UN troops are now patrolling the city, and Congolese police are trying to arrest retreating soldiers whom the UN says are out of control.
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 09:01
A really good day today, the first time I’ve felt like this since returning to Gitarama. I’m up very early, half past 5 (that’s half past three to you folks back in England, by the way), and a beautiful clear morning. By six I’m sat shovelling down my porridge with a clear view across to Muhabura volcano. Beat that if you can!
At seven I meet Soraya at the office and we wait a few minutes for Claude to arrive, then go in and talk to him about the trainings.
Firstly I can give him the school-by-school analysis he wanted from my inspections. He’s pleased with that and on the spot he rings the mayor and arranges a meeting with himself, her and me to discuss the results tomorrow morning.
Then we give our reasons why we don’t think we can do these long fortnight courses, at least for the time being. We need to talk to our other VSO colleagues about materials. We need to see what MINEDUC is going to do so that we don’t cross purposes with them. It’ll mean all our other work, including the twilight sessions for District Office staff, grind to a halt. Also there are a lot of dates when I’m not available because of other commitments. Finally, we need copies of all the curriculum documents for primary school, something we’ve never had access to. Claude simply rings up Florent, the head at Nyabisindu, and tells him to get them down to the office immediately. (Even Claude seems embarrassed that he hasn’t got copies of any of the curriculum papers in the Office itself). Claude capitulates remarkably quickly, and we agree that we’ll certainly get started on twilight and early morning sessions for the District staff a.s.a.p. He’s very happy with that, and both Soraya and I feel that it’s manageable. The District will pay our photocopying costs, too.
We suggest that perhaps either Soraya or I should go to the MINEDUC training course when it happens so that we’re au fait with what is being taught and that we can get the materials. He immediately thinks it’s a good idea and rings his contact in Kigali. The contact can’t give him a direct answer but neither does he give the idea the brush off.
What we like about Claude is that when you can pin him down he makes quick decisions and sees the whole picture.
Soraya and I heave a huge sign of relief and spend most of the rest of the morning going through TEFL books seeing what materials we can select to use. I find it frustrating; we have teachers’ guides but not the pupils’ books, so I only have half the picture.
Soraya gets bored and goes to the post office; at last I have a couple more newspapers arrived so we take half an hour off and read them. Would you believe it, the article in the Guardian about Rwandan schools working in English hasn’t made it into the weekly edition! Never mind, I have the cutting from back home and I’ve taped it to the office door. It’s already getting a lot of attention.
Every single time somebody comes into the office now we greet them in English, and only relapse into French or Kinya if they’re struggling hard. They squirm and wriggle with their vocabulary, but we’re getting our first message across – you all have at least some English and what you need, more than anything else, is conversation practise and self-belief that you can speak English.
We end the morning with last minute planning for our Nyabinoni course next week. It’s going to be a busy weekend – down to Gasarenda on Saturday, staying over at Kigeme on Sat night, then both back to Gitarama and on to Nyabinoni on Sunday. We’re staying somewhere in Nyabinoni on Sunday night, (presumably in one of the secondary schools now that the children will have all gone home) and we’re on the go for 8am on Monday.
We dine in “Tranquillité” because we’re both starving. I finish my mélange, it’s a good one today with proper meat you can eat ant not the usual mix of gristle and fat. Soraya gets most of the way through hers and then squeaks. There’s a little white worm half in and half out of one of her beans. On closer examination there are several more beans with worms in them. I, on the other hand, have eaten all my beans. Oh well, at least the worms are cooked, and they haven’t charges us for this extra protein. Perhaps we’ll have to review whether we continue using Tranquillité.
Afterwards we dive into the internet café. I’m trying to find out what’s happening in Goma (see photos below). Kersti emails to warn me that the Americans are getting worried about the security of a school group on the volcano, but as of today we’re still going.
VSO texts to confirm details of my motor bike training course, but at the same time want to bring some visiting people down to Gitarama so that I’d have to miss the first day because they’d want to visit a school with me. As I write I’m still trying to work out how I can fit all the bits together.
It’s a funny thing. We bang on and on about how slow the pace of things is here in Rwanda, and how you never seem to get much actually done, but at the same time I’m miles “busier” than I would ever be back home in Dorset. (Oh dear, does that suggest something about sleepy Darzet?).
Tom’s gone to Kigali today to meet a couple who are coming out to visit us in Gitarama, so Janine’s been round to clean and I’m desperately trying not to make any messes. As I’m writing this (mid afternoon) there’s a storm coming in over the mountains to the north of us, and strong gusts of wind are rattling the doors and sending up dust devils on the dirt road alongside the flat. There’s very, very low cloud boiling up from the valleys on both sides of us, and the rumbles of thunder are getting almost continuous. How long, I wonder, before the power goes off? People are finding it difficult even to walk into the wind, it’s so strong, and those heading into it are wrapping scarves around their faces to protect themselves from the dust and grit.
When Tom’s visitors come they are tired out but it’s too early to go to bed straight away. One of their suitcases has gone missing on the flight, too, so they’re not best pleased. I’ll only see them for this one evening; between us all we’re doing a lot of travelling over the next week or so.
I’m so tired myself that I find it difficult to stay awake for as long as nine o’clock; I’m trying to transcribe some more of dad’s diary. I’m down to the last twenty or so pages. In the internet café this morning I was able to look up some on-line maps and I can now place the route he took. The tiny little huts in hamlets where he stayed are, of course, too small to be shown on any but the largest scale maps, but the bigger places and the Himalayan passes are all there.
Best thing about today – everything really – a thoroughly good and productive day.
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 08:47
I’m spending today trying once more to collect my thoughts on all this English teaching and getting some materials up together. First of all I write up the report that Claude wants on my inspections. I’ve already done an overall report, now he wants a quick sketch of each school – strengths, weaknesses, a quick comment. I also add a score for their academic achievement last year and an A – E grade which shows how much I feel concerned about each place. “A” means it’s virtually a model school that any of the others could emulate. There’s only about 4 of them. “E” means I have serious concerns about the state of the buildings, or the leadership and management capabilities of the head, or the academic results. There’s only about three or four of them. All the rest fall into the middle categories – and I know full well that in most cases I probably wouldn’t have been able to run them any better if it had been me in charge!
By ten o’clock I’ve got the report done and ready to print off, so I decide it’s time to get out of my pyjamas and make myself respectable!
Off into Gitarama town. Hooray, the internet café’s open and there’s a really good connection for this time in the morning. I get all my business done, and have time to look up what’s happening in Goma (see post below).
Then I’m off round the market to buy fruit and yoghurts and fanta pop for our big meal tonight. All’s well; I get some great maracujas but have to bargain hard for bananas. I have to do the walking away thing before she’ll bring her price down to about 50% above the Rwandan level! Unfortunately I’ve chosen a day when every shop in town has run out of yoghurt, which means we won’t be able to have the smoothies we’d planned tonight. (I’d been looking forward to showing off for the girls).
In the afternoon I go round to Soraya’s house, where Tinks and Michael are waiting for me. Soraya’s gone into town to get a replacement set of keys cut. She comes back after a while in a foul mood; they’d overcharged her, and then tried to double charge her, so she’s told them to get lost. But she still hasn’t got her keys.
Key cutting in Gitarama is a skilled but almost medieval craft. They don’t have the rotary cutting machines that we do in England. (The electricity supply’s probably not reliable enough). The craftsman selects a blank which roughly matches the key to be copied, then laborious chops out the design with a chisel. It’s an extremely approximate way of doing it, and goes a long way towards explaining why, if there are two keys for a particular door, one will work perfectly (the original), and the other needs the strength of a weightlifter to make it work.
We discuss the English training situation at length. Michael and Tinks are interested because the Diocese has made noises about them doing intensive English training in one school as a pilot exercise.
We end up agreeing all the reasons why we shouldn’t, any of us, be doing this English training, and the more we talk the more we agree we are being imposed on. I agree that Soraya and I will go in to the Office early tomorrow and see Claude. I ant to be able to tell him that we’ll do the twilight trainings, and the short trainings, but we’ll at the very least need to hold off on the longer sessions until we see how the official MINEDUC version is going to work.
At five its back to the flat and getting the place tidied up ready for the state visit. Karen and Christi are coming for tea. We haven’t had them for a meal for a long time, and we keep getting invited to eat with them. When they arrive they bring with them Piet, who’s a Belgian ophthalmologist working at Kabgayi hospital. He’s early thirties but looks about 20. Very pleasant, and you can tell straight away that he’ll fit in with the Gitarama Sunday night crowd.
During the meal we get from Karen (who has so, so many contacts) the explanation of the shooting I heard very early last Thursday morning. Some armed guards (supposedly among those guarding my Bank of Kigali) had decided to do a little robbery as a moonlighting extra curricular activity, and had raided a shop in the market. They were recognised and reported to the police, who tracked them down on Wednesday night and showed up in force at dawn on Thursday. This happened barely a hundred yards from the flat. The robbers refused to give themselves up, and there was some sort of a shootout, though a very one-sided one. The two single shots I heard were the police despatching the two wretched men. Saves all that messy business of trials and justice, doesn’t it?
