Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Our Rwanda Christmas Tree

This has been a wonderful co-operation between Teresa and Holy Trinity Church in Bradpole village. Every year in Bridport we have an exhibition of decorated Christmas trees in the United Church. Local organisations buy a tree and decorate it round a certain theme. The trees are on display to the public for a week; each tree has a collecting tin for the relevant charity. This year the Holy Trinity Church tree - in one of the most prominent positions of all - has been dedicated to my work as a VSO in Rwanda, and to raising money to provide a water tank for one of my schools. The tree is decorated with banana leaf Christmas cards from the apprentice training centre at Butare; with tiny basket's from the women's co-operatives which Tom is supporting in the southern province, and with some of my photos from the past year.

A huge thank you to everyone who has helped in this project, and to those people who are donating large amounts of money towards the provision of clesan water for Muhanga primary schools. And a special thank you to Teresa, without whom none of this would have happened!

Just some of the seventy trees inside the church.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Christmas Holidays

I am home on leave between now and January 7th, so there will not be any more Rwanda postings for a month.

During the last year my blog has been visited by around 6000 people from Africa, Europe, North America, Australia; sa few of these are my family and friends locally, some are fellow volunteers; others are complete strangers.

Thank you to all the people who have written to me with comments or advice. The blog has been fun to maintain and I am so pleased that so many of you have found it interesting.

I know for a fact that it has helped some of you make the plunge and become volunteers yourselves; this alone has more than justified the time and effort taken to write it.

I wish all of you a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas, and hope you will follow me during my second year in Rwanda in 2009.


Latest pictures of Shyogwe school

This is how far the classroom block has come at the end of 2008. Walls are finished; roof timbers in place; the roseaux (reeds) on which the roof tiles will rest are there, but more need adding. No roof tiles, doors, or windows, and floors still to be cemented.
The rear view. The holes will contain ventilation bricks.

View across to surrounding countryside from the new rooms. You can see how close the school is to a mains electricity supply - at some time in the future Shyogwe will be wired into the mains!

Another more distant view, looking Eastwards

After our Autumn rains, grass is starting to grow on the classroom floors.

So near and yet so far. Despite appearances it wouldn't take very long to convert this empty cell into a fully functioning classroom.
Looking from the classrooms towards the Diocesan offices at Shyogwe.

This picture is to remind you of what we're replacing - classrooms too small, too dark, too low to be acceptable in the 21st century

We're deep into the long school holidays; without over two thousand pupils trampling them, the plants in the school garden have a chance to recover.

The admin block, almost finished now.

This room will become Stephanie's office. The bricks will be cemented over to give a durable and smooth floor.

Roof details in the admin block. This roof is finished; compare this picture with the first one in this posting and you will notice how much denser the layer of roseaux is in this finished section.

A final photo of the admin block.

Rwandan basketry designs

The designs on Rwandan traditional basketry are not merely abstract patterns; they tell stories. This one is about two friends meeting. It is by far the commonest design. The two friends meet, exchange greetings and friendship, and then part to go their separate ways
This pattern signifies joie de vivre: the general feeling of success, of well being

This pattern signifies speed, or progress, or prosperity

This is my favourite design In it, two people meet, then go along the road together. The road can be a literal road, or signify their progress through life as partners

Not sure about this design. There is another common one with diamond shapes on it which signify stars in the night sky. (In rural Rwanda, where there are no street lamps and few houses have electricity, the night sky is quite something)

my end of year report

December 3rd

I’m pretty sure that there will be no training at Kiyumba today, and I’ve made a list of jobs to do to occupy my day. It’ll mean a tidier end to the term.

As I’m leaving the flat to go to the Office I meet Hayley. She’s also on her way to the Office to get her green residency card issued. Her mother is coming out in January and the two of them want to see the gorillas, so Hayley needs her green card to get in at the cheaper rate. At the District Office I introduce her to Raymond, the fonctionnaire in charge of residency. She needs a couple of photocopies of pages from her passport. But there’s no power in the main office at the moment….. I scoot round to my building and find that by some miracle the power is still on in our block, and I just happen to know that upstairs there’s a store room used by the land survey department which contains a small photocopier. Some pleading in my best French and hey presto, in a couple of minutes Hayley has all the documents she needs and exits all smiles. She’ll come back to collect her finished green card on Monday. That’s a lovely example of how you have to think laterally to get things done here!

I sit in the Office and write an end of term report for Claude. It’s a summary of which schools I’ve inspected, which trainings I’ve done, and my provisional plans for next year. I want to see Claude to wish him a Happy Christmas, but he has also gone on Christmas leave. So it’ll be a case of a New Year card in January!

