Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Weekend with Catherine at Kibuye

May 29th – 31st

Into the office early in Friday to get some printing done (inspection reports – I always remember to do a copy for Claude, but always forget to do one for the school itself. The copy for the mayor can wait until there’s more ink in the printer and until I feel sure she’ll actually read the things!). Claude’s not there. So the other main thing on the agenda – checking emails and posting blogs – I can’t do today. It’ll have to wait till sometime next week. A pity, because I would have liked to have posted pictures of Catherine on a moto for Teresa to see.

Back to the flat and pack a bag ready to go to Kibuye. In the event there are probably only five of us going. Nidhi’s not sure, nor is Piet, and Michael’s thinking about it but in any case won’t be able to come till Saturday. No matter; there well might be some of the Kigali crowd there who I don’t know about.

The bus journey to Kibuye is less frantic than usual; we have a sensible driver. The weather isn’t as clear as last time, but the road to Kibuye is always impressive by any standards. It’s a stopping bus; at every single point it is overloaded by at least one person, and we make stops every kilometre or so. If you’re not in a hurry I quite like these local buses; you get a feeling of Rwandan life with all the passengers joining and leaving. Today we seem to have a larger than usual selection of young babies and their mothers travelling with us; one youngster has filled his nappy just before leaving Gitarama and in the heat of the bus it’s a relief when the family eventually disembarks. I’m used to the ride by now. The endless winding of the road; the slow ascent up to the edge of the rift valley and the headlong plunge down into the rift itself never fail to impress me. Just before you reach the ridge there are the remains of Gishwati Forest, an ancient piece of untouched woodland like Nyungwe. Along the highest section the views open out and you san see virtually the whole of Rwanda stretching out in front of you, heading eastwards to the Tanzanian border. In the other direction, if you know when to look, there’s the enormous expanse of Kivu stretching right across your field of vision like liquid silver, until it blends in with the sky somewhere over the Congo. Today the sky is overcast, and there is a play of light and shade where the sun is breaking through in patches to illuminate distant hills.

At Kibuye we immediately feel the heat – Gitarama was cool this morning; Kibuye is hot and sultry. By the time we’ve walked up the short stretch to Home St Jean we’re already sticky and ready for a swim. Jean Marie, the custodian at the Home, welcomes us and remembers most of us from last time. Yes, he has rooms for us. Yes, we can have the rooms we want in the annexe. We pile into the rooms and make ourselves at home.

Next on the agenda is lunch. We go down to the Eden Rock hotel because we know the food is good there, especially the fish. Whether you’re having fish brochettes (Tom) or sambasa (most of the rest of us), it comes out fresh and never disappoints. As usual, the beer boat is unloading at the quayside, and water taxis are flitting between the various hotels which are strung along the bays and inlets. Catherine is suitably impressed by the whole set-up, as well she should be!

After lunch it’s swim time. Soraya and Tom are not coming in the water; the rest of us swim across the channel from Home St Jean and back. That little stretch of water is becoming something of an initiation test for volunteers and their visitors! As usual there’s something of a swirling current in this part of the lake; getting across is relatively easy, but coming back always seems to take so much longer and needs so much more effort.

After all our exertions we’re ready for tea, and we know there’s a two hour or so wait for food to arrive. Home St Jean’s Bolognese pizzas have wonderful toppings, but they’ve not got the knack of doing pizza bases. The result is a chewy, heavy, doughy base, far too thick, but with a beautiful topping.

Becky has brought cards, a Frisbee and a mini rugby ball, so we decide to play cards until we’re all too tired to go on. I’m sad to report that even on this Friday night, and in this beautiful place, we’re all ready for bed by nine o’clock. I’m so tired that I plug into my iPod but I’m asleep before even the first track has played, and I wake up in the night thinking I’ve got earache but it’s my earpieces still in place and jammed between me and the pillow!

