Friday, 26 June 2009

Toasting marshmallows at Kibungo

June 23rd

Our training doesn’t start until 9.30, and we want to be there for nine, so we have a leisurely start to the day. Tina has real coffee and, luxury of luxuries, fresh croissants which she has bought in Kigali. I can’t remember ever eating croissants in Rwanda before now!
When we’re ready we walk to the bus park and hire motos. Épi is not with us today because she has to work in one particular school for three days a week. We roar up the hill towards Kibungo town and stop at the District Office. Soraya and I have never been up to the Ngoma office before, so we go in and meet the staff there. They are a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of three volunteers going to do training in one of their schools, but are glad to see us and make us feel welcome. Rwanda is such a small country that everybody working in education administration knows each other, so as soon as I mention that we work for Claude and Valérian they can all place us.

Tina collects a pile of papers and we set off again on our motos to the school. We go out on the main road towards Rusumo, towards Tanzania, and descend for miles down a long, gently sloping hillside, into a deep valley. The road twists and turns as it crosses spurs projecting out into the valley; our moto drivers are young and reckless and throw us round the bends, often driving blind round sharp corners on the wrong side of the road. The population density here is much less than in Muhanga; you really do get a sense of space, of room to breathe in this part of Rwanda. In fact, above the farmed areas there is a belt of trees lining the middle slopes of the valley, and then what appears to be a belt of unused land extending up to the hilltops. You certainly don’t get that in my part of Rwanda!

Eventually we turn off onto a dirt road, cross the valley floor where there are water pumps and people working up to their knees in irrigated vegetable patches, and start up an equally long hill winding its way up the other side of the valley. Rukira school stands on the top of the hill, spread out in an untidy straggle, along with the village, over a distance of a mile or so.

As soon as we hit the dirt road we throw up clouds of dust. Our moto drivers are very considerate, and we drive up the hill three abreast, taking up the whole road. This means we don’t choke in each other’s dust, but it’s a bit risky if someone is coming round a bend towards us, downhill. The bikers’ solution is that all three hoot their horns continuously every time we come to a bend. The noise ensures that every single farmer, every single child, every single woman walking to market with a bowl of fruit on her head – they all stop to watch the prospect of three muzungus being taken in style to Rukira village. But it’s a great feeling and beyond doubt one of the most enjoyable moto rides I’ve ever had in Rwanda.

The school is big – a primary of over a thousand children and a tronc commun section on the same site. The buildings are well made of brick, with some interesting architecture, especially in the desperately complicated timbering of their roofs. We are given one of the best rooms; all the windows have glass in them; the room has been emulsioned in a bright green, but it is cool, breezy and ideal for our purpose. We get set up while the teachers – twenty five of them – arrive. The head mistress introduces us; she’s delighted to find I speak French and for the rest of the day I get landed with translating any bits of work which people find difficult to follow.

It is fascinating to work with another professional, and Tina has both a primary specialist and experienced in teaching English as a foreign language. (In London she works at the German school in their primary department). We work through till half past three, when our motos return for us.

These lads on their bikes are also having a great time today – two muzungu women to chat up and show off to, and an easy fare on good roads. Down the dirt road into the valley bottom we freewheel the whole way, once again three abreast and with a massive plume of dust stretching behind us like a veil. One of the worst things that can happen to you on these earth roads in the dry season is to get stuck behind a lorry. If you can’t pass it you have to endure mile after mile choking in red dust which gets everywhere.

Back at Kibungo Soraya and I descend on Épi who is very happy that she only has one more day of teaching left this term. Tina goes back to the office to drop off some papers and deal with officialdom. When she arrives back with us we all four walk to Tina’s house, gathering sticks and small pieces of wood as we go. We’re going to make a fire in Tina’s backyard tonight and toast marshmallows. Now it is absolutely unheard of for muzungus to go scavenging for wood, and we end up the talking point of the neighbourhood yet again. Strictly speaking, gathering sticks for firewood is illegal in Rwanda, but nobody ever enforces the law and everybody does it. The most common reason for young children being late for school is that their parents have sent them out to get firewood, and threatened them that there will be no food for them in the evening if they come home empty handed.
At Tina’s house we meet Tom (not “my” Tom; this is Tom Lee who works in the anti-HIV project and is based with Tina in Kibungo). Tom has just been for a run, and when he’s ready we all go into town for a mélange. The restaurant in Kibungo is very good, and African tea there is amazingly cheap at only RwF100 a cup. That’s got to be the best value in Rwanda!

After we’ve eaten we go for a drink, and then drift home. Épi’s feeling tired and not at her best and decides to drop out and go home to sleep, but the other four of us get a fire going at Tina’s and spend ages toasting marshmallows. They cook very quickly (in fact we discover we’ve left the bag too close to the fire, and the uncooked marshmallows inside it have all fused together). Hot marshmallows have to be treated with care; we burn our lips and Tina blisters her finger trying to stop molten sugar dripping onto her clothes.
Then we all spend more time star gazing until eventually we decide that enough’s enough and we crash out for another good night’s sleep.
Today has been a great day –p an excellent training session, and great fun in the evening. Who’d ever have expected that I would come to Africa and end up toasting marshmallows on a campfire within spitting distance of the Akagera game park?

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