So, folks, that’s crime and punishment Gitarama style.
Well, the meal is great. Fresh avocado with home made tomato salsa and real German style wholemeal bread. Carrot and coriander soup, this time without any added sugar and all the better for it. Pasta in a rich tomato sauce with real English cheddar cheese topping. Fresh imeneke bananas and maracuja fruit. Belgian chocolate and either mint tea, coffee or gold old Rwanda tea for Karen and me. By the time we’ve finished that lot we’re absolutely stuffed, and there’s just enough left over to feed both our night guard and also Karen’s.
After that little lot its time to finish off my ironing and collapse into bed with my Congolese (music)…..
Best thing about today – entertaining well. Getting my thoughts clear on the English training.
Worst thing about today – no yoghurt. And why is it that if one shop doesn’t have something, none of them do. It’s always the same with things like cheese, yoghurt, eggs, salami. The shopkeepers go in to Kigali to buy them; I wonder if the supply in Kigali is so sporadic. I doubt it.
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 08:46
This is an article in today's "New Times", the official (Government approved) Rwandan newspaper.
BY MARTIN TINDIWENSI
Hundreds of Congolese and international aid workers continued fleeing to Rwanda, Thursday from the besieged town of Goma via the border town of Gisenyi.
The refugees were fleeing violence that ensued following a rebel advance on the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo town of Goma.
“What is going on back there is disgusting,” an unhappy displaced Goma resident told The New Times in Gisenyi Thursday afternoon.
She said uncontrolled government soldiers looted, vandalized and even raped women in Goma, the provincial capital of DRC’s volatile north eastern Kivu province.
“I am not sure whether this peace will last for long but if it appears normal enough I will go back home immediately.”
A Rubavu district immigration officer who preferred anonymity told The New Times that thousands crossed the border to Gisenyi on October 29.
“However they don’t consider themselves as refugees. These are people who crossed the border to temporarily live in Gisenyi hotels and lodges until the situation returns to normal,” he said.
Some 3,659 and 4,174 Congolese and international aid agencies’ staff, among others, crossed into Rwanda through Gisenyi on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
Even though the border area seemed calm after the present lull in the fighting, those who spoke to The New Times revealed that they were afraid and still unsure whether the calm would last long.
Rebels of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP are camped outside Goma, but declared a ceasefire Wednesday night.
Fredrick Mbyenyi, an employee of a South African Protestant Church charity organisation in Goma told The New Times that he fled Goma for his security.
“After witnessing DR Congo troops evacuating the town, we felt we had no more security. We decided to come and stay in Gisenyi for some days as we wait to see what comes next. I expected to have a hotel room but I’m stranded because all lodges and hotels are full,” said Fredrick who was seated together with other stranded people in Gisenyi’s STIP Hotel compound.
The official added that most of the people who fled to Gisenyi were employed and financially capable of meeting their expenses if the situation in Goma didn’t take too long to normalise.
In a related incident, Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group comprised of key authors of the 1994 Tutsi Genocide, are suspected to be responsible for the recent October 28 bombing on the Rwandan territory of Bugeshi sector.
The FDLR were fighting alongside the government army.While talking to The New Times shortly after his visit to the bombed area, Rubavu District Mayor Céléstin Twagirayezu said that the situation had normalised though most people who were evacuated are still afraid of returning to their homes.
“I have witnessed the bombed area. Approximately 10 artilleries shells were fired on Rwandan territory. Fortunately, no one died. It’s only one child whose ear was cut by a fragment from the bombs,” Twagirayezu explained, adding; “ The child is hospitalised and in good condition.”
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 08:44
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 13:12
What follows here is copied verbatim from the national newspaper on Tuesday October 28th. St Marie Reine is one of my Muhanga secondary schools; it's about a mile from my flat and I can see it from the lounge window. It's an intensely Catholic place, with a specialism in pre-nursing and accountancy. But read what's been going on there and see whether you'd want to send your children there! Remember, this supposed to be one of the premier secondaries in the District.
MUHANGA — College Marie Reine de Kabgayi will put more efforts in teaching the English language, and establishing a firm ground of discipline in the academic year 2009.
Fr. Déogratias Ahishakiye, the school’s director said this during the parents-teachers reunion held at the school premises last Sunday.
The revelation comes days after the government opted for English as a medium of instruction in all government affiliated schools.
Fr. Ahishakiye highlighted a number of challenges facing the school ahead of next academic year. These include inadequate classrooms, need for a bigger dinning hall, kitchen, and water catchments. The school projects to have about 600 students next year.
During the event, parents inspected the newly constructed boys’ dormitories, classrooms, laboratories and 160m³ capacity water -tank.
Parents and the school administration decried the increasing cases of indiscipline among students and general insecurity in the area.
It was noted that some students are involved in petty thefts and residents also attacked the school recently. One of the school guards was seriously injured and one of the thugs was killed during a fracas.
This, they said, calls for the need to fence the school compound to prevent criminals from freely entering the school premises.
“We are not going to tolerate indiscipline in 2009. Strict measures have been taken for students’ discipline and so far four students have been expelled for stealing,” Fr. Ahishakiye said.
He added that mechanisms to ensure discipline will be established through forming ‘students’ homes of peace’- that will monitor students’ conduct.
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 12:14
Up at the crack of dawn (well, 5.30 anyway. Before the hairdresser starts playing his music). Into town to catch the 7.00 bus to Kigali. The “Horizon” buses have started a Kigali – Gitarama service; it only began last Friday and is in direct competition with Atraco, Sotra and all the dozens of non-affiliated matatas. It’s certainly keeping the prices down – the fare to Kigali has remained at RwF800 ever since I arrived here and is about the only thing which hasn’t gone up!
Soraya’s coming with me for the day; we agree to meet at the bus. I’m there in good time; she arrives with about 30 seconds to spare. Talk about cutting things fine! Because of the early hour we have a really fast trip; we’re in Kigali city centre by 8.00, and have changed buses and are at VSO office by 8.30. They haven’t even unlocked all the rooms when we arrive.
The purpose of all this effort is to ransack the VSO library for English teaching materials, and try to do some planning for all this teaching we’re being roped in to do. Soraya’s been in contact with Els at Nyamata overnight, and her Director has made pretty well the same requests on her and Alain. So we agree they will come in and we’ll all try to think things through together.
First of all, though, I’m able to get all my blogging and emailing done, which is a relief. Next we make copies of some papers which we’ve found in the last couple of days. Then we go systematically through all the English materials in the library – dozens of books and folders, and end up with a (heavy) stack which we are taking home with us for further work.
We agree that for the two-day training courses next week Soraya will be the lead trainer and I will act as her assistant for the first two days so that I can see what she wants to do and how she does it; then I will do more of a 50-50 role for the second two days. We still haven’t heard from Sylvain about accommodation up in Nyabinoni so even this bit of training is going to be a down-to-the-wire event.
I’m beginning to feel more confident about the training sessions for the District Office staff; the only issue with these is that we’ll need a lot of copies of material (at least 15 copies for 30 people), and I’ve got to check with Claude that the District will pay. If he thinks that VSO will foot the bill then we’re in trouble.
We spend a lot of the rest of the day thinking about the fortnight long courses. I have a word with Charlotte and she thinks it’s an imposition and not what we were sent out here as VSOs to do. Also, she thinks that MINEDUC will have to put on some sort of long English course for all primary teachers, not just the 2ème cycle ones that Claude has in mind. So I think we’ll go along with Claude till Christmas and see what’s emerging on the national scene by then. Of course, there are also funding issues – major ones – for the fortnight course. The teachers will expect per diems. They’ll expect to have lunches provided. They’ll expect freebies like biros and notebooks, too.
While all this is going on, Els and Alain are meeting with Ruth to try and resolve some conflicts in their roles. Els is also moving out of her accommodation which she’s been sharing with Alain and into a house with two Korean volunteers, still in Nyamata, but at least she’ll be in an all-girls place which is fair enough for her. After all our attempts to arrange flights home together, Els has lost her place on the same flight as me and is going a day earlier on Kenya Airlines. I’ll be sharing with Tinks. That means that virtually every day from December 4th to 9th there’s a VSO on a flight home to Britain.
Tina from Kibungo comes into the office during the morning. She’s still not well after three weeks, which is worrying. She has low blood pressure and feels very weak, so much so that after walking to the Programme Office she needs a long sit down to rest. That must feel awful to be unwell for so long, and unable to get on with the work you came out here to do. I hope to goodness that they can find some treatment for her soon and get her back on form.
While we eat tonight (hot sardine curry with cabbage/carrot medley and mashed spuds, followed by orange and banana smoothie topped with dark chocolate and finished off with a snickers bar – haute cuisine if ever you saw it), we listen to the BBC world service. The fighting in DRC is getting very much closer to Goma and almost certainly will engulf it. Those of you reading this who know Rwanda will remember that Goma’s built up area joins directly onto that of Gisenyi in Rwanda, and the fighting will eventually reach the border. We’re expecting any day now to get stern warnings from Kigali not to go to Gisenyi for the foreseeable future. If the fighting enters Rwanda, itself, which is certainly a possibility, we might be pulled up to Kigali or even evacuated home. Now that would make a dent in Claude’s ambitious English teaching plans, wouldn’t it!
