Saturday, 8 November 2008

Village life, big winds, and crinkle cut chips!

November 4th and 5th

The pattern for both of these days is the same. Up at just before 6 and off to mass with Jean-Damascène at 6.30. On both days he has around 50+ in the church; slightly different people each time. The singing is different each day, but always loud and a bit raucous.

On Tuesday we finish at lunchtime, so we have the afternoon free. We decide to go for a good walk; the long evenings and early nights mean we can’t do anything after dark so we have to make the most of the daylight.

In the early afternoon, on both days, there is a tremendous wind which comes down off the Ndiza mountains. It really is impressive. The eucalyptus trees outside the presbytery are bent over at a crazy angle; dust is flying through the air; leaves and twigs twirling around the ground. In the distance, because up here we can see for dozens of miles, there are at least two or three separate thunderstorms crashing and rumbling around the hills. None seem to be coming our way; we get a few spots of rain but nothing more.

We decide to walk to Gitumba along the road on which we arrived. By now the mud has more or less gone and it’s easy walking. Simeon, the school caretaker, comes with us; he can’t believe that muzungus can go for walks for pleasure. Jean-Damascène has another friend round; this time the priest is teaching him how to ride a moto. Half way between the two villages we come across the guy; he looks very confident for someone who is only a beginner. Perhaps I, too, will find moto riding easy after all!

We pass loads of people; the children all want to come up and shake our hands; the older people invariably greet us. It’s just the teenage girls and young women who eye us a bit warily.

We pass lots of felled trees, and a makeshift sawing frame where two very muscular woodcutters are sawing a massive eucalyptus into planks for building. They mark out each individual plank first using either charcoal or a thick pencil. The tree trunk is balanced on other pieces of timber on the steeply sloping mountainside. (I wish now that I’d taken a photo). Instead of sawing the planks one at a time, it is more manageable to cut every plank for a couple of feet along, then shift the tree trunk across the timber supports and continue for another three feet or so with each plank. It’s backbreaking work, and whoever is sawing underneath gets all the sawdust over them.

Eventually we come across Jean-Damascène. He shows us one of the two rivers running each side of Nyabinoni; he has big ideas to put a micro-hydro scheme in place and provide electricity for the entire village. I think the stream he shows us is far too feeble for that, but judging by the sound of rushing water, the stream on the Bubaji side of Nyabinoni would be a good proposition. Oh well, once his new church is completed I don’t doubt that powering Nyabinoni will be his next big project!

At one point in our walk there are a flock of tiny, wren-like birds flitting from bush to bush not more than six feet in front of us. And a water bird is calling deep down in the ravines from one of the streams there. The road is lined with eucalyptus trees all the way to Gitumba. It winds and twists round spur and round gulley and takes at least twice the straight line distance. Communications up here really are an issue. There can be no meaningful outside investment, no job creation, no significant improvement in living standards until the roads are paved or at least made into sensible all-weather propositions. Everybody knows this; the problem is that Rwanda is too poor and there are so many roads. And, of course, the hilly terrain makes road building expensive and complicated.

At Gitumba we stop when we reach the secondary school; we go into its grounds because the visibility is pin sharp in the evening light and we suspect we’ll get a good view across to the volcanoes. We’re not disappointed – all thee main volcanoes stand out sharply. But it’s already too dark to get a worthwhile photo.

While we’re looking at the view the school stockman comes out to greet us, and his retinue of wife, daughter and various relatives. Fortunately he speaks good French so I introduce us and say why we’re here. He tells me there is a teachers’ meeting in progress inside and do we want to meet the head. We gently decline, and set off back home.

Long before we get back to Nyabinoni it has gone completely dark; once more we are tramping along dark roads in the night. There are still plenty of people to meet and greet along the way, and we are caught up by the school bursar from Gitumba who lives in Nyabinoni and wants to know what we were doing in “his” school. He speaks English, and soon we’re chatting away so the miles soon fall away.

At Nyabinoni it’s seven o’clock; the bars are already doing brisk business. There has been some sort of public meeting during the late afternoon; the village square has been jammed with people and these are now dispersing back home.

Having walked to and from Gitumba, both Soraya and I now have a healthy respect for the distances these teachers walk to get to and from our training sessions. Those from Shaki have twice the distance to go, and those from Ngaru and Kibingo have around twenty kilometres. No wonder they often arrive late and in a much sweat. I’m never going to criticise rural teachers for arriving late again!

On Wednesday afternoon we again go for a walk, this time straight up the mountainside on the road which leads towards the ridge route. We don’t make it all the way to the top; we get about two thirds of the way there. It’s enough to give us super views of the whole length of the river valley.

Part way up the mountainside we meet Simeon, who’s chatting up a couple of girls by the entrance to their hut. But hanging around with the muzungus is much more interesting (he can talk to the girls any day), so he tails us up the hill and back down again.

On Wednesday we once more have the strong winds during the early afternoon. It must be something to do with convection currents of hot air rising up from the river valley, and cold air from the mountain tops descending to fill its place. The classroom we’re using has the blue thin metal roof; the roof panels flap and strain mightily. It’s difficult top concentrate against all the noise.

While waiting for tea I meet Françoise. She is the secretary at the Nyabinoni umurengi office – the parish office, and is the equivalent of a mayor at village level. She’s intelligent, no-nonsense and speaks very good English. She tells me she went to college with Yvonne who is now the mayor of all Muhanga District and a real power in the land (and whom I met last Friday). She already knows who we are and why we’re here – there’s a well functioning intelligence system in operation – but she’s very pleasant. She says just about everyone in the village has talked to her about us; they want to know what we’re doing and how long we’ll stay. I would guess that Françoise is one of the very few people here besides the priests who have received any sort of higher education. I wonder what she makes of having to live in this beautiful but remote place.

For evening meal Claudine serves us a banquet. Crinkle cut chips have reached Nyabinoni, so there! And her soup, and tomato sauce for the main course, are unmissable.

After dinner its early to bed because I’ve finished reading my book. Thank heavens I brought my iPod. In the silence of Nyabinoni the music sounds great; I fall asleep still plugged into to Congolese hits. Not even the dished bed boards can stop me sleeping; I think the cumulative effects of lots of fresh air and three days’ training have tired me somewhat!

Best thing about today – just the feeling of being accepted into a Rwandan community. Gitarama is too big; you don’t get to know enough people. Here everybody knows who we are; most people have greeted us, and we feel absolutely secure.

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