Emmanuelle is in the office, and I tell her I have a wrap of hers which was accidentally put in my bag at her sister’s wedding. She insists I call in at her place on Friday morning to say goodbye before I leave. I could do without the extra complication, but I like Emmanuelle and she’s been a good friend to me so I must make sure I do it. Provided I get there – and leave – early enough, it won’t interrupt my other arrangements, but it means I’d be better going to Kigali on Thursday to sort out business with the VSO office and to perhaps see Kersti before I leave.

Once again there’s no post for any of us at the Post Office. At the bank I change yet another cheque; I seem to be getting through cash like water at the moment but it’s a combination of buying new gas cylinder, more electricity credit, paying Janine’s wages, and buying lots of souvenirs for Christmas presents.

Then to the internet café where I manage to download and print my coach ticket from Heathrow to Dorchester. It really seems amazingly cheap - £15.75 return. Let’s just hope the plane is on time and I’m not delayed at Heathrow!

Tinks has texted to say she’s on her way to Kigali; she’s going to confirm her flight and mine which saves me a phone call to Ethiopian Airways.

It’s turning into a good day already. I decide to have a final mélange lunch at Tranquillité, and then walk back through the town to COPARWA (the craft shop) to buy some baskets. Unfortunately the place is closed and there’s nobody in the office building to ask to open up for me. Oh well, you can’t win them all and there’s always tomorrow. I take a moto out to Shyogwe, because another job I need to do is take a final batch of photos of the building project to send to Holland. The school is deserted – it feels quite eerie without its 2000 children!

The admin block is still not finished, but the roof is on and all that’s needing doing is cementing the bricks which will make up the floor, and installing doors and windows. It’s a nice little building and I’m glad it’s almost finished.

The classroom block is less complete; all the roof timbers are in place and most of the “roseaux” (stalks of elephant grass – like thin bamboo poles) which the roof tiles will eventually rest on. The recent rains have caused a flush of grass to start growing on the earth floors inside the classrooms; it looks quite peculiar. Oh if only there had been enough money to get this job finished in one go – what a difference it would have made.

Geert seems to be definitely coming back next summer; I think the formal opening and commissioning of the building ought to be left till his arrival and then I can withdraw gracefully from the scene and it can be a proper Dutch occasion with Geert and the Bishop doing the honours. We’ll see.

On a whim I stop by at Michael’s cottage in Shyogwe, and find him in. We natter over a cup of tea (he’s almost fully packed ready to go home tomorrow) and I decide it would be fun for me to walk home rather than take a cycle taxi. It’ll mean I’ve walked about ten miles all in all today. We go together through the trees up to Kinini (the “village centre” part of Shyogwe), and there part company. I walk up the hill and through Mbare School, then descend through the fields and brick pits, past an orphanage surrounded by beautiful pine trees, and across a little valley with delightful stream winding its way through the middle. Its very hot now and I’m cursing myself for not bringing a bottle of water with me, but it really is a lovely walk and a beautiful way to end the year here. When I first arrived in Rwanda I was scared stiff by all the strangeness and newness of everything; by the stares and constant attention; by worries about safety and illness. Now here I am, a year later, out for an afternoon stroll without a care in the world. What a difference a year makes!

Back home we prepare the evening meal; Christi is dining with us because we have masses of food to finish up. I’m off on Friday, and Tom’s off to Butare for a couple of nights. I won’t see him after tomorrow morning until 2009! The meal is a great success – a second batch of Chilli, and the rest of our big fruit salad. Christi and I are both in demob mode at the moment. She listens to some of my Congolese music and decides she likes it, so I burn her a CD to take home with her.

Best things about today – pretty well the lot except no post. It’s a lovely way to end the year. Monday’s super training day at Nsanga, and today’s walk through the Shyogwe countryside mean I’m leaving this country on a high!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

waiting at the roadside for a moto to be repaired

OK, I was bored to tears. This shows the amount of engineering needed to make the Ngororero road, and you can also see how the rock is so rotten and weathered that its constantly slumping down into the roadway. You take corners at speed at your peril!
Two views out from the roadside into the countryside of Muhanga secteur. Lovely!

What mycamera won't pick up properly is the sheer depth of hills receding in row upon row into the background. This is about as typical a "Rwandan landscape" as you'll get

The changing face of Gitarama

Gitarama is in the middle of a building boom. This is the building opposite our flat, taken on January 27th
And here it is, finished and open for business, on a beautiful fine morning (December 1st)

Kabacuzi blues, or the best laid plans.....

December 2nd

Now today should be an easy day – I know where I’m going; I have transport booked; I don’t need to go to the bank or buy more marker pens etc. It should be a doddle, a nice relaxing end to my first year in Africa.

But that’s not how it turns out, needless to say.

