manageable, and even the middle of Kigali got less frightening every time they passed through it.

They’ve met around a quarter of all the VSOs in the country; they’ve seen my office and visited a school in session. When I go to places during the rest of my time here, they’ve got a frame of reference to visualise what I’m doing and where I am, and what the place looks like.

Best of all is that we’ve agreed that I’ll stay for a second year. VSO is happy with that idea; I’ve just got to run it past Claude and make sure the District is OK with it.

By ten o’clock I’m dead on my feet and fall into bed.

It’s been a great fortnight in all ways. I’m so lucky to be in such a beautiful country and to have such a supportive family!

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