I can’t emphasize enough that we are not in the slightest danger at the moment from the fighting; we are much more likely to go through a traffic accident via a crazy matata driver or a dozy moto driver pulling off in one direction while ogling a girl behind him.
It’s a wretched time for the Congolese people, though. Thousands are on the road as refugees. They’re being looted by soldiers from just about every force in the area. They’re being drenched by these tremendous rainstorms, and squelching through ankle deep mud on what are jokingly called “roads”. The UN force (MONUC) seems to be as ineffective as ever. All we need now is a major eruption from Nyiragongo volcano and their misery will be complete. They can choose to die from shooting, molten lava, drowning in mud, exposure from cold rain, disease from filthy water, rats and bad food….. Why is it that we can’t get this part of the world organized a little better? Goma and Gisenyi, beside Lake Kivu, should be a paradise of brilliant flowers, mild climate and fertile soil. Now it’s a bloody battlefield.
Best thing about today – feeling that I’m getting my head round the English training.
Worst thing – realizing the sheer scope and scale of what we’re being asked to do.
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 12:13
Well, today is the day everything changes. I’m still not feeling well, still thinking I’ve got a gut full of amoebas and still not looking forward to pooing in a pot and presenting it to the clinic for analysis. Though almost certainly it’s what I’m going to have to do.
The first part of today is a lovely example of how to cope within the relaxed, horizontal time frame which is the Rwandan way of doing things!
To begin with I’m off to the internet café, but it’s still closed, as it was all day yesterday. I ask at the counterfeit record shop next door and they tell me the café is closed for a fête. Aha, I know what’s going on. It’s the first communion ceremony Karen was telling me about yesterday; the owner of the café has a handicapped daughter attending one of Karen’s schools and she would have been one of the children starring at the ceremony. (Karen arrived at about 9 because it started at 10 and she wanted to be there in good time. In fact it started at about 11, and didn’t finally finish till around 4 o’clock). This family is having a day off to recover, and have simply shut up the café – without any word of explanation for potential clients.
The other internet café is slow and expensive – in other words useless; I’m not even going to try to use them.
So I go to the bank and wait 40 minutes before it’s my turn to be served. No matter, I need the money and for once I’ve got organised and beaten the Gacaca closures tomorrow.
Now there’s a power cut in the town centre area, so there’s no chance of doing any internetting anyway. I’m not due to meet with Soraya till eleven, so I trudge all the way up to the post office. No mail for any of the four of us. I just can’t believe that – not even for four of us!
In the District Office I search for a computer with an internet link (the office has lashed out on a generator so everything doesn’t have to stop every time there’s a power cut), but there’s no machine free. In a dark corner of the corridor I almost run down Claude, and arrange a meeting with him for 11.30. So far so good.
On the way back to town I bump into Karen. She, like me, has a tummy bug and has just taken her poo sample in a pot to be analysed.
I walk back all through town to Soraya’s. Hayley is there. She’s having a slow day having done all the work she can and is now waiting for various people to get back to her with bits of information so she can continue. I tell her not to wait for them for long, but to keep pestering them with phone calls until they give her what she wants. We play with the puppy while Soraya finishes getting up; she’s lost her set of keys and thinks she’s left them with her friends in Kigali. She’s also feeling pretty rotten with a bad stomach, and on comparing symptoms I’m pretty sure we’ve got the same bug. This is starting to get funny – three VSOs in the same place all potentially with the same amoebas.
With Soraya I tramp all the way back through town to the Office to meet with Claude, calling in at the Electrogaz place on the way so that Soraya can put some electricity on her meter. The girls have run out and been using candles and torches for a couple of nights. And would you believe it – whenever I go to Electrogaz there’s a queue 30 minutes long; but when Soraya goes there today we’re almost the only people in the place and get instant service!
Up to the District office but Claude’s too busy to talk to us. This week it’s the national concours exams for P6 primary pupils. It’s a really big deal, of course, because your chances of secondary education (and a decent job) depend on passing this exam. So security is all important. There’s lots of people loading the P6 exam papers into trucks to distribute to the secteurs, and they’re doing it under armed police escort! Can you just imagine even GCSE papers, let alone SAT tests, being given guards armed with automatic rifles in England! We breeze into the store room because we can see Claude there, and the armed guard gives us a very severe look. However, we know everyone in the room and they know us, so it’s OK. Claude puts us off till 2 o’clock.
So it’s now an entire week plus a day and a half since I returned from England and still I don’t know what work Claude wants me to be doing.
Soraya and I walk back to town, stopping on the way at a little tailor’s shop and we haggle with them for making up a new shirt for me (using the green material I bought in Kigali a month ago). Even Soraya can’t beat them down below RwF3000, but I know from Cathie and Elson that 3000 is a fair price. The shirt will be ready on Saturday, and if I like it I’ll wear it to Han’s party on that day.
We mooch to “Tranquillité” and eat, stretching out our dinner for as long as we can. Neither of us is particularly hungry; one of the side effects of amoebas is that you feel bloated and can’t eat much without feeling uncomfortable. And what you do manage to eat seems to turn into gas straight away, so for the rest of the afternoon we’re burping at each other and apologising to each other!
By 2pm we’re ready and waiting for Claude. But he’s not there.
At 2.30 he arrives, and we have to wait until 3 because there’s a whole queue of urgent and quick business he needs to sort out with various callers. Finally we get together. In five minutes he changes my role and re-writes my job description. English training, to meet the Government’s edict, is now the absolute top priority. (We’ve already noticed that people who visit the office are starting to try their English on us rather than always using French. Even some head teachers who swore blind they couldn’t speak a work of English when I inspected their school….).
Firstly there is to be a series of fortnight-long English training courses, one for each secteur. The first two, before Christmas, are relatively straightforward and we can do them (though I will have to miss most of the second because I’ve booked my flight home…)
MINEDUC is doing a training at national level, but only for around 30 teachers per district. Muhanga has 1200 primary teachers alone who need training. Even if we just train those in the 2ème cycle, it still amounts to around 600 people – 12 sessions of 50 people for a fortnight each. It’s a mammoth undertaking.
We point out to Claude that if we train in the spring term it will mean closing schools for a fortnight at a time. Claude answers by saying we are to use our weekends to train. (taking midweeks off in lieu). That sounds reasonable but won’t work in practise because it’ll cut us off from all the other VSOs who get together at weekends. And we doubt whether many primary teachers will want to give up four weekends in a row. But we decide we’ll see how the first two training sessions go and cut our cloth for the others accordingly. And he wants to divide staff into beginners and advanced, with Soraya taking the beginners and me (on my own) doing fortnight advanced English courses. Help! I’m not an English specialist. I wouldn’t recognise a subjunctive if it got up and bit me!
Then Claude wants us to do twilight sessions for the District Office staff. Every day, Mondays to Fridays. We’re to liaise with the Human Resources office later in the afternoon.
Then he says we are to go ahead with the four two-day English training courses which Soraya has already organised and prepared. This means we’re off to the far north (Nyabinoni) all next week. Another 3 hour moto ride, but only if Claude and the secteur rep can arrange accommodation up there for us. There’s no way we’re doing return trips that far for 4 days in a row!
My resource making days are to be integrated into each of the secteur trainings. (Good thing too, otherwise Claude will have 600 rice sacks cluttering up his office for ever!).
Finally he wants me to re-do my summary report on my school inspections in a different format, school by school instead of as a SWOT diagram of global comments. He needs this to give the mayor by the end of this week. That’s about the only request with a reasonable chance of fulfilment!
Finally we go to see Goretti, the Human Resources officer. She’s a gorgeous looking girl, who throws me into a near panic by saying that they – the staff at their Monday meeting and led by the Chief Executive – have decided they want English lessons every day from Monday to Friday, with a 2 hour session on one day. They’ve divided themselves into beginners (9, including the mayor), and intermediate (21). Soraya is to take the beginners because they think I’m more intimidating than her. Only 2 people, one of them Claude, are excused because they consider themselves fluent in English.
So there you are, folks. If all this comes to pass we’ll have no weekends till we finish at the end of next year, and Claude clearly intends me to go on inspecting on the days I’m not doing English training.
Soraya and I are taking a wait-and-see line. It’s a typical Rwandan way of doing things to demand everything at once; I doubt whether it’ll all sustain. They already know that we can’t be doing inspections or trainings in the remoter secteurs and still get back for evening conversation sessions at the office, so it’s all about negotiation.
What is does mean, beyond any doubt, is that from now onwards I’m going to be working far harder and longer than anything I’ve done so far. But at least I’ve got a vision of where they want us to go, and I’m so fed up with all the drifting of the past week. So tomorrow it’s off to Kigali and start preparing English training sessions.
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 08:49
Feeling a bit better, but as the day goes on my stomach tells me that it doesn’t seem to have been just giardia that I’ve been suffering from, and there’s still something else awry.