And things start to unravel right from the start. The only thing that goes without a hitch is my early morning walk up through the town. On the way I bump into Évode, the chargé d’éducation for Kamonyi District. He’s on his way to a meeting at Kabgayi and has spotted me on the street. He’s wearing a moto driver’s helmet, and is on his bike, and at first I think it’s my driver for today. He wants to get in touch with Christine, who was the NAHT volunteer who worked there last spring, and wants to know if I have her email address. I don’t, but I say I can find it and tell him to ring me in a coupe, of days. That gives me time to text Charlotte at the VSO office in Kigali and discover whether Christine has given permission for her email to be released.

At the office I get Innocent to try ringing Kiyumba secteur to confirm whether they’re expecting me tomorrow. If they are, then I’ll happily go. If they’re not, well, then I’ve got an extra day to do tidying up and write a short report for Claude. But as usual, even at 6.55 in the morning, Innocent can’t get through to Kiyumba because the system’s down. I despair of MTN in the mornings. It’s just hopeless.

So I shoot off towards Kabacuzi on the moto to do today’s training. I’ve left things with Innocent that he’ll try phoning Kiyumba again during the day and either write me a note or send me a text accordingly.

We go at breakneck speed; I can feel the rear wheel slipping away from me on some of the bends, and we have a near miss with a lorry on one particularly sharp bend. Never mind, the driver seems competent and if I have to die before my time then on a fresh December morning on this particular stretch of road is no bad way to do it! We’re right at the top of the mountain section, between Mata and Gisiza, and at least a couple of miles from anything remotely resembling a village, when the rear tyre blows. We have a puncture. We are supremely lucky – if it had been the front tyre we’d probably both have gone head over heels over the handlebars and into the rock face or smack onto the road. As it is, we fishtail to a sudden halt.

What’s to do? We’re nearly 7000 feet up in the middle of nowhere. Motor bikes don’t carry spare tyres. And just to add to the situation we’re in a pocket on the mountainside where there’s no phone reception at all. We’d have to walk up the mountain for a while before we got a signal. And, of course, even then – would MTN be up and running? The moto driver and I look at each other and both are thinking “this isn’t what’s supposed to happen today”.

As if on cue a pedestrian emerges from the bushes at the side of the road and has a conversation with my moto driver. This guy says he is a mechanic and that he can repair the puncture at his workshop a mile or so down to road. There’s nothing I can do to improve my situation – I can’t hitch a lift on any other vehicle or take a matata because Kabacuzi is so out in the wilds that no other vehicle goes there. (Kabacuzi isn’t the furthest out of my secteurs, but I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s about the most difficult to get to. I doubt whether even the main dirt road into the secteur sees more than half a dozen vehicles a day).

So I wait at the side of the road. And I wait, and I wait, for over an hour. I text Cyrille at Kabacuzi to explain why I’m going to be late. This is not good – late for trainings two days in a row, but I can truthfully say that neither is my fault. Countless matatas and other vehicles go past, all hooting at me to see if I want to be picked up. I don’t. Several pedestrians pass by, thunderstruck at a muzungu apparently just sitting biding his time by the roadside. They stare and stare, not just at me but at what’s around me in case there’s something important here that they’ve missed or never seen before. And especially to check whether there’s anything here that looks as if it might be remotely valuable and can be converted into cash.

Unfortunately they’re disappointed. There are plenty of rocks, and very interesting ones too. What with rocks left over from the road works and the local bedrock there’s just about every kind of igneous and metamorphic rock you can imagine, all within a hundred yards of where I’m waiting. I know this because I’m pacing up and down, picking them up and wishing I had a car boot to put them in, while listening out for the sound of a motorbike engine in the distance, and trying to tell my gabbro from my trachyte and my mica schist from my mica pegmatite.

One young man stops by and we talk for a good quarter of an hour. He’s finished school, specialising in biochemistry, but can’t afford to go to university. Without a degree there absolutely no chance of his getting a job in science. (Rwanda is already producing more science university graduates than it can find work for). We exchange emails, as you do here, and I’m quite surprised that he doesn’t ask me for money. He’s just walking around, hoping to find paid employment somewhere in the country. He’s an orphan, and knows that the chances of finding paid employment in the rural parts are next to zero, so he’s making his way on foot to one of the bigger towns in Rwanda – Gitarama or Butare – to try his luck there.

