Sunday, 14 September 2008

Down time - again

September 12th

Last night it rained and thundered twice. So I wake up to a dismal grey day, just like so many back home in England. During the morning it never really clears up at all; by turns it is foggy, it rains, it drizzles. It’s so cold I have to put a fleece on, even at mid-day. By eleven o’clock it’s so gloomy outside I have to have the light on in the lounge.

I have planned to go to Shyogwe school and take pictures, but it’s too dismal to be good for photography. I work at home, sorting out domestic stuff and study the downloads of geological maps I made in Kigali yesterday. At last I’m beginning to understand the rocks here.

(If you’re not interested in geology, skip the next paragraph, Ed)

Almost all the rocks here in Rwanda are very old, from about 2,200 million years to 935 million years. By comparison, you have to work hard to find anything in England which is much older than 600 million years. So here we have some of the very oldest rocks on the planet, formed hundreds of million years before there were any living things. If you like fossils, this is not the place to come. In the north west of Rwanda, the volcanoes are some of the newest rocks on the planet – the last eruption of Nyiragongo was in 2003. Most of what’s around me in Gitarama are quartzites with various levels of purity; the very purest being so white it could be taken for marble at a distance, and other strata ranging from purple to honey to dark brown depending on what impurities are inside. The mine on the mountain road to Kabacuzi is definitely after tin. Down in Nyungwe forest there are small mines for gold, but I don’t think any of them are still operational. Or at least, not legally. In other places there are very ancient granites, schists and gneisses, horrendously mixed up and a nightmare to analyse unless you have the very detailed map on paper in front of you.

I while away the morning studying the maps and watching a video until its lunchtime. Karen wants her mattress back; her god-daughter is coming from England to stay with her for a few days. So I wrap up the mattress and parade down through the middle of town with it. A muzungu carrying a heavy load on his back brings everyone to a halt. At Karen’s we have lunch together. Her guard is fast asleep and she has to let me into the house herself. We can’t work out why he is so tired – is he ill? Is he doing another job at nights? Karen sends him home – he’s not doing any good here at her house. We have a good natter – both of us are fed up with so many “down days” at one of the peak working times of the year.

I go to the bank and find there are no queues – it’s just as quick service as in Bridport. So that’s something good for today. Up to the Post Office – a parcel for Tom but nothing for me; not even my newspaper. Into the District Office but there’s nobody there. Friday afternoon is sports time; either they’ve all gone to the stadium to do sport or watch others do it or just look important there, or they’re all off to election rallies. We’ve had the usual noisy parades of lads on scooters and in matatas cruising up and down the main road all morning, and a counter parade by one of the minority parties who stand no chance of winning. They all have whistles, hooters, drums; there’s always a pick up truck with a huge sound system blasting; there are usually trucks with people singing rousing songs. If they can’t do any of those things they just bang on the sides of their cars and buses with their hands. I wonder what happens where two rival party parades meet. Fist fights? Do they ignore each other?

As soon as I step into my office I get besieged by people who’ve been waiting for hours for someone to arrive to help them. The fact that I can’t do anything for them except receive letters and applications and promise to forward them to the correct people doesn’t seem to matter to them. I end up with a stack of urgent letters to pass on next Tuesday, including some which I’m sure are last minute applications for courses or for jobs.

What I’m desperate to do is gt one of the Rwandan speakers in the office to ring schools for me and confirm inspection dates, but that ain’t gonna happen this afternoon.

So it’s back to the flat and find more jobs to do until Tom arrives just after six. He’s got a streaming cold in Kigali, looks terrible and croaks as if he’s at death’s door. All he wants to do is fall into bed.

Soraya’s invited me to her new house and we have the usual pantomime trying to find each other in the dark. She’s right behind the mobile phone mast behind the market, very close to the stadium. She’s been cooking all afternoon, at the same time dancing to the noise from the sound system they’ve installed at the stadium. Her house is enormous. There’s an “L” shaped lounge and dining room, and a kitchen next door with a serving hatch. On the other side of the lounge a door leads to a little self contained section with living room, bedroom and bathroom – that’ll be perfect for Hayley when she finished her training next week and moves in with Soraya. Further up the hallway there are at least four good sized bedrooms. The walls have all been painted and apart from the tin roof and dodgy-looking electrics the place is in good shape. It desperately needs loads of pictures on the walls and a lot more furniture but that will come – there’s all Hayley’s VSO furniture to install. The house has solar panels and two independent electricity systems. Apparently the solar panels generate enough power to run lights etc for about 3 hours in the evenings. When the juice runs out, you switch to the tender mercies of the Rwandan national grid. One room contains an enormous storage battery, the size of things you see on HGV lorries.

There’s an electric cooker complete with oven, but electricity is so expensive here that I don’t think Soraya intends to use it. At the moment she’s still cooking on charcoal, as at Mushubi. I suggest to her that she get a little gas cooker like ours – you save so much time compared with charcoal, and she can still use charcoal for things like boiling up drinking water or stewing beans and lentils.

Soraya cooks me a lovely supper, and we save some for Theogène the guard, who seems a lovely person and very similar to Samira’s guard Vincent in temperament. Soraya’s electric doorbell has been installed; westerners are to ring the bell and will be admitted; anyone who does the Rwandan thing and just thumps on the door will be ignored. The house seems pretty secure; there’s a brick wall around it topped with razor wire. Because of its size it has been designated the safe house for Gitarama (our flat is now too small for the number of volunteers who are going to be living in the area, so we’ve been demoted).

Even when I leave Soraya’s place its still drizzling; the roads are muddy and littered with puddles which you can’t see until the last minute.

Best thing about today – Soraya’s house

Worst thing – another day without any proper work done at all. I’ve decided to go out to Shyogwe tomorrow morning, early, provided it’s dry and sunny.

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