I go down to the internet café but it’s closed. I try the alternative one, but it’s so slow I nearly go to sleep waiting for yahoo to load, and it’s also expensive. After two emails the connection is lost and nobody can do anything. An internet café without a connection is a sad place, and even sadder when you’ve got a series of angry Rwandans who have lost all sorts of data in the middle of downloading it.
We spend the morning putting up Tom’s new bed. It’s an interesting design, like mine but with six foot tall posts on each corner and cross beams from which you can drape a mosquito net so that it forms a rectangular enclosure. It’s much less claustrophobic this way than beds with conical nets like mine, and Tom desperately needs a better arrangement. His existing net is so small that he always wakes up with his face and arms bitten where they’ve rested against the netting and mozzies have got at him through it.
Tom has two visitors coming on Thursday, and getting this new bed is timely. He’ll yield his room to the visitors and sleep on his old bed in the lounge. We can’t decide whether to have the old bed permanently made up in the lounge (and use it as a sofa), or dismantle it unless we really need to use it. Eventually we decide to leave it dismantled until Thursday, and then see how the lounge feels when we’ve put it up. It’ll obviously restrict the amount of circulation space in the lounge.
I take advantage of his having decent spanners and tighten up all the nuts and bolts on my bed. Sure enough, when I’ve done that I find it doesn’t creak and sway every time I get onto it. I think that if had left it for another month or so it would have come apart under me one night.
We finally decide on what we’re going to offer Karen and Christi when they come to dinner on Wednesday, and we start making carrot and coriander soup, and a rich tomato salsa ready for it. (Cooking a big meal is always a problem on a working day, and the more we can prepare in advance, and freeze until needed, the better).
At just before 3 in the afternoon we set off to the big stadium and meet Janine outside. We’ve come to see a first division football match between Rayon (from Nyanza) and AFP (from Kigali). Our local Muhanga team isn’t playing today, it seems. These top team fixtures are normally held in the big national Amahoro stadium in Kigali (Rwanda’s equivalent of Wembley), but Amahoro is having alterations made to it ahead of the Africa nations cup which is coming up soon. (We understand there will some matches taking place here in Rwanda, but they are likely to be the under-21 events rather than the full scale internationals).
The stadium is absolutely packed; everybody is here and half of Kigali and Nyanza too, of course. The result is a 1-1 draw. I wish I could say the standard of play is excellent, but I can’t. Half the pitch is bare earth, baked rock hard by the sun. The players spend much of their time trying long airborne passes, and they have this mania for fancy over-the-head bicycle kicks and such like. It’s very entertaining for the crowds, but any respectable English premier division boss would hang his head in shame. The defence on both teams is good, but nobody seems to have any attacking flair, and the two goals are both almost accidental. AFP has a German manager, who doesn’t seem too pleased with his boys.
Janine’s an ardent Rayon supporter, and too late we find we’re in with a mob of AFP fans. So we end up a little clique cheering on the blue-and-whites among a crowd of others giving their all noisily for the black-and-whites. It doesn’t matter; there’s no history of violence in Rwandan football games. And perhaps the heavy armed police presence is a further disincentive, too. That’s regular police, in black uniforms with shotguns, military police, regular army with automatic rifles, and red uniformed civilian security guards with canes and staves. You’d think they were preparing for an armed invasion rather than a sporting event.
There’s absolutely no alcohol, or food of any kind allowed in the stadium. So the sellers of bottled water and still orange juice do a roaring trade. We’ve paid for seats in the grandstand so we’re protected if it comes on a deluge, and we’re out of the sun, too. Throughout the match there are massive cloud banks piling up all around us; everyone knows it’s just a matter of time before it rains. On every ledge, every balcony and every tree within hundreds of yards of the stadium there are people who can’t afford to pay for tickets. The trees in particular have so many people in them that their branches are swaying under the weight. Part of me wants to see if they consider moving down if we have another massive lightning storm like Friday’s….
By the end of the game it is indeed starting to rain, and with about 20,000 others we’re hurrying along towards Karen and Christi’s house to seek shelter and wait for evening meal time. On the way some little thief manages to get the zip undone on my rucksack (and he must have been quite a contortionist to do that without me feeling anything), but fortunately the only thing he pinches is my receipt book. I’d like to see his face when he discovers that all he has taken is stubs for money I’ve already been paid. And thank you Janine and an anonymous Rwandan who tipped me off that somebody was trying to rob me. I had my identity card and “get-me-home” money in that pocket. Equally, he might have ended up with a bottle of hand wash gel or a tattered toilet roll!
Soraya is there at the muzungu meal, after being in Kigali pretty well all week staying with her Phillippina friends and working on her English training sessions, and we spend most of the evening catching up on what each other’s been doing. Too much to write here, but after so much time spent on my own in the flat it’s great to be with everyone and catching up on gossip.
Ah, gossip; it’s the staff of life here!
At just after eleven tonight there’s a minor earth tremor, just enough to rattle the metalwork outside on the balcony. But I’m snug in bed, with roaring indigestion. For the first time in history I not only couldn’t finish my meal (it’s gone home in a plastic bag for Hayley’s puppy), but couldn’t finish my fizzy Primus either. Now that’s a sad state of affairs.
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 08:48
Feeling decidedly better today, but its Saturday and umuganda day, so I’m once again not working and more or less going to be at home all day. Even Tom decides to forego umuganda and arranges a Kinyarwanda lesson with Janine.
I spend the morning writing up my blogs and transcribing more of dad’s diary. I’m half way through his trip. It feels strange to be sitting in Equatorial Africa and writing about him struggling through blizzards and across the high passes of Sikkim into Tibet.
In the afternoon I take myself for a long walk all through the back streets of the town, then down across the valley and uphill to Remera. I want to go up to the famous acacia tree which dominates the Remera skyline but can’t find the right path (I think I did find the path but it appears only to lead to somebody’s hut so I don’t venture up it). The acacia is very visible just down the road from our flat; it’s one of those trees with a flat habit and is beautifully proportioned. I’ve always thought of it as just another tree, but Karen tells me there’s something special about it and it is celebrated with poems. Unfortunately the silly fools have planted eucalyptus all around it, for firewood, and let the eucalypts grow so high that in a few years they’ll blot out the view of the acacia completely. I return via the Islamic quarter and a couple of “new” (to me) roads within the town. All the while there’s a big storm threatening in the distance, and while I’m walking I’m calculating where I can take shelter if need be. But the storm passes to the east of us, there’s plenty of thunder in the distance but no lightning. It’s someone else’s turn to get plastered.
I also discover that they haven’t, after all, completely finished the new road; by Biti school there’s about a hundred people working on it, a couple of hundred (mainly children) gawping at them working, and several hundred more trying to squeeze past to get to or from the market. The engineers are spraying huge amounts of liquid tar everywhere and then tipping lorryloads of sand on top. When the tar has solidified they bring up a wagon with an air hose and blast the loose sand away into the gutters (and into the houses which are close by the roadside). The noise is ear shattering, and you can just imagine the scene. Everyone’s trying to walk past, there’s the usual hordes of motos, cars, matatas all trying to get through, (absolutely nobody with any patience prepared to wait and let the workmen get finished); other people are getting so close to watch that they’re getting sand blown in their eyes. All the weeds growing by the roadside have a coating of tar, and every now and then you can see little footprints in tar where some silly child has tried walking too close to it and lost his balance…. Finally there’s a gang of men with brooms swishing and remaining sand into the gutters.
While I’m walking I can see just how much damage Friday’s storm has done. Many of the earth roads have massive fissures in them from running water; in other places the rain has washed the surface completely clean and bare so it’s as smooth as tarmac to walk on. Elsewhere the rain has deposited piles of stones, buckets full of them, in crescent shapes across the paths. Down in the valley, where there is a small river and where the land has been artificially drained and channelled for irrigation, the lowest fields must have been pretty well submerged into a shallow lake. You can see by the tide marks of mud on cabbages that only the tips of their leaves were above water level.
When I get back I decide to chill out for the rest of the day and watch videos. So that’s how I spend my exciting Saturday night in Gitarama – six episodes of “West Wing” so that I finish the series.
I also read my “Guardian”, and notice not only that Rwanda seems to get more than its share of mention in the press these days, and that almost all the coverage is positive. Rwanda is one of a group of countries which has dramatically cut the incidence of malaria (by the simple expedient of giving families, free or at very subsidized rates), impregnated mosquito nets, and has also managed to reduce its AIDS rate far below predictions. It looks as if what is really happening is that the government is making surer that foreign aid for these purposes really reaches the people it’s intended for and doesn’t end up in officials’ pockets.
Also, the economic growth rate is 8% per year which is one of the highest in Africa, and especially good for a country with no oil and precious few minerals. The paper talks about the rise of the Rwandan (and Ugandan and Kenyan) middle classes with good purchasing power and a high materialistic outlook on life. They talk about “Africa 1” – the super-wealthy elite, usually politicians or military, the “Africa 3” (the huge numbers of desperately poor), but now there’s “Africa 2”. Africa 2 wants all the good things – iPods, blackberries, Japanese cars, private schools for their children. Africa 2 tends to work in telecoms or in one of the other new technologies. Kersti’s Nick is a perfect example. The good thing about al this is that it seems to be this affluent middle class, often educated to degree level but enormously aspirational, which will be the moderating influence on politicians and help create economic and political stability. We’ll see.
