Tuesday, 31 March 2009

My (short) career as a geology teacher in Kigali

March 30th

At last – a working day, of a sort. Up to the American School in Kigali to do a geology revision lesson with Kersti’s class. All six of them. Everyone at the school makes a fuss of me; a lot of the teachers remember me from Kersti’s party at the beginning of March. I seem to be known as “Kersti’sfriendBrucethegeologist”. It’s nice to be facing a class of children once again, but I feel very rusty. I’m not by any means an expert on Rwandan Geology, but I do my best.

I spend a while trying to get caught up on emails while I’m at the school, but the connection’s too slow to be able to post any blogs. Then it’s off to the town centre and the bank. I need to take out a large sum of money to pay for my flight home in the summer and also to have plenty of cash for our Ugandan trip next week. Unfortunately I can only take out a maximum of 1500 dollars, so I’ll need to take out a bit more on Thursday. Never mind, for once the credit card system works without a hitch, and I leave the bank with a stash of dollar bills.

Immediately I go to the forex bureau by the mosque; I now need to change thousands of pounds (literally) into Rwandan francs. The exchange rate is crummy. I manage to lever the man up from 770 to the pound, which is just ridiculous, to 800. Mind you, I only manage that by starting to walk out of the building, and I’m practically out of the door before he says 800. I wouldn’t settle for anything less, and 800 is quite a drop from the 1000 we were getting at this time last year.

Dealing with these amounts of money is a different business altogether from dealing with small sums. I get taken into a back room. Every single one of my bank notes is put through a machine to check it for authenticity. Then through another machine to count them. The manager has to go out somewhere else to get my stash of francs. These are also put through the counting machine, and I’m shown the machine in operation so I’m convinced I have all the money I should. I insist they put it into a sealable envelope so that the money is easy to hide away in my bag.

As I leave the building I’m nervous as a cat. I have well over one and a half million francs on me. In cash, and therefore untraceable if stolen. Plus fifteen hundred dollars, which is about another 850000 francs. And I also have 2000 pounds in sterling which I’ve decided not to change today in the hope that the exchange rate will recover in a few weeks. That’s another one and a half million francs. So I’m sitting on a taxibus back up to Remera with close to four million francs in my rucksack. Mind you, the money’s buried under a wet towel and dirty underwear, so it’s a brave thief who’d dare rifle through my socks to get it….

It takes ages to get to Remera because there’s been an accident on the dual carriageway, right outside the ministry of justice. A four wheel drive has been hit so hard that it has been shunted round to face the way it’s come. I can’t say I’m surprised – the driving in Kigali is getting more and more reckless. Needless to say all the traffic is cutting each other up to try to get past the accident site, and the police aren’t having much joy in controlling it.

At the VSO office I pay for my air tickets home in the summer, and I’m relieved because that’s one lump of cash disposed of safely. Soraya’s in the VSO office. She tells me that Épi’s just come out of hospital suffering from kidney stones. She’s back at home, but on antibiotics. And she’s still expecting to come to Uganda with us. I really hope she’s able to come, even if she isn’t up to doing the white water rafting. It’ll be such a disappointment for her if she has to cancel, and it won’t feel the same for us without her. Els has also asked if she can join us, and that’s fine by me. Els is in training for the Kigali marathon and is fit as a fiddle. She’ll put us all to shame if we have to do any hard physical work during our holiday!

Eventually I decide to get back home to Gitarama in good time. They’ve altered the system for town buses in Kigali centre, with each route being allocated a particular queuing site, and with yellow lines outside which buses simply must not park. They’ve also flooded the centre with traffic police, and the bus drivers are by and large obeying the system. It’s more orderly, but I have to say I have grown to like the old chaos with touts yelling all day long to get people on particular buses. (Their job has been to fill the bus for the driver and convoyeur, who pay them a couple of hundred francs a time just as the bus is about to leave).

Tom’s been in Kigali today, but at best won’t be back till late and may decide to stay over in town. So I cook for me and the guard, watch a film, and opt for a relatively early night.

Best thing about today – getting some of the financial transactions done. I dread having to walk through Kigali’s crowds and chaos with huge amounts of money, especially when it’s not “my” money.

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