Monday, 23 March 2009

Green Card, and escape to Gahini

March 13th

The real priority for today is for me to get out to Gahini and check that everything is ready for tomorrow’s party. However, I decide to show willing and spend at least a couple of hours in the office first thing in the morning.

There’s no modem so I can’t do any of the backlog of electronic stuff I need to do. Equally there’s no point in trying to arrange a school visit for this morning. All I really manage to do is knock out an inspection report for Claude. On a whim I bang on the door of the immigration officer and – hey presto – he’s in. It turns out that Raymond, the former officer, who I got on very well with, has been transferred to Cyangugu. In his place we have Léo, who is much dourer and takes his role very seriously. I scramble to get my documents together, including barging into the planning office and taking over their photocopier to make a couple of passes at my passport, and then hope that Léo won’t fine me 20,000 francs for not having renewed my green card in time.

He doesn’t. What he does do is hold up my manky, stained, torn, limp little document and ask me what the hell I’ve been doing with it to get it in this state. So I explain that it has lived in the top of my rucksack through rain, sun, leaking handwash bottle, grease from sambozas etc. Léo gives me a pristine new green card and I’m legal and ready for anything.

So it was worth while going in to the office after all!

I nip across to the Post Office and just as if by magic I have all sorts of cards and presents waiting for me. A card and CDs from Rachel and Andy; a bumper pack from Ruth with a new shirt, two packets of cake mix and a lovely photo and card from Dylan. Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to get the cakes made up before I set off for Gahini, but we’ll certainly find a use for them soon. What a lovely idea!

Every so often we get official notices posted up in every room in the District Office. What follows below has just arrived on our walls:
“National Values to promote progress to “Vision 2020”
1. Speed and respect for time – a country in a hurry.
2. Customer service mentality – constant improvement and anticipation
3. Quality of delivery – high standards; spirit of excellence; efficiency
4. Completion – towards results – we finish whatever we start
5. Self respect – national pride
Well, they’re all perfectly desirable aims, but at the moment they’re aspirational rather than being achieved for the most part!

So eventually I escape on the bus to Kigali and on to Gahini. When I reach Gahini it’s starting to rain. Instead of being blue, the Lake Muhazi is dull grey. Even so, the place looks beautiful and I’m glad I’ve chosen to come here for my birthday. I trudge up the hill to the cheap guest house and have to wait ages for someone to come up from “Seeds of Peace” to get booked in. I will definitely be the only person staying in the place tonight. While I’m waiting there’s an elderly lady concierge who is dusting and sweeping and who chatters away to me non-stop in Kinyarwanda. She doesn’t speak a word of French or English, so I try communicating in gestures. She thinks that’s grand and rattles on, faster and faster, for fully fifteen minutes while all I can do is nod and grunt and try to make it look as though I’m understanding a word she’s saying.

Once I’ve settled in, I go back down to the lakeside. First call is the “Seeds of Peace” guesthouse which is run by the Anglican diocese here. They handle all bookings for the cheap guesthouse up on the hill, for Seeds of Peace rondavels, and for the Bishop’s Palace. Fortunately they definitely have our booking for the Bishop’s place and the rondavels. I explain who I am, and that there could be up to forty people coming tomorrow, so not to book in any outsiders!

Then I go to Jambo Beach, which is where we’re having the party. Here I need to speak to Kazungu, the manager, and make sure we have music for tomorrow night’s dancing, and get the food sorted. Kazungu has more of a sense of business than most Rwandans, and we hammer out a deal similar to the one Paula used for her party. One huge tilapia fish between three guests, plus plates of chips between two, plus plates of salad between eight. (It’s like one of those common denominator exercises in maths). That will bring the price to RwF3500 per person which is very reasonable. People will have to buy their own drink, but the prices aren’t exorbitant unless you only drink fanta….

At this point I can relax because it means we have the food, the music and all the accommodation sorted. The only risk now is that either a lot of people will cry off at the last minute, or that a huge number of extras will descend on us. Most volunteers have been very good and if they want to bring extra people they have phoned me to check, but you can never be sure. And the problem with Gahini is that if all three accommodation places are full, there’s simply nowhere else to stay.

An English NGO worker and his family have just arrived at Seeds of Peace for the weekend; three little children of theirs are busy exploring the site. They have decided to camp. It reminds me of wet weekends in Cornwall… I hope we won’t disturb them with our noise, but at least the party will be a kilometre down the road.

I take some pictures before the light goes. On the far side of the lake is a small island which seems to be made entirely of reeds. I don’t remember seeing it last year, but then I was too drunk for a lot of the time to remember very much at all…

After an hour or so I think about taking another photo. As I look through the viewfinder I realise that the island has moved down the lake! It is a floating island; a mass of reeds which has somehow become detached from the top end of the lake and is being blown by the wind slowly towards the far shore. I think that’s so funny – a floating island! I wonder, if the wind changes, whether it will get blown back the other way tomorrow?

By eight o’clock it is pitch dark. There’s nobody to talk to and nothing much to do at Gahini if you’re on your own. The road up to the upper guesthouse is in total darkness; the sky has clouded over and there’s no moonlight to steer by. I grope my way up the hill, wishing I’d brought my big torch instead of this silly little pocket one which gives less light than the fireflies buzzing in the hedges.

At the guesthouse all is total silence. I realise just how noisy Gitarama is, and that in Rwanda I’ve been living in an environment of constant noise – traffic, people talking, radios blaring, animals clucking and bleating. Here there’s just nothing. It takes a bit of getting used to!

So I listen to my iPod and enjoy a seriously early night….

Best thing about today – getting my green card; getting everything sorted for the party

Worst thing – it doesn’t look as though the weather is going to clear up any time soon. I really hope its hot and sunny and bright tomorrow so that we can all swim and go boating on the lake.

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