Good thing about today – a nice long walk out of the house.
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 08:47
Three days of essentially down time. I delivered some maths textbooks and past concours exam papers to Raima at Ahazaza primary school. I had a whole morning meeting with Michael and Tinks to work out which of my primary schools, were also his church ones (about ten as it happens), and to decide how we would go about things together. Interestingly, many of Michael’s schools are in remote Nyabinoni in the far north of our district, and therefore very inaccessible. But the Diocese has a car, and we are hatching plans to go there together in the Bishop’s car, him to do the Anglican schools and me to do the others. There are only seven primaries in Nyabinoni, so I reckon he could do his three and me my four schools conformably in a week.
Still no word from Stéphanie on a meeting with the Bishop’s representative to talk about the Shyogwe building project.
So what am I doing with myself at the moment? Staying in theflat most of the time, that’s what. I’m in danger of getting housebound! I’m getting on with writing up Dad’s Tibetan diary; at the moment I have done about a third of it. It’s frustrating – there’s a need for maps to show where he went, but until I can get somewhere with a good internet connection we’ll have to wait. That’s a Christmas Holidays job!
At last one of my English newspapers has arrived, but it’s dated September 26th-Oct 3rd – that’s before I went home. There are at least two more in the system lost somewhere between Kigali and Gitarama.
On Wednesday I went to the Office and collected a whole lot of statistical data to enter on my laptop; it’s not vital work but it gives me a complete breakdown on last year’s results. All this work has taken me hours, and of course I’ll soon have the 2008 results o do al over again. But at least I can say I spent an entire morning working flat out on District work. I called at the post office – a huge parcel for Hayley and a small one for Karen. Karen invited me for tea, and we had a good natter. She’s just got her flight home sorted for November 13th, which is a lot sooner than we had all expected. Tom and I absolutely must have Karen and Christi over for a meal before she goes. Karen wants me to take over conversation sessions with a young Rwandan student on Thursday tea-times, and I feel I can’t refuse her. We met the man; he’s very pleasant, a young student at the local university. His English is reasonable but could be a lot better. I don’t know how good I’ll be at managing a regular appointment; my schedule at the moment seems pretty chaotic. We’ll see. And having agreed to do one session a week, the student immediately asks if we can do three sessions a week…… That’s an example of typical Rwandan thinking.
On Thursday I was woken up at just before five by a series of gunshots, very close, between our flat and the market. I resisted the temptation to go to the window and see what was happening – if someone was taking pot shots in our direction it would be the worst thing I could have done! So I lay in bed and waited, and there were two more shots just after five. Nobody has said anything about them since, but they were definitely gunshots and at that time of the morning they couldn’t have been fireworks or workmen dropping lumps of metal etc. Gitarama seems to be going through an episode of gun-related violence at the moment; a shop was broken into the other night and shots fired, and someone was murdered up by the bus park a week ago.
I think we’re quite safe – the violence is all about Rwandans after other Rwandans. I’m guessing it’s where somebody has got one over on somebody else in a business deal, and the loser is taking it out on the dealer. Some Rwandan thinking is amazingly short term, and you can see it in the way market women deal with you. They are only too happy to swindle you at every opportunity, and think they’re so clever if they do. It never seems to occur to them if that if they swindle you, they’ll lose any subsequent trade from you. I suppose life is so precarious for these people that they just have to live for the day…. Anyway, life is cheap and there’s plenty of people here, so we muzungus just have to adapt to the way of life.
Yesterday I had a really nasty case of Giardia again. Couldn’t sleep much on Thursday night – acute tummy ache, feeling sick without being able to bring anything up, and nasty headache. By breakfast time I was burping rotten eggs and knew what I was going down with. Unfortunately we’d run out of medicine (Tom had the same thing just before I went home at the start of October and used up the last of the tablets we had in stock here). I was due to go down to Butare for an English planning meeting, and it would have been nice to get out of the flat for a day and meet Tiga and some of the others, but there was no way I could travel, let alone make any sensible contribution to the meeting. So I spent all day Friday in bed feeling miserable and sorry for myself, and it wasn’t until evening and Tom came home with some more medicine that things started to look up. As I’m writing this diary it’s Saturday morning and umuganda day, but I’m not well enough to be out there doing heavy manual labour so I’m keeping a low profile, and once again I’m staying indoors all the time. I’ve finished the course of tablets and it certainly seems to be clearing things up, but I won’t be “right” till this evening. At least I can say that yesterday was a pretty cheap day – I didn’t go anywhere, or eat anything, or spend any money at all. Whoopee!
Yesterday afternoon we had a really spectacular thunderstorm, the first really true tropical storm for ages. The lightning was almost continuous, and a lot of it right overhead. Tom was walking home in part of it with his umbrella up, and after one overhead flash he caught a nasty static shock off his umbrella handle. It put the wind up him, I can tell you! The rain was so heavy you could barely see across our road at one point. It flooded in under the front door right up to the lounge, and it worked its way through the metal window frame in my bedroom and pooled on the floor next to my bed. I had to get our squeegee broom and sweep water back out of the front door, but the gutter in our balcony couldn’t absorb it all, and as fast as I swept water out, the stuff came back in again. You could see that the storm was even heavier up in the mountains behind us; I dread to think what conditions would have been like in some of the mud houses low down next to the rivers. I fully expect we’re going to hear of people drowned in their own homes, or of loads of houses destroyed.
The funny thing was that Michael had left his motor bike here at the flat before catching the bus down to Butare, and when he arrived back to collect it the storm was just approaching. “Do you think this lot is coming our way?” he asks me. So I go out onto both balconies and scan the skies. The active storm cell seems to be some way away and it looks as if it’s going to miss us. “No, get going straight away”, I tell him.
I don’t think he would have been all the way home before all hell broke loose; I expect he got absolutely soaked. Poor Michael; I’m so sorry mate. The storm was coming from the south this time (usually they come from the north), and I couldn’t see the horizon far enough to see what was lurking in the skies over the hill behind us.
Tom’s boss has just been in Burundi for three days and says it’s been raining almost continuously there, so perhaps we’ve got the Burundi weather catching up with us.
As soon as the storm broke the sky went so dark we had to have lights on (at barely four in the afternoon), and as usual after the first few lightning strikes the power went off. It then went on and off at intervals for the rest of the night. All this week we’ve had water shortages, either an absolute lack of water or just a dribble coming out of the taps It’s been a game of chance whether we can have a shower in the morning. The only saving grace is that it’s our first-floor water supply which is affected; the tap in the backyard seems to work all the time even if the pressure is low at times. So as long as we keep our jerry cans filled at every opportunity there’s no serious problem; it’s just annoying.
We’ve just had a UN convoy drive past, Argentinean soldiers this time. They’re heading south (i.e. not towards Goma) so I assume they’re either en route to Burundi or they’re going through to Cyangugu and the border down by Bukavu.
Beat thing about these past few days – not a lot. I feel as though I’m marking time. My resource training stuff is at Nyanza and until I can either go and collect it, or get someone to deliver it, I can’t get started. Soraya’s been up in Kigali all week so I’m still not sure whether she wants me to help her with English training and whether she’s got dates all organised. Claude hasn’t said anything definite to either of us about what he wants us to do in terms of English training. And time’s ticking by. Soraya’s back in Gitarama so I can talk to her today or tomorrow. We have to discount Claude for the time being and assume that anything he requires will be in December or January. So I really must shirt myself down to Nyanza and collect the stuff from Ken… Why can’t I summon up any energy for all this?
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 08:46
Up early and at the Office by 7.20. I’m trying to be businesslike, and I know that early in the morning is my only chance of catching Claude.
He’s not around at first, so I get on with making a summary report from all the inspections I’ve done. The Rwandans love “SWOT” charts, so I decide that’s what I’ll compile for the schools. (In French they become “AFOM” charts – atouts, faiblesses, opportunités, ménaces). But I’m doing this one in English because I’m lazy, so there!
I’m about half way through when Claude breezes in and welcomes me back. “By the way”, he says, “we need to compile a summary from all your inspections. Not more than a couple of pages”. “Claude”, I reply, “it’s almost done and you can have it on your desk in a couple of hours”. He nearly falls through the floor.
He’s off to visit and inspect a secondary school; I would have liked to come with him but now isn’t the best time to ask; I need to finish this report. In the event it doesn’t take long. You either have to go into lots and lots of detail, which makes it too long, or you keep it as short as possible, which is what I’m doing. It’ll certainly act as a useful conversation starter with all sorts of people. And what I’m pleased about is that I’ve been able to find a lot of strengths as well as plenty of weaknesses.
