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.

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