Thursday, 11 September 2008

Brucey the trainer of new volunteers!

September 10th

Well, it’s nice to be back in the comfort of Amani with limitless food and no travelling to do. So I eat like a pig all day and I don’t feel in the slightest bit guilty.

Els and I are on for our presentation first thing, and we’re well prepared with lots of material. Too much in fact – I run on and on over my time, and talk too much (as usual). Still, I think the new people find what I say useful, and the stuff I’ve got for them to download will certainly give them pause for thought over the coming days. What Els and I have done is give people all the kind of information relevant to the job which we never had at our own in-country training, and had to discover by painfully slow steps in the first few months. It will really help these new volunteers if they can hit the deck running, and it will reduce the feeling of isolation and hopelessness, especially when faced with a situation where it is difficult even to know what information is available, let alone where to find it and how to use it.

I make one faux-pas and get hauled up for it. Rwanda’s relationship with France and the French is tense, to put it mildly. I’m corrected by being told the official version as follows: France as a country is blamed for firstly supporting the losing side during the genocidal way in 1994. Then for prolonging suffering by blundering into Rwanda and setting up “safe zones” which turned out to be anything hut safe for many people. And since the war for describing it as a “civil war” rather than a genocide. And also for suggesting that the current President or his aides may well have ordered the shooting down of the presidential jet at Kigali airport which precipitated the slaughter. At the same time, ordinary French people – like VSO volunteers – who are living and working in Rwanda are said to be safe and welcome. I just hope the latter turns out to be the case. Martine tells everyone she is Scottish rather than French. I notice that French E U observers are not being allowed into Rwanda to monitor next Monday’s elections.

I have my own feelings which are different from VSO’s official line, but I can’t help feeling the distinction between antipathy towards France as a country and welcome to French people as individuals is likely to be a tad too fine for many illiterate Rwandans to appreciate. If I was a French national here I would want to say to people that I was Belgian, or Swiss.

After lunch Els and I go down to the town centre to a travel agent and enquire about air fares home for Christmas. Of course, it turns out that Christmas is a second “high season”, and so fares are relatively high. Ethiopian Airways seems to be the cheapest, but before we commit ourselves I want Tom’s friend who is a travel agent to give us a second opinion. There may be four of us travelling together – me, Els, Paula and Eric. Our flight would be to Heathrow rather than Gatwick, and would involve an overnight stay in Addis Ababa (paid for by the airline).

Els stays in the town centre to pick up clothes from a tailor (André is the girls’ favourite costumier in Rwanda; he’s not cheap but the quality of his work is really good). She comes home in a wonderful green and black top, and apparently there are trousers to matchs.

I go back to Amani because I have a second slot in the afternoon to talk to people about the Volunteer Committee. I need about four of them to come on it as representatives, with as wide a variation in age, gender and programme type as possible.

In the evening we take a group of the newbies to a little bar just up the road from Amani. They’re getting cabin fever and need to escape for a while. We’re beginning to learn personalities and the essentials of putting names to faces and matching people with where they are and what they’ll be doing. There’s Alain, for example, a Québecois and native French speaker who is Marisa’s replacement at Nyamata. There’s Joe, who has already done VSO in Guyana and who is the first volunteer in Western province, blazing a trail in Nyamasheke close to Lake Kivu. He’s really isolated. There’s Ruareigh in Gisagara; he’s from near Dublin and is also the first volunteer in his District. Joe and Ruareigh are, like me, secondary deputy headteachers so we’ve plenty to talk about. There’s Marjolène, another Canadian, who is working in Kamonyi (between Gitarama and Kigali). All of these people are doing the same job as me but in different districts. Suddenly there’s a lot more people to share ideas and experience with.

Best thing about today – meeting again all the new volunteers and starting to get to know them. And when you do the kind of presentation Els and I did, you realise just how far you yourself have come in eight short months here. The learning curve for the first couple of months is vertical, but even now after eight months I’m constantly discovering pitfalls where my ignorance (and especially my assumptions) are letting me down. This is not only by far the longest I’ve ever lived in a foreign country; if I added up all the days I have ever been abroad in my life, I expect they wouldn’t exceed the number of days I’ve been in Rwanda! Now that’s a scary thought!

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