At this point I decide to think a bit more widely and compile a list of simple suggestions for things which wouldn’t be expensive but which could make a dramatic impact on the education process here. For example, if the District budget could include a “minor works” allowance which schools could bid for in order to complete small improvements, it would give them a feeling that there is money worth bidding for and they could be less fatalistic and raise their sights. Even better if we are able to say we’ll do 50-50 match funding with any sums the school has raised through parents. There doesn’t seem to be any funding of this kind that I can see in the existing budget and I think it would make a big difference.
Another idea is to pair off heads within secteurs, especially heads of “successful schools” with heads of “struggling schools”, or new heads with very experienced ones. The costs would be practically zero (maybe a tiny travel allowance). And we need to have some sorts of “school awards” scheme like there used to be in England to recognise schools which have been successful in various categories. And then publicise the successful schools so that they feel valued. What about a “roll of honour” in various categories in the District Office foyer so that good schools get a blast of recognition? And nicely printed certificates for them to hang in the schools themselves.
I really don’t know how much the District is going to be receptive to new ideas like these, but they’re worth trying out. I also need to talk to some of my VSO colleagues and do a bit of brainstorming with them to get more ideas. Friday will be a good opportunity because there’s an English skills workshop at Butare which I’m going to.
While I’m in the office Stéphanie appears from Shyogwe, to I’m saved a trip out there. The building hasn’t yet come to a halt, but they’re down to a handful of workers. The roof timbers are either done or in the course of being done, but there isn’t enough money for tiles. Either she hasn’t yet talked to the Bishop about a loan from Diocesan funds, or she has and he’s prevaricating. She wants to set up a meeting with herself, me and Rev Gasana who manages things in the Bishop’s absence. That should happen later this week or early next, and will give me another chance to take some photos of the work.
I decide to work at home in the afternoon. As I leave the Office I realise that it’s another Gacaca today, but this one seems to be being taken extremely seriously. The Post Office and Bank are shut, so is the bus park. Just about every single shop is closed. Even the market is completely shut up. So most of the other things on my “to do” list are relegated for a while.
Back at the flat I heat up some soup and invite Hayley round for lunch. She’s also at a loose end because her YWCA office closes on Gacaca days (the District Office never closes, and with my key I can go in and work at any time I choose). Hayley confirms that Isadora has stopped working for the YWCA and is now acting as a P A for a UNICEF bigwig in Kigali. There’s a replacement already working; the funny thing is that both Isadora and her replacement are Serbians. The odds on that happening even her in Rwanda are remote in the extreme! I also catch up on more gossip – Tina from Kibungo has been taken into the King Faisal hospital with a stomach problem. That’s pretty tough after only a month and a half here. Apparently she’s better now and back home, but it’s given her a real fright.
Now usually on Gacaca days everything swings back into action by 2pm at the latest, but today all businesses are still closed even at 4pm. I decide to go for a walk and see if anything in the market is open on the way home. I go down the hill past Cathie and Elson’s house, and loop back to the town centre. All the shops, without exception, are still closed. Even the eating places are closed. But there’s a small section of the market trading, so I’m able to buy lots of veg.
I’m bored and under-employed, so I decide to do a cook-up. I make my usual massive lentil and veg soup with just about everything chucked in – onions, peppers, imboga, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, spuds. It all stews down nicely in about 2 hours on a very low heat. Tom’s acquired a bag of “bacon bits” from somewhere and I’ve grated cheese because we’ve got masses of cheese this week. It ends up a really thick potage and is unbelievably filling. Before I go to bed I make up two boxes of soup - so that’s two more good meals for 2 people – and there’s a bit left over for tomorrow’s lunch for me.
In the evening we both watch videos; I’m working my way through “West Wing” series 4 and enjoying every minute of it. I’m rationing myself to 2 episodes a night!
The hairdresser opposite us is playing his radio at even louder volume, especially early morning and late in the evening. He’s starting at about 5.50 in the morning which is a bit much.
Best thing about today – getting my report done for Claude; transcribing another three days of dad’s diary; listening to Congolese music on my iPod all afternoon and being able to hear it perfectly because Gacaca means the hairdresser’s sound system has been switched off!
Worst thing – it’s going to be a fair period of “down time” until either Soraya tells me when she wants me to help with her trainings, or until I’m able to do my own resource making ones. Hey ho; not how I want things to be but you just have to be philosophical about it and not feel guilty. More time to read, to transcribe the diary…
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 08:44
Up to the bank and lo and behold my new cheque book has arrived. I must remember for future reference that it seems to take at least 10 days to get a new book through the system. I have a cheque already written out from before I left for home; it gives me enough money to pay my debts (RwF20,000 to Tom for a replacement flash drive and 15,000 for Janine’s wages) but not enough to do any shopping. I’ll have to go back to the bank again tomorrow!
Off to Kigali on the bus; in my diary I have written down a meeting with Mike at the Programme Office to do some thinking about the future of our education provision.
Rwanda has turned green during the fortnight I’ve been away. The rains have been intermittent; showers rather than torrential downpours, but it’s enough to enable farmers to plant their second crops of the year, and everywhere there are newly planted fields with the plants just starting to grow well. Everyone gets very excited at one point in the journey and they all peer out of the windows. A car has come off the road on a bend on one of the hills and is lying badly crushed in a ravine. Yet another casualty. And I bet the immediate cause of the accident was trying to overtake one of these huge lorries which crawl at snail’s pace both up and down the hills. They crawl up because they’re overloaded; they crawl down because they daren’t trust their brakes. The entire road is either hilly or twisty or both, so overtaking is like Russian roulette. You either have a bus driver like ours this morning who plays safe, tags along behind the lorries and takes ages to get to Kigali, or you have the reckless racing drivers who overtake on blind bends and trust to luck and oncoming drivers’ co-operation to avoid calamity.
Gitarama is cool and breezy when I leave it; by the time I get to Kigali it is hot and humid. So what’s new?!
At the Programme Office I discover that the meeting I’ve come to take part in has already taken place. Mike brought the date forward and it happened while I was back in England. He’s apologetic; there’s been no opportunity to contact me since I returned to Rwanda at the weekend. Mike makes me welcome and briefs me on the main points of the meeting, and everything seems reasonable. We have a conversation about the Government’s pronouncement on English as the medium of instruction. There have been noises from MINEDUC about VSO doing a lot of the training, but nothing formal or definite yet. In any case, we’re not in a position to suddenly flood the country with volunteers, and the need would be so great that to have any impact we would need one volunteer per secteur. That would mean an extra ten volunteers for Muhanga district alone – and Muhanga is one of thirty districts across this little country. So whatever we do will have to be selective and highly focussed. We could train the trainers – train Rwandans who then go out and train other Rwandans. That’s the theory, but in reality by the time the training has been passed on through two or three cycles, it gets very diluted. You should hear people in classrooms trying to use songs which they’ve obviously learnt at second or third hand!
I go to see Charlotte and thank her again for making the flight arrangements to get me home. She briefs me on the meetings she and Mike had in my district with the prospective head teacher trainees. (This was our plan to base two short-term NAHT English primary heads with Rwandan colleagues who need help with administration and planning and general encouragement). Things seem to be looking good. There are 4 identified placements nationally in Rwanda, two with me in the south and two in the east. The NAHT has approved three heads for funding for the placement, and the fourth place will be an ordinary short-term volunteer who has been a head or deputy and has plenty of school management experience. I’m not sure whether I’ll get the two heads or one head and one volunteer. Whatever happens, it means I’ll have a supporting and mentoring role for these English heads until they find their feet. That will increase the VSOs in Gitarama to six, even allowing for Karen’s leaving at the end of the year. We’ll be by far the biggest cluster of VSO outside Kigali. I’m assuming that VSO will have to sort out accommodation for these volunteers; you can’t rely on the Districts. If they’re both women, there’s a chance they could stay with Soraya. Alternatively, Christi’s just signed a contract on a new place for her (for when Karen leaves); no doubt she’d welcome some company and half her rent money for a few months!
Jane is holding a planning meeting with all the PHARE volunteers at the office, and they seem to be extremely efficient and well organised. (The PHARE volunteers are the youngsters doing HIV/AIDS education in two districts). I check all my emails; it’s funny because there are a lot that I’m expecting but haven’t arrived, and various random ones have turned up from all sort of people. There’s a nice long mail from Cathie and Elson; I’ll write them a reply this evening.
In the afternoon I head back to Gitarama. There’s nothing more to do in Kigali. It hasn’t been an entirely wasted trip because I’ve been able to catch upon some important official stuff from Mike and Charlotte, and it’s helping me get my mind focussed on what I need to be doing for the next few weeks before I go home for Christmas.
Back at Gitarama there’s no post (why not? - there must be at least two newspapers waiting for me somewhere in the postal system). I go to the District Office to show my face and see if Soraya’s there. Claude’s not in, but Innocent welcomes me back. Soraya’s not there either. It turns out her meeting was postponed, so she’s taken herself off to Kigali to plan her training sessions; I think she might be staying over with her Philippine friends in town. In the office there’s a huge stack of rice sacks ready for our training sessions. It seems that Mans got VSO office organised and they not only located the sacks but bought them on our behalf and distributed them. Soraya had to lug some 600 sacks from the VSO pick-up truck into the office. No wonder she’s telling me I owe her a fanta or two!
