Friday, 17 April 2009

A trip to the theatre in Kigali

April 2nd

Up at five and ready for the off by six o’clock. Why this earliness on a day with nothing happening? – because Tom is going into Kigali and taking one of the FHI pick-up trucks for Erin, another FHI volunteer, so I get a free lift. And not just to Kigali; as luck would happen this volunteer lives about six houses away from Kersti, and almost at Remera where our VSO office stands. I also learn that Britney’s planned move to a house in Kicukiro has fallen through at the last minute, but that she is also living in the same street and may be almost next door to Kersti’s place. It’s a small, small world. People describe Kigali as just a big village and I’m beginning to see why!

As we leave Gitarama we are flagged down by a traffic policeman. He’s not interested in us or the car; he wants a lift further up the road to wherever he’s doing his day’s duty. Unfortunately as well as delivering the car, we are delivering a big mattress which takes up the whole of the rear seats, so there is no room for any policeman. The copper decides he doesn’t want to sit in the back part of the truck, so he sends us on our way and waits till another car comes past.
As we approach Kigali it starts raining, and the weather rapidly deteriorates into another downpour like Tuesday’s, with no end in sight. One part of me feels vindicated in coming so early to Kigali; if I had planned to go to Cyeza today it would have been a washout and I might well have got stuck up the valley and face a long, filthy walk home (in sandals, dammit).

By half past seven I’m inside the VSO building, but everything is locked up because the staff don’t arrive till eight at the earliest. I wait and wait until eventually I can get into the work room and use the computer. I’ve really got very little to do now until the afternoon. I check emails and amend a blog; I’m saved from total boredom by Tina arriving with her man, Austen, and we chat for a while. It’s nice to see Tina because we can make some last minute plans for our Uganda expedition. She and Austen have been to the gorillas, and have had a closer-than-comfortable experience with an elephant in the process. I’m beginning to wonder whether I’ve made the right decision in not going to see the gorillas – everyone who has paid the ransom comes back saying it was worth it. We’ll see.

Nicole and Lynn also come into the office to do final checks on their mailboxes and to say goodbye to people; they’re flying home tomorrow. Sally has already left, via South Africa, on the same plane as Hayley and Charlotte who have gone to South Africa for Easter. Those two are “couch surfing” for the time they’re away; I had no idea that there was an entire website devoted to letting you find people’s spare beds or sofas to sleep on. I suppose it could be risky arriving at a total stranger’s house to spend a night or two, but if there is a pair of you together I guess it makes it just as safe as, say, staying in a backpacker hostel and probably a lot more comfortable. Mind you, everything I’ve heard suggests that Johannesburg is a scary place. Even at six in the morning the girls have been told in no uncertain terms to stay in the airport terminal until they’re collected. The crime rate is so high in Jo’burg, and it’s so violent, that you really can’t do anything or go anywhere without a local to chaperone you.

In the afternoon I go to the bank and draw out cash ready for Uganda, then it’s off to Amani to do my “how to stay sane in Rwanda” thing with the new volunteers. I let Steve do most of the talking.

With a room secured for the night, the rest of today gets better and better. We decide not to eat at Amani; there’s a play being performed at a bar called “Torero” which is the in place to be in the city centre at the moment. The play is free, and very well done. It’s a group of students who have put the thing together in their spare time. They are from a variety of “Anti genocide Club” backgrounds, and have been helped by some French volunteers. The standard is very high, with no prompting necessary and a good sense of pace. Partly scripted but largely improvised, it tells the story of a “génocidaire”, a repentant one, who comes face to face with the surviving members of the family he killed fifteen years ago. It’s no good trying to describe something like this in words; you have to see it. It’s all acted in Kinyarwanda, but we have a summary in English so we’re able to follow most of what’s going on.

All in all there must be some thirty to forty people to see the play, which is pretty good considering its being performed in a bar with minimal advertising. And twelve of the audience are VSO volunteers. Without us, there audience would have been desperately thin. It turns the evening into a real occasion – in the fifteen months since I’ve been in Rwanda this is the first time I’ve been to a serious play, and to have one so well performed is a real treat. I also like the atmosphere – the bar is working, serving drinks and food during the play to audience and other people who just drop in for a drink. The clatter of knives and glasses isn’t enough to disrupt the flow of the play, and it makes the ambience more real than if the actors were performing in worshipful silence in a “proper” theatre.

After the play finishes there is a Q and A session with the cast, with the whole session done in a mixture of English, French and Kinya. This is also most impressive – a glimpse into the future of Rwanda as a trilingual country run by educated, sensitive men and feisty women.

Several of the young women actors are stunningly pretty; I’m beginning to realise that the longer I stay in Rwanda, the more attractive I find many of the women. In particular there are some truly beautiful faces, all totally different in bone structure. Anyone who says “all black people look the same” has certainly never spent time in this little country and studied its variety of physiognomy!

The trouble with Torero is that the drinks are three times the Gitarama price, and food, although good quality, is also dear. We stay there until late and haggle for taxis back to Amani.

Tomorrow, if the weather is fine, I just might be able to make it to Cyeza if I can get back home quickly enough!

Best thing about today – the play, and simply not being stuck in Gitarama for yet another twenty four hours with nothing much to do.
Worst thing – this blessed rain. Why can’t it hold off to the afternoons and then come on a sharp thunderstorm like it did last year? These long, grey, English-style mornings are the pits!

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