Friday, 7 November 2008

How to spend an entire day on matatas

November 1st

Up early at 5.30 (on a Saturday!) and off early into town. I want to collect my new shirt and perhaps wear it to Han’s party if I like the cut of it.

So by 7.15 I’m waiting outside the dressmaker’s shack. All the other dressmakers around hers are open, but hers stays resolutely shut. OK, nanki bazo, as they say here, I’ll go up to the post office and stretch my legs before a long bus journey and see if we’ve got mail. Then I’ll call back at the dressmakers on my way home and see if she’s had time to get there and open up.

The post office is also firmly shut at 7.30. There are about 5 sacks of mail standing outside it, with a bored looking guard draped over his sleeping bench beside them. So no joy here either.

I go into the District Office – it’s all unlocked but there’s nobody in. I leave notes for Claude and Innocent telling them where we’ll be next week, since we won’t be putting our heads round the doors till Friday at the earliest.

By now it has become clear it’s going to be a baking hot day. The sun is already burning and it’s still early morning. I stroll back to the dressmakers, and it’s still shut. I can’t even see my (finished) shirt hanging on the rails inside. Oh well, I’ll have to wait until Friday now.

So I mooch back home. I’ve effectively wasted an hour when I could have been travelling in the (relatively) cool part of the day. But there you are. Some dressmakers open early, others don’t. This is Africa, and there’s always tomorrow.

I’m walking down to the bus station to get a matata to Gasarenda when one stops for me. There’s a seat in the front, too. Getting this bus turns out to be my second piece of bad luck. There’s only a handful of passengers in it, and the driver’s not leaving Gitarama until he’s got a full load. For half an hour we’re cruising up and down Gitarama trying to drum up a bus full of passengers. I’m getting hot and bothered in the front with the full sun coming through the windscreen, and I’m well ready to jump ship and try to find another bus, when the driver reluctantly accepts he’s not going to get a full load and sets off.

It turns out to be a monumentally slow run down to Butare; we stop just about everywhere. The driver’s got a police ticket earlier in the day for speeding, so he’s being ultra cautious at all the places where traffic police lie in wait, and in any case the clutch seems to be going and we make heavy weather of every single hill.

It takes the best part of three hours to get to Butare and then on up the hills to Gikongoro. At Gikongoro I’m stuck to my seat and desperate to get out and stretch my legs, and get away from the heat coming through the windscreen. The sun is so hot it stings, and we’re now up in the mountains where things are supposed to be cooler! I go into the only decent shop in Gikongoro and have a fanta and a bite to eat, and try to cool off.

I decide to text Tiga to see if she’s around. She is, but she’s cadging a lift to Han’s party on the back of Andy’s moto, so says she’ll see me there. While I’m in the café there’s a load of football supporters gathering round the town centre. Blowing trumpets and banging drums and generally drawing attention to themselves. It’s another first division match, this time between Rayon Sport (Janine’s favourite team who I watched last weekend), and the local Gikongoro one. There’s bags of noise, and with so many people with nothing to do the cross-roads in the town centre fills up within seconds with gawpers. It’s all very good natured, with the trumpeters of each team trying to down each other out, and the shops around me turning up the volume on their sound blasters to try to draw customers through all the other din.

Off, then, to Gasarenda in another bus, sitting again in the front. By now it has clouded up, dramatically so, and there’s a storm coming in from Burundi. Long before we reach Gasarenda it is dark and spitting with rain. About a mile out of Gasarenda there’s a bunch of Europeans walking along the road. It turns out to be a whole gang of the September VSOs who have been staying with Amy at Kigeme and who have decided to go for a nice walk in the sun up to Han’s. But they can see that it’s going to pour, and wisely they flag the bus down. They’re highly amused to see me sitting in it. By the time we’ve jammed them all in the bus is very overloaded. But with such a short distance to go nobody’s bothered.

As we arrive at Han’s there’s an almighty clap of thunder and raindrops the size of marbles start falling. By the time we’ve scrambled the 50 yards up a grassy bank and into Han’s house the rain is pelting down. All conversation stops in Han’s house because you can’t hear yourself talk over the noise of the rain. Somewhere behind us are Andy and Tiga on the moto; we assume they’ve stopped for shelter.

Just about everybody from the south is at the party, and it’s nice to catch up on news with people I haven’t seen for months. Joe is having big problems with terribly cramped accommodation and real issues of isolation at Nyamasheke. Beate is finishing her contract in a couple of weeks and will be coming to stay with Soraya next weekend, so I’ll see her again soon. When Tiga eventually arrives I have a brief chat with her, and she seems quite up-beat about staying on next year. Berthe is coping well at Gatagara but I don’t really have time to talk to her at all; at least she seems to have few problems in accommodation or in job which is very unusual in a brand-new placement. Ruareigh has lost a lot of weight very quickly; he’s still living in a hotel until his district makes his house habitable, and food in the hotel is expensive so he’s minimising his outgoings by cutting down on meals. We’re all concerned for him.

He’s making the most of today, though: Han and Mans have laid on a beautiful meal, which we absolutely fall on. Fresh olives, real juicy salads, and wine………

I’ve only been there are hour or so when Soraya comes up to me and says we need to get going back to Gitarama in order to be ready to get off to Nyabinoni tomorrow. Oh dear. I had assumed we’d be staying in the Kigeme guest house and get the first bus back in the morning. But she’s adamant she wants to come home tonight, and Hayley and Michael are going with her. If I stay overnight there’s a chance I won’t get back to Gitarama in time – all I need is to just miss a bus at Kigeme and face up to an hour’s wait, and miss the connection at Butare, and if I draw the short straw and get another really slow matata up the main road I would be cutting things very fine. So after only a short time at the party I’m leaving already. Ken has brought my big bag of umufuca with him, so it’s not entirely a wasted day. And on the way back the visibility is so clear that’s a pleasure to be going through this lovely countryside. If only it had been as clear as this when Teresa and co were here in August! Range after range of hills stretch away in the distance, becoming blue and grey with increasing distance. The vegetation has greened up nicely, and it is cool and pleasant in the evening light.

We have a quick drink and plate of chips at Nectar. Matteo, the gap year lad from Kivumu, is there, and we catch up on each other’s gossip.

Best thing about today – the scenery from Butare up to Gasarenda is so lovely, especially at this time of year. It is so nice to catch up on news with vols I haven’t seen for a long time.

Worst things – no shirt. No post. Stuck for hours in a bus in the hot sun.

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