Sunday, 31 August 2008

How to build a house on the cheap!

August 30th

Umuganda today, so there’s no point in trying to go posting blogs at the internet café or shopping or any of the other usual Saturday activities. Tom gets up and goes off to do Umuganda with his FHI colleagues. I still feel guilty about not doing umuganda. You’re supposed to do it either through the umugudugu (the little cell of houses around where you live), or through your work. But we live in a commercial area with very few other dwelling houses, and we can’t find out where our umugudugu begins and ends or who the responsible person is. And certainly nobody turns up at the District Office to do community work! I think a lot of the D O crowd think their (relatively) large salaries lift them out of any work at all! I’d be more than willing to do the odd umuganda just to say I’d done it. (That’s what Marisa and Els did). Oh well, at the end of September I might join Tom’s crowd.

He and Christi have a good morning of it – there is hardly anybody from FHI doing umuganda either, so they are directed to join the market traders. This is a huge group of people, but it’s noticeable that it’s almost entirely the women who turn up to do umuganda. The traders are building a house for a vulnerable/disadvantaged family on the outskirts of town (this is a common umuganda project), and Tom spends to morning hoeing down the approach path to the house trying to get it level. The house has been built where there were eucalyptus trees, and hoeing is difficult because the ground is still full of roots. He’s got blisters by the time he comes home, but he’s made friends with the market traders. He does some vegetable shopping with them on his way home and gets noticeably better deals on his produce today than I do!

Apparently the market traders have agreed among themselves that if one of their members doesn’t turn up for umuganda he or she has to pay a fine of RwF1000 (£1). So far they have raised more than RwF200,000 towards materials and land costs for their house.

I spend a lazy morning catching up on myself, and as soon as the shops reopen I go and do a big shop up for food. We’ve already decided this afternoon will be a cook-a-thon to restock the freezer, which at the moment is just a vast expanse of white shelving.

In the afternoon Tom’s mincing meat and making a meat base; I’m making a huge batch of vegetable soup – cabbage, celery, onions, garlic, potatoes, carrots, peppers, imboga, tomato puree, and whizzing it up with a hand mixer when its cooked. That’ll fill several Tupperware boxes and be a damn good standby on days when we’re too tired to cook anything else!

The day passes like this – cooking, shopping, catching up on writing blogs and emails, and reading. I’ve just finished Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. It’s set in Kabul during the recent turbulent times in Afghanistan and it’s tragic at a Hardyan level.

In the evening we go round to Soraya’s for a meal, and Tiga comes up from Gikongoro. She’s spent nearly four hours getting here (matatas hanging around waiting for customers at every single stop) and is seething. But we haven’t seen her for ages and ages and it’s really good to catch up on the gossip. She’s definitely finishing with VSOP in Rwanda at the end of October (as soon as her school term and teaching commitments finish) and will probably try to do another VSO placement in a different country. In her own words “I’ve never felt so much not belonging as I do here in Rwanda”. We all know exactly what she means. This society is so closed, and so introverted, and to preoccupied with its recent sufferings, that it’s not a joy to be here. You feel all the time that people are afraid top be happy, afraid to celebrate. Tiga’s spent a long time in the Caribbean area where the outlook on life is so much more outgoing. I don’t blame her; my attitude is that it’s taken me six months to begin to understand how this place works, and I’m just getting to the point where I can be properly useful. It would be a shame to throw all that knowledge away and restart somewhere else. I’m going to stick it out here.

Tiga gets off the bus in the middle of Gitarama but doesn’t know where Soraya is staying, so texts us for directions. I go to meet her. She’s outside the “Delta Club” where Tom and I quite often eat. Tiga immediately confirms one of our long held suspicions. “Did you realise you asked me to wait for you outside a brothel?” she says. She’s already had a couple of refusable offers while waiting for me.

Anyway, Soraya cooks us whole tilapia fish in a savoury sauce, and we eat like kings. We can’t drink alcohol because the (Christian) guest house rules don’t allow it, and in any case Soraya doesn’t drink and Tiga can’t dink because she’s awash with amoebas which make her retch at the smell of alcohol. So while there’s plenty of gossip we’re not exactly raucous.

We invite the girls to our place for Sunday lunch and trudge home to bed at half past ten. Gitarama is strangely deserted – there’s hardly anybody out on the streets.

Best thing about today – seeing Tiga again.

1 comment:

GeoffreyMcMaster said...

Is it that surprising that people are afraid to be happy? After all it is only 14 years since the genocide. Almost every family was affected and many are suffering to this day. I have friends who cannot return home. I know people who lost several members of their families. I'm not sure how long it will take for people to recover. There are many people involved in councelling and reconcilliation. It cannot be easy to put the recent past behind especially if one is constantly being reminded of it.

Geoffrey McMaster