Friday, 14 November 2008

Round about Rugendabari

November 10th

Today is one of those busy days with too many interlocking details for my liking, especially in an African setting where delays and alterations are de rigeur.

Firstly I go to the bank and get solvent again. Then it’s up to the District Office to hand back the modem to Claude. He certainly won’t be happy if I forget and take it with me to Kigali. (I, however, will be very happy with a fast modem all to myself for the whole week).

In the middle of the morning Charlotte arrives from VSO office with Mike in tow and also Cameron. Cameron is the VSO Trustree (like a sort of school governor for VSO). He is director of VSO Canada and has come to East Africa for a big meeting in Nairobi. He has arrived a couple of days early for the main conference, and the idea is for him to spend a couple of days getting to know Rwanda, which is a country he’s never visited before. Soraya and I have been chosen as two experienced volunteers at work here to give him a flavour of what we do. Not to mention, of course, that we are conveniently only an hour or so out of Kigali so they can come and see us at work and still be comfortably back home in time for tea!

Cameron is a lovely person. I am expecting an elderly, ex-diplomat or civil servant, but Cameron is much younger than my mental image of him, and very down to earth. Easy to talk to, and with plenty of experience of the type of work that we do.

Firstly we spend some time with Claude so that Cameron can ask him about VSO fro the client’s point of view. We can’t stay long because Claude is off to Nyabikenke school to supervise the teachers there who are marking Tronc Commun exam papers.

Just as with the transport and actual sitting of the exams, all marking is done under armed guard. (Imagine spending hours marking GCSE exams in England and every few minutes seeing someone patrolling with a shotgun outside your window!).

We pile into the VSO car and set off up country to Nsanga primary school in Rugendabari secteur. Soraya is here today doing a training, and it is an ideal place to take this guy. It is deep in the mountains of Muhanga; the air is cool and crisp, the views are clear and stunning, and we stop now and then for photos.

Nsanga is a “semi-dur” primary with a brand new “dur” tronc commun section added, so in one school it summarises a whole lot of the Rwandan school experience. We meet Soraya who is nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof at the thought of four of us coming to see her at work. (And I’ve not helped by teasing her that I’m coming to inspect her as a trainer….) I recognise some of the teachers from the training Cathie and I did here during the Spring, and I make time to introduce my visitors to them. We even do a song with them before we go. Thirty teachers and 5 muzungus all singing “one finger, one thumb, keep moving” with gestures. Fortunately nobody took a photo of that moment.

While Cameron and co are watching Soraya at work and talking to the Rugendabari teachers, I’m in the classroom next door sticking rice sack posters on the walls. Geert has asked me to take pictures of these for a project his church is doing with Shyogwe schools, and I’ve promised to get him photos as soon as I can. (I’ll post some examples for you on the blog).

When I finish, I summon Cameron in to show him the rice sacks, and Charlotte and Mike want to see them too. They are becoming one of the “big ideas” we’re using with Rwandan schools, and everyone agrees they’re just the ticket for the Rwandan environment. Half way through my pictures I find I’ve filled the camera chip again so have to hurriedly delete some older photos. The classroom I’m using is where the teachers will have their dinner; there’s a couple of boxes of sambozas on a table and the smell is so delicious it’s making my mouth water and my tummy runble!

Just before we go I give Soraya some rice sacks she’s asked me for.

Then I show Mike, Charlotte and Cameron round the older part of Nsanga school. The place sits on a shoulder of mountainside high above the Nyaborongo river, and the views are beautiful in all directions. The weather is becoming threatening and I know from past experience that it can go from burning sun to torrential rain here in a few minutes, so we scuttle as fast as we can back to our car, pursued by the usual bunch of children. Rugendabari is a poor secteur and some of these kids are dressed in absolute rags, ripped, faded beyond redemption. They are almost all barefoot.

We only just make it to the car before the heavy rain starts. I take them down to the river so they can see the Nyaborongo at close quarters. After the recent rains it’s flowing extremely fast, and is the colour of milk chocolate. Once gain there are tons of Rwanda’s best topsoil floating down to the Nile.

Back through the deluge to Gitarama where we eat at Tranquillité and Cameron can try the delights of mélange. He’s very tactful about it, and comments that it’s filling. That’s probably the nicest thing you can say about it, as anyone reading this who has sample it can verify!

After lunch we hare back to Kigali and I leave the officials and plod across the hills to Amani guest house to rejoin the motor cycle training gang. As luck would have it, I’ve missed very little and there’s plenty of food waiting for me there. There’s no water at the moment in most of the rooms, but who needs water if you’ve got a packet of wet wipes?

In the evening I go to the local bar with Ruairi (who I’m sharing a room with). We discover that his father comes from the same part of Ireland as Teresa’s ancestors, and we even know tiny villages like Grange. It really is a small world.

Best thing about today – getting all the little pieces of today’s jigsaw completed. Feeling that we’ve done ourselves justice in showing a visitor what our work is like. Sending Soraya a cheeky text message to say that she’s “passed” her “inspection” as a trainer at Nsanga.

Worst thing about today – nothing. I find to my relief that I haven’t really missed anything on the motor bike course today. Most of what they seem to have been doing is theory and the Rwandan highway code. As a car driver I won’t have to take a Rwandan theory test. Mind you, the Rwandan Highway Code is a hoot. It’s almost a direct lift from the French or Belgian version, but translated into Kinyarwanda and then into stilted English. Some of the phrasing in legalese is amazingly obtuse. And why do all Rwandan drivers have to know the signs for level crossing and ungated level crossings when there’s no railway in the entire country and you have to go hundreds of kilometres into Uganda or Tanzania before you find a line that’s in use? On the other hand, we have to know the rules about driving herds of animals along the highway at night, the rules of how to safely load said animals onto ferries to cross the Nyaborongo, and to recognise the sign which means we can’t push loaded wheelbarrows down particular streets in Kigali. Life is never dull here, nor without its funny side!

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