The road works outside the District Office are finished; we have a brand new road surface, albeit covered with loose chippings. Every time a car goes by you can hear the clink of bits of chippings bouncing off metal drain covers.
I walk the length of Gitarama past our flat to Hayley’s office at the YWCA because there’s a postcard for her from Devon that’s arrived at VSO, and discover that she’s not there either – she’s also apparently gone to Kigali for the day. So Tinks must be looking after her puppy. (Tinks is Tina, one of the new batch of September volunteers. There are two Tinas and a Christina, so it all got very confusing, and this particular Tina is called by her family pet name. She’s living with Soraya and Hayley and working with Michael in the Shyogwe Diocese schools as a primary trainer. So she and Michael are working in the same roles as Soraya and I). When Cerys, the short-term church placement girl leaves at the end of the year, we plan for Tinks to move into her cottage next door to Michael. That’ll just happen to free up another room chez Soraya for one of the two NAHT people. I don’t know where we’ll put the second one – perhaps with Christi.
Back at the flat I wonder what to do – I’ve assumed I’d spend the afternoon planning training sessions with Soraya. Instead I start transcribing my Dad’s expedition diary from his Tibet trip.
(In April and May 1945 my dad was stationed in north east India. He had some leave due, but was not able to spend it back in England because the war against Japan was still in full swing. So he and three friends organised an expedition on foot across the Himalaya Mountains to Tibet. He didn’t have a camera, but kept a detailed diary which has miraculously survived and which I have found among his papers after his funeral. I’m going to transcribe it and put it on line. I just think it’s amazing that he was able to do this trip. He had a childhood in extreme poverty and was not able to do any travelling until he joined the army. He left school at 12 with minimal education. Yet the diary is detailed; the writing is lively, vivid and well informed, and even now, more than 60 years on, it comes across as an audacious project. I’m absolutely in awe of his achievement. I haven’t seen or read any of this material for more than fifty years but I can remember my mother reading it to my sister and I, day by day, as we curled up in bed with her on winter mornings. We must have been about seven or eight years old at the time. I wonder if it was hearing these exploits that’s given me my sense of adventure and the urge to go to distant places.)
Tom rings to say he thinks he’s got a dose of giardia, so I dig out my remaining course of tablets for him. We cobble together an evening meal of rice with a sauce made of sardines, peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic. It’s filling and very welcome – I’ve only had a slab of pizza from Ndoli’s supermarket since breakfast time! We’re already starting to make serious inroads in the stash of chocolate I brought back from England…
One extra thing I’ve been able to do today is sort out some more music on my ipod. Most of the Congolese music I got from Cathie has needed a bit more organising to make it easier to find on my ipod, and the result is really excellent. I just love this music; I’ve been plugged in to it on both journeys to and from Kigali. But through the good headphones in the quiet of late evening it sounds just tops!
Last thing I do is make a list of all the stuff that needs doing in the next couple of days. If I don’t do this I know that I’ll just drift for a week and waste time. Here’s my list:
See Claude and find out what he wants me to do
Write up my summary report after all my school inspection visits
Go to a tailors and get my new shirt made up – wider and slightly looser than the last one and preferably with some decoration on it
Go to the bank and get financially comfortable again
Do a big shop up because we’re running out of just about everything
Touch base with Michael from Shyogwe over our shared schools
Plan my resource-making training and arrange to collect my stuff which at the moment is still with Mans in Gasarenda
Take some more photos – I seem to have stopped doing any photography at the moment
Go back out to Shyogwe and see what is happening to the buildings since I was last there
Talk work with Soraya and see how much she needs me to help with her English language trainings
So not much to do, then!
Best thing about today – catching up on things, getting a feeling for priorities
Worst thing about today – despite all the above, it doesn’t feel “right” if I haven’t been out and about and visited a school or done something concrete like that!
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 08:42
I’m back! A welcoming party to meet me at the airport – Kersti, Nick and Irene. Supper at Sole Luna – pizza and cold beer after a long flight. Marion and Cathryn are also there with us, and on a nearby table about half of the September arrival VSOs. Oh dear, that means Paula’s party must have been rather thin on the ground! What a drag – the social whirl here in Rwanda is such that we can’t fit all the events in……..
I start catching up on all the news and gossip. Paula’s definitely taking over Kersti’s old job at Byumba – hooray, that’s a good volunteer and a good placement. Marion’s missing cat has been found, but unfortunately it had been run over and killed. Hayley’s got a puppy at Gitarama. Various thrills and spills with people and their relationships…. Enough to keep us chatting till well after even o’clock.
Two key political developments are the main issues of conversation. The rebels fighting in Congo have come very close indeed to the Rwandan border. They are active in the Congolese section of the volcanoes national park, so much so that the Congolese park rangers have had to be withdrawn. While many gorillas have moved across to the safety of the Rwandan side, there are reports of gorilla meat being on sale in Goma and the surrounding area. The Rwandan army is out in force along the border, and a hot war could break out very close to Gisenyi. On the other hand, it’s tempting to see what general Nkunda’s doing as fighting a proxy war on Rwanda’s behalf in the Congo, and it would be in neither his nor Rwanda’s best interests for them to come into direct conflict. We’re all safe here in Kigali and Gitarama, but it’s a tense situation and needs careful watching. There’s absolutely no chance of any of us getting permission to cross the border to visit Goma at any time in the foreseeable future.
The second thing in the news is the Rwandan Government’s decree that from 2010 English will replace French as the main medium of instruction in schools, and be the main language of local government and administration. We all know the problem here – there is an acute shortage of English teachers, and English language skills are woefully inadequate across all parts of the country. With 50 VSOs in place, all of whom are either Anglophone or fluent in English, we are in a prime position to be commandeered to spearhead the drive to English. On one hand this could give us enormous influence in the country; on the other hand it could mean we are exploited to the limit during our time here. We’re going to need some good advice and careful planning to cope with the situation. Apparently Claude’s been trying to email me; I can guess that it’s about changing my job description to that of being an English teacher-trainer!
But these are tomorrow’s problems. Right now it’s ten o’clock in the morning and a lazy start to Sunday; Kersti and I take the dog out for a walk and we have brunch using some English cheddar cheese that I’ve brought out for her. Toasted cheddar sandwiches, then Rwandan peanut butter and jam…. Yes, folks, the circus is definitely back in town!
The weather is stifling hot and alternating cloudy with thunder showers, and burning sun in between. I lug my stuff up to the bus stop (thank God I only have 20k in my suitcase), and we wedge it into a taxi bus into the town centre. The first bus doesn’t want to know, so we have to ask specially when the next one arrives. He charges me RwF300 – that’s a fare and a half, which seems reasonable. There’s plenty of room on the big bus to Gitarama but they try to charge me RwF1000 for my case. That’s more than my own fare and I know they’re having me on. I refuse to pay anything at all and eventually he backs down. (I later discover that it is quite normal to charge up to 200 for suitcases; I assume this guy was a bit mortified when I called his bluff over 1000 and didn’t dare ask for the regular amount. Serve him right!). Inside the bus it’s unbearably hot while we wait to leave. Sweat’s pouring off me and I’m just sitting still. My poor suitcase – it’s got chocolate and cheese inside it, and I wonder if they’ll be reduced to a gooey mess by the time we reach home.
I have to say, it really does feel like going home when I reach Gitarama. It’s a long plod up the hill to the flat, but once there I can unload and collapse on the bed for a couple of hours.
Showered, changed, shaved – I’m ready to go and meet the gang for Sunday evening meal. There’s loads of us – me and Tom, Karen and Christi, Soraya and Hayley and Tinks (Tina) who is staying with them because her accommodation at Gisagara still hasn’t materialised. There’s Ulrike, and Michael and Cerys from Shyogwe. The only regulars missing are the two Italian teenagers. Lots more gossip over omelettes and mélange. Claude, like most of the District Officers, has pounced on the VSOs in the light of the recent pronouncements from Kigali, and it looks as though I might be commandeered to do solid English training for the rest of my time here as VSO. They might even commandeer us for the Easter holidays and devote another itorero to English language training. And Claude also wants us to run an after-hours English club at the District Office. Plenty to think about here!
The rice sacks have arrived; Mans and Ken got VSO Kigali onto the job apparently. Soraya says she had to lug 700 sacks into the District Office. It’ll be a nuisance if we find we’re too busy with English training to be able to use them properly!
Best thing about today – it’s good to be back. I’ve enjoyed being home in England – all the comforts, the family, the food, catching up with people. But I’ve missed a lot of Africa too. The noise and bustle, the colours, the vibrancy, the “buzz”. I’m looking forward to getting back to work here. And in six weeks I’ll be trotting off home to Dorset again for Christmas. Life is good!
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 11:54
Up and off to Kigali today. First port of call is the travel agent to pay for my flights home at Christmas. Hooray! – the amount in Euros is within my cash stash so I’m able to walk out with my ticket in my sweaty palm, and enough Euros left to be able to change some for ready cash to buy more souvenirs, and still have an emergency reserve in the flat.
