Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Entertaining by candle light

June 29th

A lousy start to the morning. We’re completely out of water; normally even during shortages it comes on during the night and at least the toilet cistern fills, also the shower reservoir. Today we have nothing. To make things worse, our bucket and jerry cans are just about empty, so first thing in the dawn light I’m traipsing up and down the outside stairs to fill all our water holders from the tap. Luckily, the guard hasn’t connected up the hose to start watering his precious flower plants. If he had done so he’d have got a tongue lashing from me – I’m in just the grouchy mood to let fly at him! Meanwhile some of yesterday’s food has stuck well onto our pots and pans. The starter motor in our kitchen strip light isn’t working properly, so it’s a couple of minutes fiddling around to get it to come on.
All of which means I’m a bit late for work and Claude is ringing me while I’m walking up the road, saying where am I because he’s about to start the department meeting. Two department meetings in two successive weeks? I’ll never keep up the pace! We say what we’ve done last week and what we hope to get done this week: in my case the termly report for Claude, finalise secondary census forms etc).
Claude comes out with this week’s little homily, which is “remember that time costs money”. Be here and be working. OK, but in the next breath he tells us that tomorrow is yet another whole day of Gacaca and the office will be closed. Muzungus are not required to attend; we can work from home, but all the office staff are required to go to the stadium and listen to the court case. If they’re not there the day will be deemed to have been taken as one of their annual leave days. Wednesday is Independence Day, and yet another public holiday (it’s the day Rwandan became formally independent from Belgium). With our VSO meeting on Thursday and Friday it means I’ll only do 1 day in the office this week. Time might be money, but at the moment we have rather a lot of “down time”.
Valérian gives me some attendance lists from education meetings over the past couple of months so that I can check out head teachers’ phone numbers. At last I’m able to update my complete list for the district. There are still a few primary schools where I cannot confirm the name of the head and his/her phone number, but all the secondary schools are accurate and I have the only exact copy in the District. I never realised until last night just how even such a simple thing as my contact list makes life so much simpler for everyone else in the office.
I spend the morning fiddling around and filling in some forms. Els has given Soraya her old laptop and we take it to Cecille, the ICT person, to have the internet programme put on. Unfortunately it’s not so simple, and in the end Ceci spends most of the day working on the computer. But eventually she gets it finished, and Soraya, at long, long last, has her own laptop to use.
I give Claude a list of my movements till departure – holiday dates for going home in the summer; probable Zanzibar dates and my end of service date. Already my leaving Rwanda has come forward twice; I now think I’ll be finishing on December 2nd and flying on the third. I want to fly Brussels Airlines to Gatwick even if I have to pay the difference between Brussels and the cheapest route. I also calculate that there are only about a dozen free weekends between now and my departure, and I still have several places in Rwanda which I want to visit. Starting this weekend in Nyamasheke, and continuing as soon as I come back here in August with a trip out to Nyagatare.
Soraya and I meet up with Moira and Kerry in “Tranquillité” for lunch and then we go back to the office. I buy a whole lot of phone credit and spend most of the afternoon trying to contact errant secondary schools. Béatrice, our part time secretary, is in today, and I discover that Nyabikenke school has given her the census details on a flash drive. Béatrice has loaded them onto her computer, but now she can’t find them. Most of the schools are narked that I’m asking them to send me an extra copy, but at least they have kept their own copy and can simply make me a Photostat. But ETEKA, the technical school out at Kabgayi, says it has not kept a copy of the census form, and therefore we have lost the only copy. Honestly, there are times when I want to bang my head against the wall here! One head is coming through Gitarama tomorrow morning on his way to a meeting in Kigali. Because the office is closed for Gacaca I will have to lurk outside it and he will give me the stuff as he passes. Yeah, right! I’ll make sure I’m here but we’ll see if the stuff materialises!
Back home there’s still no water in our taps, but at least there is water downstairs. I’ve done a shop up at the market in the hope that we have enough food to last us through tonight (guests of Tom coming), tomorrow (Gacaca all day) and Wednesday (public holiday – Independence Day). We’ll see.
Just as Tom and I are setting to with the cooking, an almighty storm breaks out. It’s been threatening to rain for days now, and when the storm arrives it’s a biggie! The power goes off and comes back about three times. Each time we light candles and get out our torches. Finally the lights go out and stay out. So we’re entertaining three guests and cooking for six without running water and by candle light. Who says we’re not enterprising?!
I find that after you’ve been using candles for half an hour or so, your eyes adjust to the amount of light and you see things better. Cooking is not a problem; washing up is something else! We dine in style tonight; Tom has intended to do a shepherd’s pie, but we don’t have enough meat for six so we pad it out with our tomato base. I do a juicy coleslaw with raisins and a dash of curry powder; we have iced water to drink with a hint of orange, and finish off a batch of fruit salad. Our visitors are Beth, the FH intern, Christi, and Dawn, who is here on a short visit to FHI and will be returning to America on Thursday.
All the while we’re cooking the storm is raging outside. We have our first rain for over three weeks; very much needed, but in such quantities that it will flood and cause damage to crops. (I hope it fills my water tank at Cyeza school; what a pity the Gatenzi tank isn’t installed yet. On a roof the size of Gatenzi’s it would fill the tank in fifteen minutes!). The lightning is wonderful; it’s one of the rare times we have a proper tropical storm with continuous lightning. It is like a lightshow outside our windows, with flashes coming from many different sections of the sky. The entire atmosphere seems to be on fire. There’s rarely any lightning close enough to make us jump; it’s high level stuff up in the clouds, and it goes on and on until well after eleven o’clock.
The rain has been so heavy that Tom has to fetch and carry our guests in the FH pick-up truck, and just walking from our steps round to the front of the house is enough to get you properly wet.
During the conversation we talk about the craft co-operative out at Nsanga in Rugendabari secteur. This is going great guns. It’s a group of women weaving big, flat baskets (fruit bowl style); they’re really organised and enterprising to the point where they’ve just bought a plot of land from the government and are (by themselves) building a workshop to do their weaving in, and intending to use the rest of the ground to produce vegetables to sell. It’s the classic case of where you give people some money to get themselves set up and once they’ve tasted success they’re up and running and don’t need any more handouts. It’s just the kind of thing the government loves to publicise and dangle in front of the rest of the country as a carrot – “if these people can do this thing, then so can the rest of you”. FHI is doing some quite extraordinarily effective work with these women’s groups up-country.
When our guests leave we still have no electricity, and it’s time for bed. Just at that moment, while I’m in my pyjamas and with a candle to light me to bed, the electricity returns. It’s time to do the washing up, but with very little water you just can’t get things properly clean. Everything has a film of starchy muck on it.
Into bed and I sleep with the curtains open; the free light show is still flashing and banging until well into the night, and there is more heavy rain in the early hours. I’m so pleased that at least the flowers and shrubs, by now beginning to wilt and droop, will have been freshened up.
Worst thing about today – I hate being without water. I used to think power cuts were the worst privations here, but I’m learning that you can live without electricity. Not having water for washing, doing the dishes, and for the toilet – well, that’s an altogether lower level of deprivation. When I get back to England I’m going to turn on a tap and just stare at the endless supply of water coming through it!

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