Eventually my moto returns (I’ve made sure I’ve kept one of the crash helmets to ensure the driver does return) and off we go. Soon we’re off the tarmac road and bumping along dirt tracks. The track to Kabacuzi is desperately gruelling. It winds through the hills for two or three kilometres, then plunges down in a series of hairpin bends across jagged ridges of rock. I’ve got a full rucksack hanging off my shoulders, and I can feel my back being twisted and strained by the forces as we lurch from one bump to the next. I bet I’ve got a bad back by the time I get the plane on Friday. At the bottom of the mountain we ford a little river, and its up and down and round and round, through little glades of trees, leafy and cool and very European looking; through banana and elephant grass plantations; through little clusters of houses with people looking suspiciously at us. Motos are very rare here, and as for a moto carrying a muzungu…… The little children shout ahead up and down the road to call their mates to come and see. Little faces appear as if by magic from every bush and corner. One thing Kabacuzi is good at producing is children, even if it has real trouble feeding them all.

The moto driver has no idea where he’s taking me, and I’ve only been along here once before; I know instinctively when we’re on the right road because every now and then I’ll remember a particular landmark from last June, but I don’t know it well enough to give my driver instructions. We have to keep stopping and asking people. And all the time we’re getting later and later arriving. In my text to Cyrille I’ve emphasized that I am coming, and to wait for me, but we keep passing people on the roadside carrying neat yellow document cases and I feel as if they’re my clients giving up on me and going home. (They’re not; I have no idea what’s in the folders but there is obviously some sort of meeting, whether to do with church or health or local politics, also happening in Kabacuzi today).

When we reach the school the teachers are all hanging around morosely, waiting for something to happen. I am really not sure whether Cyrille has phoned any of them to explain my lateness. I get, well, not exactly a hostile response, but not a desperately warm one either. I get the distinct impression that these people are here because they’ve been told to be; that they’re here because they will lose money if they don’t turn up; that they’ve decided they just want to hope I never arrive and they can claim their per diems for doing nothing else but gossiping all day.

Tough titty, folks, Bruce’s here and he’s trying to make up for lost time.

The educational games – towers of Hanoi, tangrams, snakes and ladders go well, but I have a real problem when it comes to the rice sacks. Kabacuzi is a desperately poor school. There is not a pane of glass in any window. The wind whistles through the holes in the wall. There is absolutely no equipment of any sort to use – big rulers, etc. The only seats are silly little benches which are really for kneeling in prayer- this building served as the church before the present church was built. For making good, accurate, presentable wall chart copies from my originals, it’s a lost cause. But it’s not just that. These teachers are terminally slapdash and have no idea of how to present work, or any pride in their presentation. Even in those wallcharts which are easier to draw freehand than to trace, the labelling is scruffy, with mis-spelling everywhere.

I decide these guys are just going through the motions and I find it really depressing. Yesterday, at Nsanga, the atmosphere was so positive and co-operative; we could have done anything with the Nsanga teachers and it would have been a success. Here it’s just not worth even trying. For example, I try to explain that on the number grid they ought to do all even numbers in one colour, all odd numbers in a second, and square numbers in a third. I emphasize that most carefully. But when I look at what they’re doing, I see that they’re only using one colour, and even when I point this out to them they just shrug their shoulders and continue. Most of what they’re producing is rubbish; I’d be ashamed to have it on any classroom wall of mine and I’d criticise them bitterly if I came to inspect and found materials as poor as this in their classrooms. But then, I will be coming to inspect them in the spring, and I will find these rubbish things on their walls. I can make allowances for highly inaccurate maps because they weren’t able to trace, but, for goodness sake, how cavalier do you have to be to make such a poor fist of copying simple diagrams? What angers me most of all is that the whole day is turning into a waste of money – my travel costs, the rice sacks and marker pens (they can barely be bothered to put the lids back on them). Then one woman demands that she wants a lot more sacks. Not on your Nellie, my friend, you’ve ruined enough already. I tell them I have to keep the remainder for the secteurs I haven’t been to yet. And I also tell them that if they are able to get to Gitarama they can come into the Office and make good copies of any of the posters I keep there. But I rather doubt if they ever will.

To add insult to injury, Cyrille hasn’t organised any food for any of us; nor has he come to sort out payments for transport or per diems. They look at me expectantly, but I’m not getting into that game. “I’ve given you my time; I’ve given you the rice sacks and marker pens and other materials. That’s my contribution. All other expenses come from your secteurs, and don’t forget that 15% of your school budgets are for training. Take it up with Cyrille” is what I say. That’ll show him – he should have come and seen us at some point in the day, even if it was only to check that I did actually arrive!

I manage to finish a bit early, and I’m so pleased when my moto returns to rescue me from this place. Kabacuzi is beautiful, but it’s a hard place to reach and right now I just want out of it. We crunch and bump our way back through the hills; it’s trying to rain and at speed on the bike the cold raindrops feel like sleet on my face.

Back at the District Office I realise there’s no note from Innocent about tomorrow; neither has he texted me. Fortunately Valerian, the new chargé d’education, is working late, and he tells me that Innocent has had to go to Kigali in a hurry because someone in his family has died.

