Friday, 28 August 2009

A day to forget

August 25th

Not a nice day today. But I think I might have solved the mystery of the containers in the plot of land next to the flat. I don’t think people are about to start building houses or shops there after all. The old “La Planète” bar seems to be home to a group of Indian men. I have been assuming that they are Ugandan or Kenyan Asians coming here to start up businesses. But I discover that there’s an Indian company about to start building a hydro plant somewhere in the west of Muhanga district, close to the Nyaborongo river. I think these Indian men must be engineers working on the project, and the containers hold their equipment and tools which are too big to store in “La Planète” itself. I’ve only got the haziest ideas of where the scheme is and what it will look like. There’s not going to be a huge dam across the river or anything spectacular like that; more a case of diverting river water through tunnels to cross existing watersheds and generate power before the water is returned into the Nyaborongo. Anything to give us more reliable and cheaper electricity is a good thing, but I wonder what the effects might be on agriculture during the dry season if large amounts of river water are taken away. Rwanda has a history of catastrophic droughts in the last century, especially in the east of the country, and even during the time I’ve been here it’s been touch and go with the late summer harvests.

Time and time again you realise that there is only one real necessity to life, and that is food to eat. Everything else – shelter, clothing, companionship and family – everything else is negotiable and disposable. And even today there is not enough food security in Rwanda. Taking the country as a whole, my guess is that there is enough food produced to feed everyone adequately (but not excessively). If there were to be a severe drought, the question is whether there exists the infrastructure and organisational ability to deliver food to the remotest rural districts where famine always hits hardest.

Becky and Karen have had to sack Delphine, their domestique. I’m caught in the crossfire because Delphine is a “friend” of mine (she comes to me for English lessons and to practise her keyboarding skills on my laptop), and I was the one who suggested her to Becky as suitable for the job. Becky came home early one day this week to find the gate to the compound locked and the key still in the lock so that she couldn’t get in to her own house. There was a long delay before Delphine came to the gate to let her in. Inside the house Delphine had a boy with her, and the curtains and shutters on some windows were drawn. We started to draw the obvious conclusions. We don’t think anything was stolen, but out here we’re paranoid about our security, and our domestiques, especially on days when we leave our bedrooms open to be cleaned, have the perfect opportunity to go through all our things and know exactly what we have and what could be stolen. Delphine swears that she wasn’t up to anything and that the boy is the “chef du classe” from her old school who wanted information from her (she says). But she’s handled the situation all wrongly, and there’s absolutely no future in having a domestique if there’s the slightest shadow of doubt about her trustworthiness or honesty. Delphine is very tearful and wants me to intercede for her all day, but in this situation its Becky and Karen’s call and I’m not going to put any pressure on them. If I was in their situation I would very probably have sacked her too.

For Delphine it’s disastrous. The whole idea of her working was so that she could start saving up money to put herself through university. Now she’s lost two thirds of her income, and the remaining third comes from being domestique to Moira and Kerry. After this week’s episode there’s no certainty that they’ll want to keep her on, either. I hope they will, because I think the girl has learned a hard lesson. I think it was a simple error of judgement on her part to let the boy into the house (she could always have talked to him at the gate), but it was a disastrous mistake and she’s got to learn.

In the evening a gang of us go round to Becky and Karen’s for a lovely meal; afterwards we try out some games Becky has brought with her. I get everyone playing “consequences” which seems new to all the others, yet it was one of the first party games I ever learned. We end up laughing like drains when we read out the stories and it occurs to us that this would be an excellent way of filling in the time while we wait to be served at restaurants.

Ho hum; it’s been a rotten day for all of us – me, Becky, Karen and especially Del. And right at the end of the day we get even more disturbing news. Soraya has been out to two schools in Kabacuzi and word from one of them is that in the District re-shuffle of jobs, Claude has been replaced as Director of Education by Valérian, and given another post. We don’t know whether it’s a promotion or not, or whether he’ll still have any input into Muhanga schools. I can’t imagine working here without Claude’s energy and sharpness; nobody else can touch him. If we really do have a new regime about to start, then I’m glad I’ll be out of it in a few months’ time.

Best thing about today – the evening meal.

Worst thing – just about everything else. Tomorrow there’s one of these big meetings of all the heads in the District. Nobody’s told me about it; I picked up the news from Soraya and she only heard it from the head teacher of Kabacuzi. Another triumph for District office communication and another reason why we really do need those Monday morning briefing sessions.

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