Monday, 2 February 2009

Eight nations for supper in Gitarama

February 1st

I’m sure I’ll sleep like a log after yesterday, but things don’t work out that way. I’m awake at five, at dawn. The hotel is only a few hundred yards as the crow flies from the Faucon and its nightclub, and the club is still going strong. The thudding of the bass speakers travels through the ground and beats inside my head, waking me up and then not letting me go back to sleep.

Finally, at six o’clock, the nightclub finishes and the revellers go home. I’m just drifting back off to sleep when a church nearby opens up with the full works – drum machine, raucous, monotonous singing, and prayers delivered in a hysterical, shouted rant that sounds vaguely like something from China’s Cultural Revolution. It sounds nothing like worship or, at least, nothing like my concept of worship. Here in Rwanda there doesn’t seem to be any practise of silent worship; nobody seems able to use silence as a means of devotion. Every second has to be filled with noise.

By eight o’clock I know that any further sleep is impossible, so I get up. To my relief and surprise the dining room is full of VSOs who’ve had exactly the same problem. We enjoy a leisurely breakfast and a chat, and then it’s off back home to Gitarama on a comfy bus. Today’s the day all our phone numbers change in Rwanda, and I pass some of the journey time changing all my numbers. Let’s hope the system works properly. (As I’m writing this on Sunday evening I’m happy to say that, yes, the new system is working well for in-country numbers. I wonder if Teresa will have trouble in getting through from England in a few minutes’ time).

I had originally intended to stay in Butare and come home in the afternoon, but it seems silly to waste time in Butare just for the sake of it when I’ve a lot of work wanting doing back home.

Today is “Heroes Day” and a public holiday (even though it’s a Sunday). This is the day last year when Tom and I spent the morning in Gitarama stadium and saw the President. I don’t know where Kagame is today, but he’ll probably be in one of the other provincial towns. Every town we pass through on the way home is holding a ceremony, with dancers, drummers and long, long speeches. At Ruhango the crowd has fanned out to seek shade from the relentless sun under wild fig trees by the roadside. Down in Butare all the local secondary school children (boarders) have been dragooned into attending and are marching through the town towards the stadium, banners at the ready. I don’t miss not being at a ceremony today; I think if you’ve been to one of them at some time, then you’ve been to all of them. They all follow the same format. Throughout the journey home we are listening to a Kigali ceremony on the bus radio and it brings back vivid memories of last year under a hot Gitarama sun, waiting and waiting for the President to turn up, and then feeling excited when he did a lap of honour at the stadium and passed within a few yards of me.

By two o’clock I’m in the flat and proof reading Védaste’s MSc thesis. It’s all about the effects of different kinds of mulch on coffee trees and the soil around them, and since a lot of it is about rates of soil erosion and methods of countering soil loss, it runs very close to things I have studies a long time ago in geography.

One chunkVédaste quotes is so stark that I’m reproducing it here for you: “In Rwanda every year it is estimated that fifteen million tons of soil are lost due to soil erosion. This is an amount equivalent to the soil necessary for feeding 40,000 people”. So every time I cross the brown Nyaborongo river I’m going to be thinking about how many people’s soil is washing away beneath me on its way to Lake Victoria.

Védaste has made loads of mistakes – word order, vocabulary, phrasing, as well as general typos. I spend the whole of the afternoon until six o’clock going through his thesis, but at last it’s done. I’m really please; it would have been an albatross round my neck if I had left it till the weekdays, and despite having spent all my Sunday afternoon at work, I’m relieved that at least it’s one item done and dusted.

(And part of me wants to take Friday afternoon off next week and travel down to see Épi if she’s installed herself in Kibungo. If it comes to pass, then I’m not going to feel guilty about skiving off a half day if I’ve worked all Sunday afternoon).

The muzungu meal in the evening draws a huge crowd, and even then we are missing several people. Myself and Tom and Christi, Hayley, Soraya, and Charlotte, Nicole and Sally, Moira, Michael, a new friend called Michel (French Canadian) and his Peruvian wife; Marin, Piet and a friend of his from the hospital. We have American, Canadian, British, Belgian, Peruvian, Philippine, German and Irish volunteers. Because we’re such a big crowd we have to wait for ever for our food to arrive. There’s a massive thunderstorm outside with violent lightning and heavy rain; we keep having to squash tighter together under the awning so that those on the outside edge don’t get wet from splash back from raindrops the size of marbles which are banging down on the roof above us.

By the time we get home my carousing and lack of sleep from Saturday are catching up with me. A quick slapdash version of the blog and bedtime here we come!

Best thing about day - being able to say I’ve repaid Védaste’s kindness to me by proof reading his thesis. You wouldn’t believe the number of corrections I’ve made to smooth the English phrasing! It’s been a good Sunday and it’s nice to go to bed feeling Ive achieved something worthwhile.
Best thing about today – being able to feel that I’ve repaid

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