I decide that tomorrow I will roll up to the office, but I won’t go to Kiyumba unless they specifically ring and ask for me, and do so before 8.00. I can find other things to do tomorrow to justify my existence!

Back to the flat. (Oh, and just to make the day complete I discover that once again there is no post for any of us. That’s just ridiculous. Hayley and I must have at least two if not three newspapers somewhere in the pipeline, and either Hayley or Tinks is expecting a big Christmas parcel from home. I’m beginning to give up on the Rwanda postal system. Either that or it’s time I went home for a bit.

At the flat Tom has come up trumps. On a difficult and busy day for him, he’s managed to replace the gas cylinder. We cook up our beans and have a great chilli con carne; there’s easily enough for another meal tomorrow so we’ll probably invite Christi to share it with us.

Best thing about today – erm……. I’ll get back to you. The evening meal, I supose

Worst thing – just about everything, really. Talk about “the best laid plans…..” !

a wonderful day at Nsanga

December 1st

Up at barely light this morning. The power’s still off, so it’s a cold shower for at least the fifth day in a row, and I have to boil water for tea in a saucepan. No matter, I’m out on the road again for training at Nsanga. This is one of my favourite schools, if nothing else for the view across the hills from its yard.

I’m in the office by 6.45, hoping to borrow Claude’s modem and see if Teresa has been able to send me an email coach ticket from Heathrow to Dorchester. But Claude’s off on some training day at Rwamagana and has taken the modem with him.

Innocent is in the office, though, and I get him to translate the words of a Kinya-rwanda hymn for me. He translates from Kinya into French, and then I re-translate from French to English, so no doubt the words have lost a lot of their vigour in the process. But my local church is definitely going to end up singing in Kinyarwanda this Christmas!

Then I’m queuing outside the bank ay 8.00, waiting for it to open. Michael’s with me, he’s got nothing urgent to do at Shyogwe today and he’s coming to Nsanga with me to help and see how I do my resource making training days. Of course, just because we’re in a hurry the bank is ten minutes late opening, and then there’s a big problem with the computers – they can’t get them to boot. By 8.30 there’s a string of angry customers waiting, and the manager at last shifts himself out of his office, gathers a handful of cheques including mine, and rings the Kigali head office to veryfy on their machines that each of us has sufficient money in their account to honour the cheques. By the time I finally get my money it’s 8.45.

I was supposed to be at Nsanga by 8.30. I hurriedly text Evalde to tell him I’m delayed; that I’m now on my way and to wait for me. Michael and I rush up to the bus park to hire big motos and at last we set off on our way. It’s a beautiful morning with clear skies and with the promise of heat. The mist has already risen from the valleys around Mata, but its Michael’s first experience of the Ndiza mountains and their spectacular views, and he’s just as entranced as I was when I first saw them.

We arrive at Nsanga at just after 9.15; I deliberately don’t ask the motos to take us up the last kilometre off the main road because it’s very rough and I don’t want all my stuff spilling from the bike down the mountainside. All the teachers are there waiting for us, so I apologise profusely and off we go.

The whole day today is in French with barely a word of English. Because I’ve had a three day break from training courses I’m that much fresher and my French is so much better than last Thursday; also I discover that Michael’s French is excellent and complements mine – the vocabulary I don’t know, he does, and vice versa. We work well together as a team.

The training goes even better than last Thursday’s; I can relax because I’m sure of my timings and every time I do this presentation I learn a little bit more about the material which makes it more relevant and useful to the Rwandans. They absolutely love the games and the first hour especially is full of laughter – I can’t imagine anything more different from the dreadful INSET days I’ve endured in England on various occasions.

Evalde is efficient and has organised lunch – fiery hot sambozas and stodgy mandazis, with a huge supply of fantas to wash them down. During a pause I take Michael over to the primary school section so he can take photos of the view across the river Nyaborongo into the Western Province and beyond. The sky is clouding up fast, but that only serves to make the patterns of light and shade on the endless hills all the more interesting.

The teachers have remembered from a previous visit that I’m interested in geology and we have a short discussion about the mica which litters the site, and I ask them about tungsten ore which is mined near here. (Tungsten ore is a bright yellow colour and very distinctive, though I haven’t seen any yet. Next year, perhaps….)

Some of the teachers are the same ones that Cathie and I trained in English methodology in the spring, and whom Soraya trained a couple of weeks ago, so a lot of them know me. I think that’s why they’re pretty relaxed about our visit.

