Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Eid ul Fitr

September 30th

I sleep badly; partly it’s the news from home, partly I’ve got a cold from the journey out to Muhazi yesterday, partly it’s because I got too much sun trying to hitch home from Muhazi, and partly because I’m dehydrated.

At half past five I get a text asking me if I’m coming to Musange school tomorrow (Wednesday). This is puzzling, and it takes a couple of minutes to sink in. Then I realise what’s going on. They must have declared Eid ul Fitr for today (Tuesday). So we have a public holiday today. It was announced, so I’m told, at around 4 in the morning. All schools, banks and public buildings are closed; most shops stay open; at the market it’s business as usual. By six o’clock there are a lot fewer people out on the streets. Can you imagine, in England, the chaos and protests that would ensure if the August or May Day Bank Holiday dates were kept vague until four o’clock in the morning! But that’s how things work here and you just have to be flexible and adapt to it.

Around ten percent of Rwandans are Moslem; for them Eid is the high point of the year. It’s like our Christmas Day. The privations of Ramadan – fasting during daylight hours – have come to an end, and the day is one of wearing bright new clothes, eating till you burst, visiting friends and relations, and going to the mosque at some point in the day. The whole point about the timing is that Eid isn’t announced until you have seen the first glimpse of the new moon which marks the end of the lunar month of fasting. In a way I think it’s nice that in Rwanda they take their faith so literally that they really do stay up all night and watch the stars to catch the very first look at the moon.

My plans are now thrown totally into confusion. I was intending to inspect a school, today, and then call time and prepare to fly home for dad’s funeral. But I can’t inspect today – all schools are shut (though I notice that in many cases their year six pupils are going in to revise for their concours exams.

So while I’m cooking porridge and buttering bread I’m sending endless texts to undo all the arrangements for the next few days. I have to contact three other schools to say I won’t be visiting them. I have to let Claude, my boss, know what’s happening and formally ask permission to go home for a couple of weeks. I have to let VSO know for the same reason. I have to put off Amy who is due to come up from the south and shadow my school visits on Thursday and Friday. I have to text Christi to say I won’t be able to organise a birthday party for Tom on Friday evening. I have to text Soraya to say I won’t be able to do the English speaking and essay writing day with her on Saturday, and suggest she asks Els to help her instead. Then there’s Shyogwe school to talk to about the building project, and Gikomero school to go to and take pictures for a second Dutch project. And Mike and Charlotte are coming down to talk to the primary school heads about NAHT short term placements next week. So nothing much going on, then, to have to reschedule!

I set off at about half past eight with an electric hob to deliver to a teacher at the Ahazaza school. It’s Cathie’s old hob and she’s promised it to one of their staff. He’s never bothered to ask for it until a few days ago; meanwhile we’ve found it really useful for keeping food warm and we’ve been secretly hoping this man would forget about it. Ahazaza is shut for the day, of course, but the caretaker is there and lets me in. He doesn’t speak anything else but Kinyarwanda so we have a comic couple of minutes while I explain in sign language why I’m trying to deliver a stove to Raina’s office in the school.

I’m short of money, but the bank’s shut. The post office is shut. The District Office is open but virtually nobody’s there; at least I can drop off some papers and get them out of the flat.

Charlotte has told me to come in to Kigali to talk. On the way in to Kigali every little village mosque is humming with activity. The second prayers of the day have just ended and the paths around the mosques are jammed with happy people. For the little children it’s especially exciting. In a country where the majority of people wear tatty, stained, charity shop jumble sale clothes, the Moslems are immaculate in gleaming white and brilliant reds and greens. The women in particular look impossibly graceful and sophisticated. Everyone is smiling, chattering. It’s their day and they are going to make the most of it!

In the VSO office there’s only Charlotte and Mike of the staff, but Soraya’s there preparing for her training sessions, and Marion has a meeting scheduled which is going ahead despite the holiday.

Things fall into place quickly. Soraya tells me that not only has Els immediately agreed to come in my place to help her on Saturday, but that one of the new arrival VSOs, Tina, is coming up from Butare to help too. Now that’s what I call co-operation and covering for each other, and it’s the sort of thing that makes working here so much easier. Tina’s finding herself at a loose end, like we all do when we first arrive, and coming up to Rongi with two experienced Vols will be the best sort of induction possible.

Charlotte tells me they’re organising flights for me to go home on compassionate leave, and we’ll know the details within 48 hours. I’m to drop in later in the week to collect tickets. My phone is overflowing with messages of sympathy and support from absolutely everyone. Word gets round very quickly in the VSO family!

I meet Michael, the new VSO at Shyogwe (Geert’s replacement at long last) who has just arrived and is being collected by Diocesan staff and taken to his cottage this afternoon. We have a good chat about work; I ask him to lay off Muhanga schools for a fortnight until I can talk to him; he’s got other schools in Ruhango and Nyanza districts within his diocese and the Ruhango ones aren’t covered by any other VSO so they’re the best ones to start work in. It’s nice to meet him at last. He’s a retired primary school headteacher; a very different person from Geert. I give him all the Gitarama gang’s phone numbers and make sure he’s invited to the Sunday night meals at Nectar. Soraya’s in the room, too, so there will be at least one face he’ll recognise when he comes this Sunday. I, of course, will be back in England.

I send emails to various people. Sue Crook, whose blog I read before I came out here and who went home earlier in the summer, has just put her wedding photos on line. She’s another volunteer who has married a Rwandan, and it seems so funny to see people who I associate with jeans and teeshirts looking absolutely immaculate in their wedding clothes!

In the afternoon I go to the town centre to see if the travel agent is open so that I can pay for my Christmas flight home, but unfortunately it is one of the half of all businesses which are shut. No matter, I can sort things out when I come through at the end of the week to go home.

Back home after another stuffy, drowsy journey on the bus. What is it with these new buses? – nobody can keep awake in them. It’s not just me. Everybody’s lolling around in their seats, heads drooping onto bags or onto their neighbour’s shoulders.

At Gitarama Tom texts to say he’s eating out with Bish, the latest FHI intern to arrive in Gitarama. We meet up at the Petit Jardin for brochettes and ibirayi – some of the best we’ve had for a very long time. Bish is an interesting person; a Kenyan, and both well read and acutely clever.

I have to admit that I’m glad to be off the school inspection visits treadmill for the time being, but I’m sad I won’t be able to make my target of 40 inspections. By the time I return from England the window of opportunity for inspections will be over until January. Never mind, I’ve done more than most!

Very odd and unsettling sort of day today. Not one to enjoy.

1 comment:

Q++Studio said...

>> I think it’s nice that in Rwanda they take their faith so literally that they really do stay up all night and watch the stars to catch the very first look at the moon <<

Very romantic, but the Muslim months all start just after the New Moon, when the Moon and the Sun both set within minutes of each other. So, 30 minutes after sunset there would be no Moon to look at. Sorry ;-)