Monday, 17 August 2009

Exit Tom, and Irene's farewell party

August 15th

Both Tom and I sleep in late after yesterday’s party and the storm. When we get up we find the air is clean and fresh; the morning is cool, visibility has improved noticeably, and the smell of wet grass and damp ground are all pervasive. After weeks and weeks of dust it smells like heaven!

But we’ve got no electricity. That’s not unusual after a storm, and we go down to see if the meter is OK or whether there’s a problem with all the power supply to the house, as has happened many times in the past. What we find is that it is only our flat which has no power. This has never happened before – on every previous outage all three units – the SORAS and MTN shops, the flats, and the outside lights, have all either been OK or not functioning.

Tom is packing his suitcases ready to go home, so the problem is mine. I go downstairs to speak to the SORAS manager – he is the official owner of our flat – and ask him to sort things out with Electrogaz. But I have forgotten that today is August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption, and many businesses, including SORAS, are shut. It’s beginning to look as though I’ll have neither water nor electricity for the whole weekend.

I decide to go for a walk and let Tom get on with his packing, and go up through town to the Electrogaz office. Here I have a stroke of luck. Officially the office is closed, and no members of the public are around. But workmen are laying big rocks to make a paved driveway from the newly tarmacked main road into the Electrogaz compound. They need water to set their cement, and the office is open to let them run a hose from the interior. When I go inside I find that some of the women who work for Electrogaz are there, filing papers and shredding documents. They can’t ignore an angry muzungu, so I explain what has happened and ask for a technician to come. I don’t expect anything else to happen until Monday at the earliest.

Within forty minutes a man has appeared and is testing our wiring at the meter box. There is a problem, and quite a bad one because he can’t fix it and has to ring for someone else to come and help him. It takes them another forty minutes of fiddling around, but we do get our power back. Hooray – for once I’ve got something positive to say about Electrogaz!

While the men are fixing things I’m trying to unblock the bathroom sink wastepipe. This is a stupid design, and I can’t think of a system more guaranteed to ensure it gets blocked up. Beard shavings, toothpaste, soap fat – everything lodges in the outlet pipe to give a disgusting gooey mess which has to be scraped out by hand from the wall section of the pipe, and flushed with high pressure water through the detachable bits. But we don’t have any high pressure water, and it takes a lot of filthy messing around before I’ve got everything working properly.

Tom runs through some of the business things I need to do while he’s away (not very much really), and we have an early lunch finishing up all sorts of left overs from the party. I’ve invited Soraya over, but at the crucial point she finds that their water has come back on and she’s desperate to fill buckets and jerry cans and get her washing done while the opportunity for water is there, so she declines the offer.

I head off to Kigali on the “Horizon” bus; Tom goes to the office and does his final packing there. He has two big suitcases absolutely filled with banana leaf Christmas cards to sell back at home. They weigh a ton, and as a result he has very little room for any of his personal stuff to keep within his weight and volume allowances. He’s booked a taxi to take him to the airport, so we say our farewells for the next seven weeks. It is going to feel so strange without him here!

In Kigali I have a busy afternoon. The most desperate need is to change money – I have almost no francs left. Fortunately all the FOREX places are open, and it’s nice to see the exchange rate has improved from a low of about 800 to the pound last time to around 860 today.

With money sorted I look round a bookshop for dictionaries for Gitongati school. They are much more expensive than I would have liked and I’m cursing myself for not having bought them cheaply in England. Never mind, I find one which looks the part, but I’ll need to check it out with Jeanne before I buy several copies.

Finding accommodation for tonight is less straightforward. I traipse down to the St Paul centre only to find it jam packed with wedding receptions, and nobody in the accommodation booking office. I’m fed up with the unreliability of this place, so I go back into town and get a bus to Remera and walk down to AEE and get a room there straight away. AEE is too far out of town to be convenient, but at the same time it’s quiet and safe and Patrick, the manager, is very pleasant.

A quick shower and brush up and I head back into the town centre to meet up with Geert. We’ve agreed to link up in the internet café most volunteers use next to the UTC building. I have to go on line to find exactly where Irene’s party is being held; it’s not going to be easy to find because it’s in Gikondo, a part of Kigali I don’t know very well. (It’s on the way from the town centre to the Amani guesthouse, but I’d hate to have to describe to anyone exactly how to get there).

Geert and I have a meal (you never know at these parties whether they’re doing food or not. Some people have masses of food, me included; others provide loads of drink and nothing to absorb it. Irene’s party turns out to be one of the latter). While we’re eating Geert and I have a long conversation; we have more than a year of life to compare notes on. We head off to a little bar in the ground of the big St Paul’s church and carry on until it’s time to head off to the party on motos. Our instructions are “go to the Zion Temple in Gikondo, turn right; it’s the last house on the left, with a green gate”

It feels funny to be asking moto drivers to go to a temple late on Saturday night, and the first one we stop hasn’t a clue where it is, but eventually we get there. We’re on the edge of an industrial area, with the “Rwandan Expo” site just up the road. It most certainly isn’t the area where I’d expect people to be living, let alone in smart houses. The lane on the right is a dirt track, passing abandoned, disintegrating lorries and mangled shipping containers. To say it looks unpromising is an understatement. It’s not the kind of place which you feel at ease to walk through after dark. We persuade our drivers to take us up the road (an extra hundred francs seems to still their misgivings), and sure enough, beyond the wreckage and behind the Zion Temple there is a line of very smart houses. We can already hear the party in the last house. Somewhat relieved we pay off our bikes and launch ourselves into the mêlée.

Eventually almost the entire Dutch contingent in Kigali – VSO and otherwise – turns up to see Irene off to the Congo, and for the first time in ages you hear as much Dutch being spoken as English. I touch base with most of my friends whom I haven’t seen since going home. Most of the Irish contingent are here as well, so I’ve got plenty to say after my Irish holiday.

Nidhi has got her job with Save the Children, an audacious position where she will be working in the absolute front line of conflict zones. I’m so pleased for her; she’s had to fight off very stiff competition to get the job and it tells you a lot about her personal qualities that she’s pulled it off. I tell her she must keep a blog when she gets “sent to the front”; I’m absolutely certain it’ll make riveting reading. She and I decide we’re going to go to Burundi together before we both finish in Rwanda; we’ll have to get our skates on because she doesn’t have long before her new job starts.

Épi is at the party too, and she has just been to Burundi so she’s a useful starting point for tips on how to get there and where to stay. Today she has been at a wedding with Nick and Kersty; at the last moment Épi was asked to act as bridesmaid and so she had to wear formal robes. I want to see a picture of her in her robes. Her hair is scraped back mercilessly into a tight bun on the back of her head; this is Rwandan tradition but the bun is so tight that it pulls the girls’ eyebrows backwards and is painful. (At least I think that’s what she said; I’d had quite a lot of sangria by that point).

Several people are interested in coming down to Gitarama and staying overnight; now that I have a spare room (Tom’s), and Soraya also has a spare room (Hayley’s), we can offer hospitality much more easily than before. I think weekends are going to get quite booked up for the next few weeks!

It’s so nice to go to a party like that and catch up on everyone’s news. Thank you Irene – you’ve been a good friend to me all the time I’ve been here and Kigali most certainly isn’t going to be the same without you.

Best thing about today – getting power, sink, currency all sorted; and then being able to relax and enjoy the party.

Worst thing – Tom is yet another person who is so kind and supportive to me; I’m really going to miss not having him thinking of all the things I forget, and him doing them without asking for any help from me. Enjoy your time in England, Tom; you deserve a good rest!

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