Saturday starts baking hot. We’re breakfasting on the terrace but have to shelter in the shade under the upper floor walkway until our food arrives. H St J does lovely hot chocolate drinks, good omelettes and fruit, and the breakfasts here really set you up for the day. We decide to split up; I want to take Catherine round the town and the “ring road”, and we agree to meet the others at “Bethanie” for lunch. By the time we leave it is clouding up fast. We walk through Kibuye town; it is umuganda day and the market is closed. Few people seem to be doing any form of umuganda, but they might have started early and finished early because there’s a large group of people meeting in the stadium and everyone else is looking furtive and not making as much noise as usual.

We explore the little road leading to the Moriah Hill resort; every time you turn a corner here you get another beautiful view across inlets of the lake towards distant hills; every little inlet has its boats. Fishermen are still out on the lake, but mostly it’s the odd pleasure boat (speedboat) hired from one of the hotels, or the water taxis, or single men in dugout canoes. Now and then someone is singing as they paddle, with the sound travelling over the water. They’re even laying fibre optic cable round this little ring road, and the excavations are on the lake-ward side which makes it difficult for Catherine to get the pictures she wants to take.

Just as we reach Bethanie the wind gets up; there’s a storm on its way. Sure enough we have thunder and lightning on cue; the distant mountains disappear behind a grey mist of rain. The temperature drops dramatically, and the ambiance changes from Caribbean summer to Lake District in spring. We sit under shelter and wait for Tom and the others to join us. Rain dances in front of us, and even the wagtails and other small birds take shelter. It gets positively chilly. We eat well at Bethanie – it’s the place to go if you like salads - and just after we’ve finished we negotiate with a water bus to take us back to Hotel Golf. Unfortunately the rain has more to give us, and our romantic ferry ride across the lake turns into a cold and damp endurance test until we can jump out and seek shelter again.

I go for a walk to explore some little paths which wind in and among the steep hills surrounding the lake; the others go back to H St J and crash out for the rest of the afternoon.

The rest of the day we just relax and chill. The weather never really warms up properly again; it’s not exactly cold, but neither is it warm enough to be truly pleasant and relaxing. I feel a bit short-changed – Kibuye is usually so reliable in its weather. And, after all, we’re supposed to be in the dry season and this amount of rain just shouldn’t be happening. The bonus is that as the rain clears the outlines of distant mountains are very sharp. You can’t see the volcanoes; you certainly can’t see any red glow against the sky from Nyarogongo, but Idjwi Island out in the middle of the lake is particularly sharply defined, as are all the smaller islands closer to Kibuye.

On Sunday morning Catherine and I take a pre-breakfast swim just for form’s sake – a trip to Kibuye isn’t Kibuye without a swim every day, including a swim on your final day before leaving – and we reluctantly pack up and take our leave. Needless to say the weather today is perfect. Still, it makes a nice memory for Catherine to be leaving this place looking at its best.

Our bus is overloaded on the way back and I end up with a lovely young Rwandan girl sitting on my lap for half the journey. Honestly, why do these things always happen to me and not to any of the others? It’s not exactly a hardship to have a girl sitting on your lap, even if she’s too embarrassed to make conversation. It is very unusual to have the longer distance buses overloaded; we think that the ticket office oversold because they’d miscalculated how many passengers were getting out en route to transfer to Gisenyi-bound buses.

Chill out in the flat all afternoon; Catherine’s feeling the strain after three or four hectic days and Tom’s been eating too much rich food at Kibuye. Then it’s down to “One Love” for the evening meal and lo and behold we have all eight Gitarama “Tear Fund” volunteers with us. We end up about sixteen strong which is the biggest muzungu meal ever! And even then we are missing Tom, Moira, Christi, Andrea and Sadio and Marin. If we factor in the Cuban doctors we reckon there are around thirty muzungus now living and working in Gitarama. That’s a lot! Catherine gets to grips with “omelette spéciale”, and I finally retrieve my big flash drive from Michael. Britney has come down specially from Kigali to join us, too. She’s living in some palatial place rent free (i.e. she’s house sitting) and that makes quite a change from living in a sort of broom cupboard at her school for a couple of months!

We’re all full; life is good; tomorrow’s another day.

Best thing about today – coming back home; catching up on all sorts of gossip.
Worst thing – nothing really.

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