We have arranged with our motos to pick us up at 3.30, and true to form by 4.00 two bikes come clattering down the main road. We could just as easily (and more cheaply) have returned on matatas – two pass us while we’re waiting and they have plenty of empty seats. But we’re a long way out here and you can never be sure just what transport is available. And at Gisiza on the way out there’s been yet another bad accident; a matata has rolled and the roof is smashed in; not a pane of glass is left and there are enormous score marks across the new road for many yards before the impact site. The bus must have been travelling at some speed. I don’t know whether a tyre burst, or the brakes failed or whether it was doing some dodgy overtaking, or just driving too fast. The police were already there and anyone injured or worse had already been removed. But it is a reminder that safety in a country as poor as Rwanda is always relative, and sooner or later, if we use matatas every day, we will be involved in an accident.

Back at the District Office I quickly prepare my stuff for tomorrow and arrange with the moto driver to pick me up. He has driven back from Nsanga at a furious pace and I could feel the rear wheel sliding sideways on the wilder bends. But tomorrow I think we’ll be on the mountain road, so he’ll have to take it easy along the ridge. I just hope it’s going to be as clear as today so that I can take some pictures along the way.

While Tom and I are in full swing cooking supper the gas runs out. That’s a real drag. We have a lovely boeuf bourguignon almost cooked, and cabbage pretty well done. We have a quick council of war and decide that almost cooked is preferable to cold food, so we get on with it. It’s not perfect – and we were really looking forward to a gourmet meal from this food – but it’s just one of those things and there’s no way of knowing exactly when your gas cylinder is going to give out.

Then we have a long power cut –again – we’ve just got used to the power being restored after last night. Eventually the lights come back on; we’re both of us at the point of abandoning the day and getting into bed, so it feels quite a reprieve to have a second chance at getting things done in the evening.

Best thing about today – the scenery, and knowing we’ve done a good training which has been appreciated by the teachers.

Worst thing – power cuts. Lack of gas. I’m still not sure whether I’ve finally managed to get rid of my fleas. When you’ve had fleas you get this horrible feeling in your skin where you’re convinced that something’s crawling across you and biting you even when there’s patently nothing there!

upside-down cake and proper coffee!

November 30th

Today it’s nice to have a lie-in. Neither Tom nor I are going to church. The morning is grey and threatening rain, but no rain actually arrives until the afternoon.

We decide to have a cooking morning. There are two tubs of raw meat in the freezer and we are going to cook them up to last us through the week. When Tom goes home on December 23rd he will disconnect the fridge-freezer and let it defrost thoroughly, so we are beginning to run down our stocks already!

We amble down to the market, and manage to find an internet café which also sells electricity via our card system. So at a stroke we have solved our shortage of electricity and can luxuriate at the thought of a hot shower tomorrow morning. Ah, the little things in life….

We do the market thoroughly and come home laden with fruit and veg. Avocadoes are especially beautiful at the moment – twice the size of those sold at Tesco and about 5p each. There’re so creamy they just taste like butter – nothing at all like the ones at home. On the other hand it seems to be an “off season” for onions. Most of the ones on sale are very small – more like shallots or overgrown spring onions than the ones I’m used to at home. They’re fiddly to prepare, but taste very nice in a stew if you leave them whole. For the first time since either of us got here we buy a load of dried beans and put them to soak. As with all the other vegetables on sale by the market traders here in Rwanda, they mix beans from all sorts of different varieties, and the colours of the beans as they plump up in a tub of water are extremely beautiful. Let’s hope they taste as good as they look!

Back at the flat we scrub up and start trimming fat and gristle off a pile of meat; the good stuff we’re going to use to make a boeuf bourguignon; the scrappy bits we’re going to mince and make a Mexican style hot spicy dish. So after doing the meat we’re peeling and chopping veg as if our lives depended on it, and the whole flat is filled with the smell of cooking and spices.

By lunchtime we’re done with the cooking, all except for the beans in the Mexican dish which we’ll cook tomorrow and add to it. Each dish will probably last us two days, as well.

We lunch on cold left overs – cheese, hot salami sausage, peanut butter; but with avocadoes and bananas to give us vitamins.

In the afternoon we’re just about sat down and started to watch videos. Tom gives me a couple of toffees and I’m sucking merrily on them when I manage to pull a crown off one of my front teeth. Curses – good job I’m about to go home. I’ve been dreading this happening all year.

Fortunately I have a dental kit with me, and I start mixing up cement to glue the crown back on.

Just as I’m doing this there’s a knock at the door and in comes Tinks. Outside, by the roadside, are Michael and Piet in Piet’s hospital car. Do we want to come with them to see Piet’s house and have coffee and cake? Yes, of course we do. Given a choice of watching old DVDs or eating good food, it’s a no-brainer!