While I’m waiting for them to process my ticket I drift over to Blues Café and meet Ruth, one of the new people who were at Giudhi’s party last weekend. I thought Ruth was Rwandan, but she turns out to be from Sierra Leone. She’s a fascinating person, doing a high powered consultancy job here in Kigali. She’s a classic example of the new breed of highly educated, work driven, dynamic Africans that this place so needs. What really surprises me is that she says she gets constantly stared at by Rwandans who perceive that she’s “different”. Now that’s amazing. I can understand how I stick out like a sore thumb here, but to all of us Europeans Ruth is just as black and just as African as any of the Rwandans or Congolese here. I can’t for the life of me work out how they can tell at sight that she’s not “one of them”. And she finds all the attention just as distracting and wearing as we do.
Up to the VSO office next, and I collect my plane ticket for tomorrow. Suddenly I’ve got the best part of £2000 worth of tickets on me and I’m terrified they’re going to fall out of my rucksack! I’ve some stuff to hand in to Mike from Soraya, and then I go upstairs to send my blogs.
Now while I was on the bus coming in to Kigali I had a text message from Soraya, and as I fished my phone out of my trousers I heard something fall to the floor. I thought it was my comb, but my comb was still there so I thought I must have been imagining things.
It turns out that what fell to the floor, and is now lost for ever, is my flash drive with all sorts of data on it. So no blogging for me today! Serves me right; must remember in future always to have flash drive either in breast pocket or in my rucksack.
Fortunately there is nothing on the flash drive which isn’t backed up on my laptop, so I haven’t lost any data, and also nothing which is sensitive or can be used to trace who I am or where I live. But it’s annoying.
As chance would have it, one of Tom’s work colleagues is selling 16gig flash drives for RwF20,000 which is seriously cheap for that amount of memory. So I quickly text Tom to ask him to get me one!
Soraya’s feeling stressed to the limit with her training courses about to start, and has asked me to buy her some comfort food, so that’s what I do – Pringles and crisps! There’s no point in hanging round the VSO office now that I’ve got my tickets, and as it happens the internet connection is down so even if I had my flash I still wouldn’t be able to send any messages. Frustrating or what!
Back into town, changing money underneath the mosque (God and Mammon obviously have an understanding here in Kigali), and a bus back home.
In Gitarama I stop off at the craft centre and buy yet more goodies to bring home – the lovely Rwandan nested baskets with conical tops which are absolutely typical of this country’s cultural tradition. I also get a big circular banana-leaf notice board as a birthday present for Tom. It might encourage him to decorate his room! As I walk home with this huge banana creation tucked under my arm, and thunder getting ominously close all around me, I bump into Janine. She’s bought Tom a picture for his birthday. And why? – because she, too is fed up with his room looking like a temporary hostel and she wants to encourage him to decorate it. So sorry, Tom; no pressure, really………
In the evening it’s Tom’s birthday “do” up at Landos. Christi has made the usual chocolate birthday cake for him. Now Landos is this new restaurant-cum-bar-cum nightclub which charges Kigali prices but certainly adds a touch of glam to Gitarama. Tonight there’s a comedian and a live band. We know about the comedian because apparently he came down from Kigali on the same bus as Tom this afternoon.
Soraya has a huge houseful. The new VSOs were planning to go to Kibuye this weekend, like my group did after a couple of weeks. But they’ve decided at the last minute that it’s not worth going for just one night so they’re going to stay with Hayley at Soraya’s She’s got at least eight visitors! We offer cushions and floor space, but they’re not needed as things turn out. (But when I leave for home tomorrow I’m making up my bed with clean sheets so tat one of two of them can use my room in the flat and have a comfortable night’s sleep)!
The band turns out to be a Congolese style soukous band, and they’re very good, too. We’re sitting out under the stars until we realise we’re all shivering with cold, and adjourn inside the bar where the music is loud (as opposed to ear shattering), and we can talk and listen to it at the same time. Lots of Rwandan men are dancing, either on their own or in pairs (no cultural undertones with that at all), but very few women. Two men are pushing and shoving each other; we can’t decide whether they’re jostling for floor space to show off to the women or whether there’s a real fight developing. The band’s lead singer moves in to separate them and they end up strutting their stuff competitively at opposite ends of the dance floor.
Its gone midnight when we all decide to drift home. Bish is with us (Tom’s new Kenyan FHI intern), and he offers to walk Janine to her house which saves Tom and I a job. So we walk all the girls and new lads home through the town centre, across the market (very sinister at night with skeletal stalls and thousands of dark corners where muggers could be hiding), and up to the transmitter which guards her house. Even at this time of night the street children are huddled in miserably cold groups around the market. Lorries deliver all through the night, and these boys are always trying to scrounge money, food, drink or drugs from the drivers as they unload.
Best thing about today – getting my tickets home. My enormous pile of Rwandan crafts which I have to somehow pack into my case so that they don’t break or rattle or cause mayhem at airport security.
Worst thing – losing my big flash drive. But never mind, the replacement one is eight times as powerful.
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 10:39
Up early because today’s suddenly become busy. By half past seven I’ve got Amy and Hayley in the lounge; Hayley’s brought Amy round so we can talk about school visits. I give Amy some advice and a lot of computer documents to try and help her hit the ground running down in Kigeme. She won’t be doing school inspections like me, but she’ll certainly be visiting lots of schools. Like Michael at Shyogwe, she’s working for the Anglican diocese and the problem is that most of the information about schools is held in District Offices and not by the diocesan authorities. We talk about how to get round the problem – in her case by working closely with Mans.
Then I waltz down to the internet café – I’ve got blogs and pictures to post and a whole handful of emails to send concerning re-arrangements because of my going home for a fortnight. The emails go off fine; the blog texts too, but the connection’s painfully slow and I can’t send any of the pictures. No matter, they can wait till tomorrow when I go to VSO office in Kigali.
I stride off up to the post office and there is mail for us, including the first ever letter for the little internet business Tom has created to sell his artefacts online. I collect my crash helmet from the District Office – I don’t mind leaving it in the cupboard overnight, but if it’s seen to be lurking there for a fortnight I’m sure that somebody will decide it’s up for grabs and that they are poorer than me and more in need of it (to sell) than me. Everywhere I go with the helmet I get moto drivers pulling up beside me. Word seems to have got round that the big muzungu’s been doing a lot of travelling lately, and they all want to milk this cash cow while it’s around. Sorry chaps, I’m definitely on foot today.
Then I’m off to Butare on a desperately slow matata to the museum; I buy nearly 250 hand made cards from the craft shop there. Nobody seems to mind me buying in such bulk; to me it’s a win-win-win situation. They get my money and my patronage for the card makers (troubled young people who they are trying to get back into constructive society); I get some hand made, beautiful cards, most of which we’ll sell on back in England; and one or another lucky school will get the British profits from the card sales ploughed back into water tanks.
I also buy basketry souvenirs and the biggest diameter drum that will fit in my suitcase. Little Dylan’s going to get a drum for Christmas this year; his mother will either bless me or curse me; I’m not sure which!
By now it’s well into the afternoon and I’m pecking. I’ve done all my business for the day so I can relax. I stroll into Butare town centre and have lunch at the Lebanese supermarket. They do a really excellent tuna salad for only RwF1000 (£1). After that I get the comfy bus back to Gitarama. By the time I’m back, Mans has already invited Amy to meet him to discuss school data for her schools, and Mans has invited Els to replace me at the work planning meeting on 13th – both things I’ve suggested in texts or emails earlier in the day. Man, that feels really satisfying to think things are running like well oiled wheels.
The water in our flat, which has been on-off for two days now (despite the rainy season) decides to go more or less off again; just as Amy asks if she can come round and have a hot shower. The answer, of course, is yes, but the water might only be a trickle. While she’s showering I’m trying to make lists of what I need to take home. Almost no clothes, because I’ve got tons at home. Loads of souvenirs, and my laptop definitely.
The rainy season is worrying yet again. It should be in full swing now, with thunderstorms every afternoon and really heavy downpours to replenish the water table. What we’re getting is the occasional light shower and a few flashes of lightning, but nothing like the heavy rainstorms we had in the spring. If we don’t get a lot more rain than this there’s going to be trouble for the farmers – and that means about 85% of the population here!
Then within five minutes I’ve got Soraya coming round to collect drinking water (their tap’s gone completely dry), and also some teaching materials for her training days next week, and Tom arriving tired out from work. Soraya and Amy stagger back to their house laden down with stuff. They’ve left Hayley cooking dinner for them.
Soraya’s made a real hit with the secteur reps, and Agnès from Cyeza is so pleased with Soraya’s training proposal that within 24 hours she’s contacted all Cyeza schools and told them there’s training this coming Monday and to be there or else. Now, of course, Soraya’s biting her nails to the quick and hoping she’ll be able to carry off the training. I feel rotten that I won’t be there to support her, especially on her first try. Oh well, Soraya’s just as experienced a volunteer now as I am.
Best thing about today – getting down to Butare and buying up loads of things to bring home. At least I feel as if I’ve achieved something today!
Posted by Bruce's Rwanda blog at 10:38