Monday, 11 May 2009

I'm ill again. A wasted weekend.

May 9th

OK, so now I know why I have been so tired this week. It isn’t an excess of sun last weekend at Kibuye. It isn’t the excitement of having visitors most of the week. It isn’t trying to do four inspections on consecutive days. I’ve just got Giardia again.

I feel listless and don’t want to do much. I find I can work until about half past two in the afternoon; after that point I just want to go to bed.

I force myself to get dressed and go into town. As I’m walking down the hill to the middle of town I bump into Delphine, who’s coming to see me. She has good news; her bank has stopped her account so her money is safe. She now has to renew her identity card and then the bank will open her a new account and she can carry on where she left off.

We go to the pharmacy and I buy tinidazole tablets; they will knock out the giardia in about three days and I should start feeling more normal by tomorrow. We go to the bank and I draw out money to last me a fortnight. Then we go to the market. I need to buy vegetables for Tom and I’m interested to have Delphine with me as a country girl and see what she thinks of the prices I’m paying and the quality of veg I end up with.

But disaster strikes. I’m bending down to buy and negotiate for some peppers when I’m pickpocketed again. In my purse there’s the 80,000 francs I’ve just taken out from the bank. I yell, and instantly a crowd gathers. I can’t identify the thief but he can’t be more than a few paces away. The crowd all want to see what the muzungu does when he’s been robbed. I’m told the normal reaction of a Rwandan to robbery is to yell, and everyone around will look for someone trying to run away from the scene. They tend to stick together and if they can identify the thief he will be lucky to escape with anything less than a severe beating.

Sure enough, within seconds a man comes with my purse. Just over half the money has gone, but there’s around 40,000 left in it. The crowd gets thicker and thicker and waits for me to reward the man for his services, which I have to do. I feel acutely uncomfortable; it’s the middle of Saturday market, the busiest time in Gitarama, and we’re in the most crowded section of the market. Several people come up to me and tell me to beware because there are a lot of thieves working the market now; if only they had told me ten minutes ago!

I’ll never be sure whether the man returning the purse was part of the racket or a genuine good Samaritan; I assume the latter because the normal reaction of the thief would have been to take the entire contents of the purse. The fact that he left half of it suggests that he was about to be identified with it in his hand, and he had to take what he could, drop the rest and run.

So I’ve lost around 45000 francs but I’m left with half my money. It could easily have been worse and I could have lost the lot. At least I no longer carry any credit cards in my purse.

Delphine is close to tears; for her this is two robberies in two days. It’s not an opportunist snatching; these are professionals. They probably followed me from the bank.

As I have money again I can continue with my shopping. Delphine tells me I’ve got a good deal with the old lady who I buy tomatoes from, but I have a real lesson when it comes to onions. She gestures to me to not even consider the ones which looked perfectly fine to me, and takes me to another stall. I want to buy a kilo for 300 francs. That’s the standard price and I’m not being ripped off in terms of money. But I am being ripped off in terms of quality. Delphine feels every single onion to make sure they are firm and not rotten at the crown, and rejects many of them. If it had been me I would have ended up with a kilo, half of which would have been going rotten within a day or two. As the saying goes, Delphine knows her onions!

We continue with garlic, carrots (once again she feels every single carrot) and peas. The lesson I’m learning is that I’m OK on price but not on quality, and that it’s quite OK to feel up the goods as the trader puts them into the scales. That’s a very different picture from accepted behaviour back home!

For the rest of the day I stay at home. I manage to do a lot of blog writing but no inspection reports; they can wait till tomorrow. But at all costs I need to finish them before Monday. We meet Innocent from the office; he tells me that there’s a big match at the stadium this afternoon. Muhanga is playing a Kigali team. If I were feeling fit I would certainly go, but I decide it would be politic to stay at home, near a good toilet, and wait for time to do its work and heal me.

Charlotte also has a touch of giardia, so I’m in good company this weekend. So for the rest of the day I laze in the flat, read the paper, play computer games, and try to remember all that has passed in the last week. Sometimes keeping up this blog takes over my life, and today is certainly a case in point. But if you read the previous six days of blogs you can see the pace of life here, and if you compare these blog entries with those for the same period last year, there’s no comparison.

As I’m writing this last paragraph it’s barely half past eight, and I’m ready for bed. All in all it’s been quite a day to forget, today. Happily I don’t say that very often.

What I find most disturbing about the whole pickpocketing affair is that it has happened here in Gitarama. To be dipped in a nightclub in Kigali is one thing, but Gitarama is supposed to be a safe town. Half the people recognise me; they know I’m not a tourist. There are so many thievings going on at the moment that we are going to have to change the ways we work. We’re going to have to carry a minimum of money, bury our purses in our bags etc. This is really inconvenient in the market where you’re getting your purse out and putting it away every few minutes. And even if the purse is in my rucksack, if I’m opening the bag to put vegetables in, I’m giving a professional thief the very opportunity they need to help themselves. And the market is so crowded that you can’t try to do everything away from other people.

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