So here we are; Tinks is standing in the doorway waiting for us; Tom’s putting his shoes on; the others are in the car outside. Meanwhile I’m holding a tooth crown smeared in dental glue in one hand and trying to contort my face in front of the bathroom mirror so I can make the thing fit tightly in place. Everyone has to wait a few minutes while I glue my tooth crown back on. They’re all laughing at my discoloured stump of tooth over which the crown must fit; it looks like an animal’s fang. They’re all highly amused that “fang” is doing do-it-yourself dentistry. Fortunately the crown holds well, but I end up wiping surplus dental paste away from my gums for the rest of the afternoon.

Piet lives out on the Kibuye road in an absolutely beautiful house. It’s large, airy, and there’s an upstairs balcony reached by an exterior spiral staircase which reminds me of being on the bridge of a boat. The views are lovely – Mont Mushubati in one direction, and the Chaine de Ndiza in the other.

In his lounge he has an electronic piano – a really good quality one – and for the first time since leaving England last January I’m playing music. Michael and Piet are both music lovers, and we all like Bach, and it just happens to be Advent Sunday, so I have to play “Sleepers Wake”.

The food is amazing – Piet’s housekeeper has been trained by a Belgian. We have pineapple upside-down cake, and proper Rwandan coffee. We can’t believe we’re really here, eating an English “high tea” in such comfortable, clean and pleasant surroundings. His house is absolutely huge; there are about 5 bedrooms, and there’s an old guest house next door – a completely separate building – which has two bedroom, lounge, bathroom and kitchen. We could easily base a couple of VSOs there if it wasn’t so out in the country! The house was built in 1992 (just before the genocide) and was hired by a group of Spanish nuns until they were driven away by the atrocities all around them and it became unsafe for them to stay. The place is owned by a very rich local man who seems to own half the hill around us.

After tea we go out to inspect the garden. None of us are botanists, but between the five of us we manage to identify a few of the plants we see.

Then we decide to go for a walk up the lane. Piet’s lived here for such a short time he doesn’t even know where the lane leads, but we venture out nevertheless. There’s a thunderstorm banging and crashing away to the south, but it appears to be avoiding us and we’re not venturing a long way from the house. I’ve got a pretty good idea where we’re heading because one of my schools is just up the road from Piet, and sure enough within a few minutes we’ve arrived at Karama secondary school. The path goes through the school grounds and is closed off by a gate, but within minutes of five muzungus standing outside it, the caretaker appears and opens up for us. It’s a clean and nice looking secondary with a speciality in accounting for its 650 pupils,

After the school we wander around the countryside for a while, collecting the usual collection of curious children and adults. The path eventually peters out at a brand new Pentecostalist church, still under construction but with pews and chairs set out round the scaffolding poles. These people aren’t going to let a minor thing like a church still under construction get in the way of their worship! On the way back the views are just super – the others all take pictures but I think I’ve already got most of what you can see from this place, but taken from different angles.

As it gets dark Piet drives us all back into Gitarama to Nectar for our evening meal. We really are living like the idle rich this Sunday! Hayley arrives from the East; she’s been to see Heloise and help with an HIV/AIDS training session there. Arlene (Momma) from the orphanage is there, and also Christi. It’s a funny meal because at least four of us are leaving for home during the week, so it’s like an end of term staff dinner. Christi and I have to make various arrangements about accommodation for the new VSO short term placement people coming out in January; I’m one of the first arrivals back in the New Year so I’ll have a lot of sorting out to do in the first few days.

When we get back home we discover there’s no electricity in our little section of town. A local transformer has broken. At this time on a Sunday night nobody will be coming out to fix it, so we’re off to bed more or less straight away at nine o’clock. It’s ironic really – all through the last few days we’ve been trying to save electricity in order that it doesn’t run out, and then the minute we get more juice on our account the power goes off at the mains!

Best thing about today – relaxing, and enjoying Piet’s hospitality

Worst thing –I hate it when the power goes off unexpectedly. There’s a lot of things I’d have liked to get ready for tomorrow but there’s no point trying in the dark. I’ll just have to get up a bit earlier.

Monday, 1 December 2008

lunch with the gang in Butare

November 29th

Another umuganda day, so I’ve decided to go to Butare and buy some more craft souvenirs to take home with me. It’s a funny feeling to think that this time next week I’ll be in London with eleven months of service behind me.

In order to escape umuganda I have to get up early and by seven o’clock I’m on a slow matata to Butare. The seat in front of me has lost its back, and the bus is so old and decrepit it chugs at walking pace up most of the hills.

It’s a grey day with spots of rain every so often. Gitarama’s decidedly fresh this early in the morning. When I get to Butare it’s still grey and overcast, but Butare is much lower than Gitarama and the weather is stuffy and humid. The museum is open, so I know I’ll get my cards OK. I buy fifty cards and note the prices on some other items. Most of the stuff in the museum is cheaper than in the town craft shop, but not all of it, so I need to go into town and check. I know that all the town shops will stay closed till around mid-day, so I explore round the back of the museum. There’s a very nice botanical garden with lots of specimen trees and shrubs and flowers; unfortunately almost none of them have name tags on them so I don’t know what they are. Also, at the back of the museum there’s the CAM centre where they train apprentices to make the lovely craft objects sold in the museum. I have a nosey round at the pottery, the forge, and the bead and card making classrooms.

