Monday, 20 October 2008

Back in Gitarama

October 19th

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in the Congolese section of the volcanoes national park, so much so that the Congolese park rangers have had to be withdrawn.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!

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