Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Sunday closure

August 3rd

You’d think that on a Sunday we’d be able to have a lie-in, but not a bit of it. This is Sunday, remember, and we’re in an Anglican guest house. By 6 in the morning there’s chopping and banging noises from the kitchen opposite and people talking loudly and walking along the balcony outside our room. By seven we give up trying to continue sleeping and get up. It’s an overcast morning; sky and lake are a uniform grey. What a pity; if the sky was blue the lake would reflect it and be absolutely matchless. But, whatever - the lake is smooth and beautiful, already canoes are criss-crossing its waters leaving “vee” shapes of wake which persist for a long time after their passage. There are so many little headlands within sight that at any one time a canoe is just emerging being them, or being swallowed up by land. The hills rise steeply from the water; far more steeply than anything we get in England, even in the Lake District. Some big canoes come in past our room and beach at Kibuye, including one enormous canoe with a canvas awning which I guess might have come from Idjwi island. That’s a twenty-odd mile crossing; the same as Dover-Calais!

The big group of clergy from last night is just finishing breakfast – a huge spread laid out as if for a banquet. The other group of muzungus including the doctor are just getting up; the men go for a swim before breakfast.

We spend a lazy morning packing up, reading, and taking lots of photos. Then reluctantly it’s goodbye to Kibuye and the Home St Jean and we plod back down the road to the bus park in Kibuye. Our little Onatracom is already waiting, and we’re the first to board so we can bag the best seats and stow our luggage comfortably. Within seconds there’s a crowd of boys outside the door to stare at the whites. The day is hotting up considerably at this point, and we’re relieved when we set off at twelve on the dot.

The first couple of miles out of Kibuye wind round the side of the lake, and at times we can look back across the water and see our guest house prominent on its hill. It looks grand and inviting. I’m lucky because I’ll be back there in a couple of weeks’ time! OK, so it’s not the showiest nor the most comfortable accommodation in town, and the waitress service is always slow and sometimes erratic, but the situation of the guest house is unbeatable and it’s a great favourite with all the VSOs.

Soon we’re climbing hard up the side of the rift valley, and continue to do so for mile after mile. The road is lined with banana groves and every few yards there’s a cottage with washing spread on the fences or on the grass to dry.

At the lip of the rift valley we pass a waterfall where a river cascades over the edge of the rift. Even now, in the height of the dry season, there’s plenty of water coming down. I’d like to see it after one of the rainy season cloudbursts! We are at the highest point on the route; bananas have given way to potato fields and as well as the everlasting eucalypts there’s a small remnant of original rainforest on the slopes above us. This was the scene of one of the most desperate struggles in all the genocide as Tutsis seeking refuge in the forest were hunted down over a period of days by enraged mobs.

Immediately we pass the summit the driver picks up speed and we slalom down through the bends towards Gitarama. The road is a never-ending switchback, and we’re thrown about inside the vehicle. Anything not stowed securely goes rolling up and down the aisle; the woman in front of Andy has to keep a tight hold on her baby or he’ll join the flotsam and jetsam churning round under our seats!

Back at Gitarama we are in for a shock. There appears to be a sudden Umuganda – everything is closed including the bus park. All shops are shut; all restaurants. Its two o’clock and we’re hungry. We lug our stuff up to the flat; on the way we are passed by Melissa and Tim in the FHI pick-up. They take pity on us and take all our luggage and most of us to the flat. The front gate of our compound is shut tight without any trace of day or night guards and we have to break in, watched within ten seconds by a knot of men curious to see what muzungus do when they’re shut out of somewhere. (They use their initiative, that’s what!). Inside the flat Tom enlightens us as to why everything’s closed; today is a special Genocide memorial day, hence the total rather than partial shut-down. There was some warning locally, but the event is only relevant to Gitarama, hence us not knowing anything about it at Kibuye. Fortunately we have food in the freezer, and the siege is lifting as we arrive so we can nip out and buy bread and make ourselves a decent lunch.

We have a lazy afternoon while we prepare clothes for the next outing to Gisenyi and do our washing.

We’ve been texted by Ulrika to say there’s salsa dancing at RIAM in the evening, but once again the invitation has come at the wrong time and we are too tired and too preoccupied to want to go. It’s difficult enough trying to work out the logistics of suitcases etc when we’re staying at the guesthouse tonight; off to Gisenyi in the morning and when I’ve got a breakfast time meeting at Shyogwe to fit in!

Eventually we descend on “Nectar” for supper and end up a large crowd. Andreas from the Franciscans at Kivumu is there, with Tony who is an ordained priest and Franciscan. (That means we say a proper grace before our meal). Tu Chi appears unexpectedly; it’s her absolute final night before departure and a lovely surprise because we all thought she would be staying in Kigali. Andreas is off to Byumba in a couple of days and will meet Anna who I encountered when I stayed with Kersti – just goes to show that every single muzungu in this place is connected and if you just take the time you can link every person to everyone else.

By the end of the meal Teresa and co feel very much part of the Gitarama “family” which is lovely. We say our goodbyes to Tom; he’s going to be away for the rest of my family’s stay. He’s got a group coming out from his church in England and is taking them down to Cyangugu for a week or so.

Back at the flat we have time for a quick game of dominoes before bed – dominoes is becoming the theme of this family holiday!

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