Friday, 26 June 2009

Easy riding in Ngoma

June 24th

The second day at Rukira school. We’ve done a deal at the schoolyesterday, and we’ve all agreed to start early, and go without a lunch break, and finish at 1400. This suits all of us. Tina is tired and needs an early night. Soraya and I have to get home to Gitarama where Wednesday night is film night at Becky’s. The teachers don’t usually eat when they’re on training courses; they’d rather pocket the lunch allowance as extra cash, but they’ll want to walk to their homes in outlying villages and get back before dark.

The morning goes very well. I’m in charge of the singing, and we do “Lion Hunt” which goes down a bomb. These are a nice bunch of teachers and they appreciate having extra muzungus to talk to. We get heavily into phonics and I only wish I could remember all of the “Letterland” phonic alphabet Catherine and Rachel were taught at Primary school. Maggie McDaide would be proud to see two dozen Rwandan primary teachers learning about “kicking king” and “quiet queen” etc. We decide to fill the gaps I can’t remember, so we invent a version to suit Rwanda; we have “hungry hippo” and “pink pig” amongst others. Learning by phonics is a totally new idea in Rwanda and to begin with the teachers are highly suspicious. Until we begin to teach them new words using the phonics pronunciation and they suddenly realise it is much easier that way.

We begin to explain to them about regional variations in pronunciation, and British and American pronunciation; they find it so hard to accept that there is no single “right way” to say so many words in English. Some have trouble with “a” and “u”; the word “ant” is pronounced to rhyme with “aunt”, and “umbrella” sounds almost the same, too.

By quarter to two we are ready to finish. We have discovered that our bluetak is pulling the plaster off the classroom wall, so while Tina keeps the teachers talking and listening, Soraya and I try to stealthily ease our wall posters down with the minimum of damage, and then we get out of the school before anyone notices and starts asking for compensation for a repaint or replaster! It’s their fault for using cheap plaster!

They’ve been so pleased to have us come to train them and are negging us all to come back next term. Tiuna’s definitely returning; I say we’ll see whether I can get an “ordre de mission” (permission to be away from work). I’ll certainly return to Rukira if it won’t mess up my plans in Muhanga.

Back we go towards Kibungo, freewheeling down the dusty track to the main road. There is so much fine dust on the earth road today that cornering becomes risky, and even our young moto drivers use their brakes instead of careering round the bends and trusting to luck. On the road back up to Kibungo there’s a big Tanzanian petrol tanker and trailer struggling to make it up the hill, and we’re stuck behind him for a while on a series of reverse bends. The drivers are so close behind him that even as a pillion passenger I could reach forward and touch the lorry. Eventually we’re relieved to get past before one of our lads makes a miscalculation and we all come to grief. My crash helmet is miles too big for me; the strap is loose and won’t adjust and I can almost rotate the thing through 90 degrees around my head. A fat lot of good that would be if I came off the bike!

Soraya and I pile into the Kibungo restaurant for the fastest mélange on earth because we want to get a bus back as soon as possible. It’s vital that we get into and out of Kigali before we become stuck in the afternoon rush hour. Alas, it’s not to be. The café is on a go slow; we have to wait for more mélange to be brought out. In the end we can eat, but there is only carbohydrate: chips, boiled potatoes, rice, pasta, plantain bananas, and cassava. We need something to fill us up because we’re not sure whether we’re going to be back in time to eat this evening, so we pile in, eat too much too fast, and then say goodbye to Tina and wait for a bus.

We’re promised a comfy coaster, but what turns up is an old sardine tin matata, and we end up jammed in the back seats. Fortunately it leaves only ten minutes late, and runs as fast as it can. We shed passengers rather than picking them up, so after Kayonza we have the back seats to ourselves. But it’s still an uncomfortable run and we’re both tired, dusty, hot and jaded when we reach Kigali.

We go straight to the “Horizon” depot to buy tickets for home, but are told we have to wait three quarters of an hour for the 6.30 bus. That will make us too late for the film evening. I buy the tickets as a safeguard – 6.30 is the last bus of the day and it always fills up fast – and Soraya says to try our luck at Atraco and see if they have seats left for 6.00. Sure enough, we get seats for their 6.00 bus. That means we now have two lots of bus tickets. I would simply write off the Horizon tickets; after all, the bus fare to Gitarama isn’t exorbitant. But Soraya says she has taken back tickets before, and the bus people simply accept our tickets back and give us a refund. They know we are both regular customers of theirs, and that we don’t want to hang around any later than absolutely necessary for an evening bus. They’ll have no difficulty whatsoever in re-selling our tickets to other people.

So at 6.00 we’re on our last lap home, and get to Gitarama just as it’s properly dark. We go straight to Becky’s and find food, fun and film waiting for us. Becky is handing out invitations for her Canada Day celebrations on Sunday. Matteo is about to leave for the Sudan; goodness knows how he’s going to get by there but he seems to have luck wherever he goes. I tell him to get a letter of introduction from the Franciscans at Kivumu so if there are problems he can get refuge in a Franciscan or any other Catholic institution; I also tell him about Trevor Stubbs at Juba. Tom’s made a lovely pasta, mincemeat and cheese creation to eat, and someone has done couscous with fresh salad vegetables in it, so we eat a proper balanced meal for supper.

The film is more chick lit than serious movie: Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo are dithering about and she’s supposed to be a dead doctor but in reality she’s just in a coma. You know the sort of thing….. It fills an evening.

Back at the flat afterwards I find we’re been out of water almost continuously since I left, and the food situation is low. Never mind; there’s a mad hectic weekend coming up and tomorrow night I’m eating at Soraya’s, so we’ll be hand to mouth for a few days.

All in all it’s been quite a day again – training course, long drive right across Rwanda, and film evening with the gang in Gitarama. It’s very difficult to be lonely or downhearted with this amount of contact with fellow volunteers. As we were on the road between Rwamagana and Kigali we saw Amanda, who has just finished with VSO, walking through the village where she used to be based. Old VSOs don’t go; they just fade a bit into the background!

And it’s nice to be sleeping in my own comfy bed again.

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