Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Logging on with Her Majesty; stocking up in BUtare

June 3rd

Into the office and I manage an hour’s work. And would you believe it – the morning after I’ve spent loads of time in Kigali on the VSO internet, here is Claude in the office in Gitarama and offering me his modem for an hour or two! One thing I am able to do is re-register with the British embassy so that they know I exist as a British citizen in Rwanda. Might come in handy if there’s an apocalyptic war in the next six months; not to mention the possibility of an invitation to the Queen’s birthday bash in Kigali! These hours first thing in the morning are very useful and set me up for the rest of the day. Plus it does no harm at all to be seen in the office first thing, even if I’m skiving for the rest of the day. My office colleagues will just assume I’m doing my usual thing of an hour’s work followed by a school visit!

I gather up Catherine and we take a slow matata from the petrol station just up the road to Butare. And slow is just what this matata is. We fiddle about and stop every few hundred yards all through the 75 kilometres to Butare; it takes us over two hours to get there. Mind you, Catherine sees a real slice of rural life on the way. The express buses are mainly patronised by the new Rwandan middle class; relatively wealthy, confident and assured. The slow buses are for the rural poor; they haggle with the convoyeur over fares even when they know full well that there’s a set fare for the distance. Even if you can save ten francs at this level of subsistence it makes a real difference to how much you can eat in the evening….

I text Tiga to see if she’s around and wants to eat with us, but she’s off doing the Mineduc work and won’t be in town till tomorrow. A pity; it’s a long time since I’ve been able to talk to her.

At Butare we make a beeline for the museum, and spend a couple of hours going round it. Catherine’s fascinated by the section on musical instruments, and me, as usual, by all the basketry. As usual we are almost the only people going round the place. One of the custodians, a Burundian, comes to speak to us and we get a guided tour round the replica chief’s hut which is the star attraction among the exhibits.

At the end I buy up a load of banana leaf cards to send home, but I have to make sure I don’t clean them out completely – that wouldn’t be fair to them. We walk down through the main street to “Matar” supermarket and café, and Catherine samples the best of Butare cuisine. Then she gets a Brucey guided tour round the Belgian colonial quarter; like me she thinks the dual carriageways, lit by street lamps but completely unsurfaced and now deeply creviced and potholed after the rainy season, are a hoot. We walk back through town and up to the cathedral and the scholastic quarter of town. For once, the weather in Butare is cool and breezy and not at all its usual hot and sticky self.

By half past four we’ve just about walked ourselves out. Christi rings to say can she come round for a meal and meet Catherine; we need to return as fast as we can or the markets will be shut before I can buy us stuff to eat. We come back on an express bus, but instead of a comfortable “coaster” it’s just one of the small matatas being driven at breakneck speed up the main road. Even though it’s supposed to be express, the driver stops at one place to buy milk and somewhere else for other purchases – the prospect of a slightly cheaper bargain along the route is far too good to be missed for the sake of being an express bus!

So when we get back to Gitarama it is after dark, and the market is closed. We are dropped outside our front door by the bus, and when we arrive at the flat we find Tom and Christi both already there and with an evening meal half cooked for us. Christi’s brought over tinned chicken, and Tom’s busy making a curry out of it. I set to and do a juicy side salad with cabbage, onion and cucumber – good job I bought another jar of mayonnaise this morning! So in the end we eat very well, and natter until almost ten o’clock. Catherine’s exhausted; I think that like me, she’s doing twice as much walking here in Africa as she usually does in Surrey, and all the fresh air and general excitement is getting to her.

It’s an early night for all of us. My only regret is that I haven’t been able to arrange a school visit for tomorrow and I’ll have to try to fix something at the last minute in the morning. Never mind; it’s been a good day and we’ve both enjoyed ourselves.

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