Monday, 15 June 2009

Income Tax Day in Gitarama; starting to think about leaving....

June 12th

Today is a holiday in Muhanga District. What?, I hear you say, another one? Yes, another one. And why? Because we are supposed to all be trooping into the stadium for several hours of speeches to celebrate the fact that the District has met its quota of the national share of income tax collection. We will be celebrating the success and rewarding and publicly praising people and businesses that have paid their share of tax. Can you imagine that back in England?

Well, count me out. It’s not my idea of a fun day even if I didn’t have a VSO meeting in Kigali to go to. But it means all the buses will shut down at eight o’clock, so I have to be up early as usual and down to the bus park for the seven o’clock fast bus. Even then, when I walk into town the Horizon depot is shut and locked at 6.30, and I have to get a fast Atraco bus which I wouldn’t normally use.

So into Kigali today for my VSO “leavers’ forum”. I’ve been here about 18 months and I have six months left to serve, so to have an event this far ahead of finishing seems a bit previous. I haven’t checked my emails for a few days, so I get up to the VSO office nice and early and manage to get blogs posted and emails sorted out. There seems to be suspiciously few other people around – surely by now there should be all sorts of people gathering up for this meeting?

Eventually Heloise and her sister come into the office; its Heloise’s last day in Rwanda because she flies home tomorrow afternoon. We get talking and eventually the penny drops – the leavers’ forum is at the AEE guesthouse, and not at the VSO office. And it has already started. I zoom off on a moto (hang the expense….) and arrive just as the first session is finishing.

I make light of it; today’s farcical fun and games in Gitarama are the perfect excuse for being late even if they’re not the real reason!

The leaver’s forum is interesting; there are around sixteen people there; what’s interesting is those who we know will be leaving at around the same time as us who are not there. Els is required to do some more work for the British Council monitoring scheme in the East. Paula and
Sonya are up in Uganda on holiday. But where is Épi? – she definitely should be here.

The meeting is useful. What it all boils down to is that there are things we need to get sorted well in advance of departure, and another whole long list of things which must be done but not until he final week or so. I didn’t realise until today just how many things I’ve got “hanging” – they’re not absolutely essential, nor are they urgent, but I want to get the done before I leave.

After the meeting we all go up to “La Planète” for a meal and to say final goodbyes to Heloise. I’m intending to leave early and catch a late night bus to Gitarama. I know buses run through the evening until quite late, but it’s a bit of a palaver to get one and you can’t be certain. (The regular timetabled buses finish at 6.30; after that you have to hang around the petrol stations on the edge of town on the Gitarama road and hope that something comes past with seats left for you. It’s quite hit and miss, and you probably have to pay more than for the regular buses).

But by the time we finish eating its ten o’clock and definitely too late to get back home. Oh dear – I haven’t brought any overnight things with me. I can’t stay with either Kersti or Nidhi because they’re both out of the country. But most of the gang at the leavers’ forum are staying at AEE overnight. Patrick, the AEE manager, has come up for the meal with us and he says its fine for me to stay there. I’m determined not to pay the full rate for a room to myself (and in any case I don’t have enough money on me); I need to share with someone. My forward planning, as you can see, has been sadly lacking for today’s little escapade.

Tina comes to my rescue; she is in a twin bedded room and I can use the other bed. She’s not in the slightest bit bothered about sharing with me – after all we shared a room on the Ssese islands last April. She’s off clubbing but I can’t afford it. The problem is that AEE, the initials of the guesthouse, stands for “African Evangelical Enterprises”. It’s the “Evangelical” word which is the problem. In typical narrow minded evangelical tradition, they have an absolute ban on unmarried couples sharing the same room, and have put prominent notices up in each room to prove it. But when I arrive back at the hostel there’s nobody to challenge me, and I have absolutely no problem, evening or morning, in sharing with Tina (who comes in at half past three).

This thing about unmarried couples reminds me of a story Ken told us during the evening. Ken is the same age as me – we are obviously middle aged men and our partners are the same ages as ourselves. When his wife came out to visit him and they toured around the country, they went to stay one night at one of these church hostels, and they were actually asked to show a copy of their marriage certificate! They were so insulted and disgusted they walked out immediately. Honestly; religion causes people to behave in monumentally stupid ways towards other people; it seems as if religious fundamentalism requires you to abandon common sense at times.

During the evening Tina has brought two friends to La Planète; one is a Belgian professional photographer and the other a South African officer serving with the UN force in Congo. It’s interesting talking to both of these; they are in places we are not allowed to go to, and especially getting the UN take on events in Goma is a real eye opener. For example, a lot of the pictures you would have seen last year of refugees escaping Goma and looking suitably wretched on the roads were carefully posed by news crews for the camera….. Makes you think!

Best thing about today – meeting so many friends in one place. The Leavers’ Forum was worthwhile (even though it has taken out a day when I could have visited a school) and it has started me thinking about things like my official end of service date. I really need to get planning soon for November/December.

Worst thing – it looks as though neither Tina nor Épi will be able to come to Zanzibar at the end of the year, either for financial or other reasons. I still intend to go, and so does Soraya. I’ve asked Eric if he wants to come with us; Els or Amy might well be interested as well. But I think I need to get the dates sorted and the general arrangements and then other people will fall in with what suits Soraya and I. I’m determined not to go home without at least one more little adventure outside Rwanda!

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