Tuesday, 28 October 2008


October 25th

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.

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