Sunday, 28 June 2009

Baby naming

June 28th

I’m the first of the party goers to be up and off in the morning. By just after half past seven I’m waiting for the bus to leave. I’m in the best seat, at the front and opposite the driver, with a clear view through the windscreen and nobody sitting next to me to crowd me. It’s the best trip up from Butare ever, and also one of the fastest. I’ve texted Tom to say expect me at Momma’s at half past ten, but I’m in the flat by soon after half past nine, even before Tom has left to go to the service.

A quick breakfast and change, and I’m off on a moto to Momma’s. Today is the baby naming ceremony for four orphans, and I’m not at all sure quite what to expect. I know the celebrations will last most of the day, but exactly what happens in what order is an unknown.

As it happens, the church service is relatively normal. There is an American family visiting, friends of Momma’s from back home in Pennsylvania, and a couple of young girls who are friends of their daughters. The father presents Momma with a medal from one of the American Dioceses to celebrate her lifetime’s work with children in need, and her special efforts at the orphanage. It’s a well deserved award, and the timing today is perfect.

Right at the end of the service Momma asks me to be the speaker next week. But I’m planning to go to Nyamasheke for the whole weekend, so I put her off till July 12th. Becky will do the talk next week. So there you are – I never expected to come to Rwanda and be asked to preach a sermon in a house church full of orphans! “Expect the unexpected” is VSO’s motto, and, boy, doesn’t it just apply every day!

After the service we stay; Tom and Becky play basketball with some of the children; I talk to Louise, a helper who hails from Hull, and cuddle Amahoro. Amahoro is a tiny little baby; she came to the orphanage desperately underweight and malnourished and is still only about half the size and weight she should be. She is also blind, and we are waiting for her to grow fit enough and strong enough to Piet to operate on her.

The children are dancing for us; impromptu cow dances and other dances on the grass outside the orphanage, with one of the boys drumming an accompaniment. All the children love singing, and it is amazing how polite they are to each other and how much they support each other. During the service the choir has sung about five choruses, all in English, and the "angel choir" - the under sevens - has also sung to us in English.

Deborah, the very bright young orphan, has won a prize at national level for some schoolwork she did. She has a cheque for a very large sum of money and Momma is investing it with an eye to paying for her university education in some years’ time. At the moment she is in 5ème at Emmanuelle’s primary school, Ruli ADEPR, which is one of our stars in the District.

Then we dine with all the orphans – 40 of them – on roast chicken from Momma’s flock, and roast potatoes and savoury rice. The chicken bones are not only picked clean by everyone; some of the children are virtually eating the bones! Never mind; there will be cake and other goodies for them later in the day.

By early afternoon myself, Tom and Becky are feeling decidedly tired and dozy, and we come back home for a nap. (Meanwhile at the orphanage there are games of baseball with the Americans and various other games to keep the children active and occupied). So far we haven’t had the slightest hint of names for the babies, but the real ceremony is going to be held in the evening and Soraya and I will miss it because we shall be at Claude’s. Never mind; Becky will take lots of pictures and I’ll post some on the blog for you.

Just as I’m about to set out for Claude’s Michael comes round to find out where tonight’s muzungu meal is being held. I walk down with him to “Nectar”. The meal tonight will be sparsely attended – Soraya and I are at Claude’s; Tom and Becky are at Momma’s for the actual naming ceremony; Christi is gorilla watching.
Soraya and I take motos and stumble our way down the lane to Claude’s house. When we arrive he is giving a lesson on “excel” worksheets to his brother Eric, who is a lawyer in Kibuye, working for an NGO which specialises in women’s and children’s rights.

We meet the baby, seven months old (born on November 16th). She already has a Kinyarwanda name, Keza, which mean beautiful, and she certainly deserves it. She is so alert; big brown eyes watching our every move. She misses nothing. She is absolutely placid and content, and coos at us. She is fine with strangers, and both Soraya and I have plenty of cuddles and take lots of pictures. Burt then, she was born on a Sunday and as the saying goes, “the child that is born on the Sabbath day…..” Claude feeds her with some banana formula; it is still not common for Rwandan men to do that sort of thing with their children and it shows just how Westernised Claude is. Whenever Immacculee speaks to Keza she smiles and coos at her. They’re a delightful little family.

We eat together, and Claude talks about the possibility of his coming to England if the proposed British Council school linking project comes to fruition. It would be lovely to have all three of them over; Immacculee is very keen to see a country outside of Rwanda.

Claude also explains that in July there are going to be changes in the way Education is administered in Rwanda. The emphasis will switch to secteur level, rather than District level, but there will some sort of overall co-ordination at District level. There is no guarantee that Claude’s job will remain, and having seen how abrupt and radical they are in replacing primary headteachers he is understandably anxious. But then, we all know that he is very highly thought of by the powers that be, and I can’t for one moment imagine that they’d want to just cast him adrift. We shall see.

Right at the end of the evening Claude gives Soraya and I pieces of paper and asks us to choose some names for the baby. He isn’t going to have the traditional naming ceremony; they have decided to ask us for our choice of names, and they will choose one of the names we suggest. So, just like that, we’re put on the spot to choose names. Soraya suggests two names of very dear friends of hers – Nerissa and Charmaine. I choose traditional English names – Elizabeth because you can’t get much more traditional than that; Claire, because it’s the same in English and French, and Ruth because of its biblical connotations. Claude and Immacculee confer for a few seconds, and choose Nerissa. So there – in one evening we have had our own little baby naming ceremony, and Soraya’s suggestion has become Keza’s second name.

She will eventually have her own surname, different from that of either parent, but I think that comes much later in life.

As we come back home on motos there’s plenty of lightning flickering across the sky; we might well have a storm tonight or tomorrow. Some rain would come in very handy just at the moment!

What a tremendous day – two separate baby naming ceremonies. And welcome to Keza Nerissa; I’m posting some pictures of her for you!

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