Then I still have an hour to kill until umuganda finishes, so I just sit on a bench in the botanical gardens and enjoy being away from constant noise and people. A flock of goats is the museum’s version of a lawnmower; they eventually come right up to me. The goatherd is keeping watch at a distance, but I’m pretty sure he won’t speak anything other than Kinyarwanda so there’s no point in trying to make conversation. I’ve got the whole museum and its grounds all to myself. Little finch-like birds are chirping in an acacia tree next to me, and damsel flies with black and white wings are flitting all around my feet.

I discover I’ve managed to pick up some fleas from one of the taxi buses this week; probably Thursday’s home from Muhanga. I’ve got two rings of bites, one round my left ankle and another round my right knee. It’s annoying because I had a complete change of clothes on Friday morning, so it suggests my little fellow travellers are still in flat with me. I’ll have to do some shaking out of clothes on the balcony tomorrow morning!

On the bus journey down I’ve texted Soraya to see if she’s free for lunch in Butare, and it turns out there’s a whole crowd of VSOs gathering today. Mata is slow in opening after umuganda, so we decide to go to Ibis Hotel for lunch. There’s me, Soraya, Jane, Els, Tiga (just back from holiday in Zanzibar) and Andy, and a non-VSO friend of Els. It’s an unexpected pleasure to have so many people together at this stage of the year; we’re many of us just about to fly home, so it’s nice to have lunch together and catch up on gossip and say our farewells till 2009.

Tiga’s trying to sort out her accommodation for next year in Butare; she’s working for the Anglican Diocese there and we now understand there’s going to be a husband and wife team working in my position in the District. Andy’s grouchy because it looks as if he’s going to have to share his house with Mans’ successor in the spring; he’s just got used to having his own accommodation to dispose as he thinks fit. Els has just finished the same sort of mad round of training days as I’m doing; she’s exhausted and is off to Kibuye for a couple of days’ rest by the lake before she flies home to Birmingham on Thursday.

After lunch we all go our various ways. I go into the craft shop and then back to the museum until I’m completely spent up on baskets, table mats and the like. My rucksack is really full. I must be the museum’s best customer all year! I can’t be bothered to walk all the way back into the centre of Butare to get a fast bus, so I settle for two hours on a stopper all the way home. There’s the usual mixture of people – elderly men with their hats and sticks; elderly women with their baskets and shopping bags clutched tightly to their chests. Young women, invariably with babies. Young men and girls doing their best to look cool and smart, many with laptop bags even though they’ve only got a handful of papers inside them. And all of them wondering why the muzungu’s on the slow bus when, as a muzungu, he must be rich enough to afford the express bus if not a taxi….

For most of the way home it rains, a gentle rain which will no doubt bring out all the insects. For the past few nights we have had rain at night time, and this has led to a swarming of grasshoppers. These are huge grasshoppers, the size of locusts, with bright emerald green bodies. The little boys, and some of the adults, eagerly chase after them because when you’ve pulled off the wings and legs you can fry them and eat them. The birds go crazy after them, too. This morning, as I was leaving the flat, there were at least 8 of the pied crows either on the balcony itself or sitting on the metal railings, and the red cement floor of the balcony looked like a battlefield with countless insect legs and wings strewn across it.

Back at the flat I cook up a meal of whatever we’ve got left – fresh avocado, sardine curry with spuds and beans, and bananas and custard for pud. Pretty filling, and the guard certainly has nothing to complain about. Just as I’m finishing Tom arrives; he’s caught a stomach bug in Goma. But his visit to the gorillas was excellent and he proudly shows me his certificate to say he’s seen them. (OK, so why don’t we get a certificate for climbing the volcano?)

We agree not to put the water heater on because we’re so low on electricity, but we think some of the local shops can recharge our system and we’ll try them out tomorrow. I’m down to about £6 in all my worldly wealth after buying these souvenirs; there’s plenty left in the bank but I’ll have to go and draw some out on Monday and be a little bit late arriving at Rugendabari for my next training.

Best thing about today – I’ve got some nice souvenirs and after several days on my own I’ve met up with a whole bunch of colleagues

Worst thing – we all feel the same: tired, jaded, end-of-termish. We’re all ready to go home. I don’t know whether it’s a psychological thing or whether it’s got something to do with the end of the long rains. I thought it was just me – not sleeping well, lethargic and floppy, not firing on all cylinders – but it turns out that everybody feels the same way.