Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Off to Kibuye - twice in a fortnight

August 15th

Wow, it’s nice to be sleeping in my own bed again, even if only for one night! I’m up and off to the office, determined to work hard and get back to reality.

It’s not until I reach the bank, and find it all closed, that it dawns on me that today is a public holiday – the Feast of the Assumption. I had completely forgotten. What an idiot!

However, I persevere on to the office which is open as usual (I don’t think our District Office ever closes completely). Claude is there, and ready to talk. He says my presentation on the census data went down really well, and that the heads are really appreciative of how much I’ve understood about their schools and the general educational situation. So that’s all right, then.

He apologises profusely for not being able to meet Teresa; apparently his brother had been in an accident. It must have been bad because he was transferred to the King Faisal Hospital in Kigali – the main one in Rwanda. He has a badly broken arm, but is recovering. That’s tough for Claude; somebody will have to be bringing the man his food at the hospital.

It seems a good time to ask Claude whether he’s happy for me to stay a second year. He’s more than happy. So that’s good too. We talk about priorities – Nyabinoni and Rongi secteurs as well as Cyeza. This brings us on to the problems of transport and accommodation. Claude says there will be absolutely no trouble in fixing me up with a bed in one of the northern boarding schools if I go up for a week. The real bugbear is going to be getting there and back. The long and the short of it is that I need to arrange to get myself trained on motos here at Gitarama, and to get a proper certificate of competence which will satisfy the local traffic police, and then there’s absolutely no problem about me using the district mot to go north.

Ok; that’s a tough nut to crack. I think I need to get Tom to help me with the basics of driving a moto, then enrol with the Gitarama lot behind the big stadium. Their test seems to involve a lot of slow speed manoeuvring between bollards.

As a last resort I’ll do a CBT course when I come home in December – but a British CBT doesn’t give you any off-road experience, and it’s the off-road stuff which is crucial to your safety and survival here in Africa.

I talk to Claude about Soraya’s accommodation. We’re really no further forward. Claude says he’s looking, and I believe him, but that all the places he’s seen so far are either too primitive, or too far out, or just too big and expensive. It’s really hard. When Karen goes home for good at the end of December Christi will be looking for somewhere else to live, too. Karen and Christi’s house is generally considered to be in an “unsafe” neighbourhood, where crime – including guns and knives – is on the increase. So simply swapping Soraya for Karen doesn’t appear to be an option. Ward, the Belgian agronomist, finishes here in a few weeks; his house is right in the middle of town next to the Bank of Kigali. It should be pretty safe, then! But whether it is within Claude’s price range, and whether Christi and Soraya would be happy housemates, are unanswerable questions. Beyond doubt, the ideal solution to me is for our friendly neighbouring insurance man to let Soraya use the flat next to us! In the meantime Claude is paying for Soraya to stay in “Momma’s” guest house, but self catering. At least it’s only a few hundred yards to the office for her!

By early afternoon I’ve prepared lunch for me and Mans and Han, who are travelling to Kibuye with me. They’ve brought all my umufuca and other materials for Tuesday’s training. Lunch is rather ad hoc; I’m trying to finish up leftovers and the highlight of the meal is my “green soup”, hastily defrosted and warmed up.

The wretched ticket woman at Onatracom won’t sell me seats on the big bus to Kibuye, so we jam ourselves – and I really do mean jam – into a matata. The entire floor area has already been stashed with bales of shoes and boxes of goods, so everyone’s sitting with their knees raised. Grande luxe it ain’t!

Fortunately for us, the bus is almost full when we board it and with a few minutes we’re on our way, twisting and rolling through the countryside. You can’t enjoy the view on a trip like this; you just have to spend all your time hanging on to something or someone to stop yourself being bounced out of your seat. Mans is about the same size as me, and we’re suffering badly in the cramped seats at the back of the bus until eventually people start getting off and there’s room to move sideways a bit.

As soon as we reach Kibuye and the Home St Jean it feels as if we’re on holiday again. A lot of people have already arrived, and more drift in every few minutes as busloads disgorge from Kigali and further east.

My room is not in the main building, but an annexe right next to the mass grave. 11,400 people are interred about fifty feet from where I’m sleeping. They have the most stunning view across the lake, too, if only they were alive to enjoy it. None of this bothers me; my room is quiet and adequate and I don’t have the kitchen noises and smells that we had to put up with when I was here with Teresa. The only down side is that the hot water in my room only seems to work around mid day – early in the morning its cold showers. (But I don’t feel cold showers are a problem – I’m swimming in the lake and only using showers to wash off the “lake water” on me)!

We have an evening swim, watching the sun set behind the hills as we splash in Kivu. Dusk falls so quickly here that even though it’s still light when we pull ourselves out of the water, by the time we’ve covered up and climbed back up to the main terrace it’s pretty well dark.

Funnily enough there are no fishing boats out on the lake with lights tonight – the first time that’s happened. I don’t know whether the fisherman are having the day off as a public holiday (seems unlikely – few people other than banks seem to take the day off), or whether they feel they don’t need artificial lights because it’s virtually a full moon tonight.

Its exactly a fortnight since I was here with the family. Also, there’s a whole bunch of VSOs here who have met my family – Paula, Joe, Cathryn, Hannah, Shelina, Mel. Only Marisa from my little group is here. Tiga’s pleading poverty, Soraya’s up in Gisenyi with her Philippina friends, and Épi’s not well enough to come.

We spend a lot of time trying to persuade both Paula and Ken to stay a second year – there’s such a clearout of experience people at the moment that if anyone else leaves I think we’ll all have panic attacks. I’m the only person to have a paper copy of the programme for training the next lot of volunteers; all sorts of people have been put down to do things far more than they had bargained for. I think there’ll have to be some changes.

It’s been a busy day, hot, and I’m still tired from the family holiday (especially Akagera). Everybody’s ready for bed quite early. Either that or they’re saving themselves for tomorrow night….

Best thing about today – having a leisurely chat with Claude. It’s the longest I’ve been able to speak to him, and the first time I’ve been able to do so on my own and uninterrupted, since the day I arrived at Gitarama.

Worst things about today – going to the bank and feeling an idiot. Two hours squashed into a matata full of shoes and shopping.

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