Monday, 10 August 2009

Handover notes

July 10th
I’m not even going to try to go to the office today. It’s a nice day; sunny, breezy, but surprisingly chilly outside. I do a quick flick round the market; if I get bored I’m going to cook once again.
I spend most of the day writing up “handover notes” for my successor. I’m trying to give him or her a very detailed breakdown of everything I have learnt about how the education system works in Muhanga, with details of individual schools and copies of the all the documents I’ve managed to accumulate during my time here. Also I’m doing “how to….” lists about where to eat, prices you ought to pay for food, bus fares and how to use the buses, local people and their phone numbers. All the sorts of thing I wish I’d had when I started here. Its standard procedure for VSOs to do this when there is another volunteer coming in end-on to replace them, but I’m trying to avert boredom by getting my notes done well early. I’ll probably need to change them before I leave; the pace of change here is so fast that nothing stays the same for more than a fortnight. Never mind – it’s easier to change and adapt something than create it from scratch!
By late morning I’m getting square eyed from sitting at the computer, so I make a batch of carrot and sweet potato soup. When I go to eat some it tastes a bit bland, so I add some tomato sauce which we bought in Kigali recently. We thought it was a Kenyan variety of tomato ketchup, but it is laced liberally with piri-piri and you certainly wouldn’t want to splash it too liberally over your food! However, a spoonful in my soup lifts it nicely. The bakery opposite my flat has just done a big batch of bread, and I have bread rolls so light and fluffy they melt in your mouth!
I also experiment with Soraya’s recipe for avocado ice cream (Rwandan style). Take three or four ripe avocadoes (they need to be soft, not the bullet hard things they sell in English supermarkets), de-stone, skin and mash them. Add a heaped table spoon of powdered milk (or cream for you guys back home), sugar to taste, a small teaspoon of cinnamon and vanilla essence if you’ve got it, and mash or whisk until smooth and creamy. Then chuck it in the freezer for an hour or so, and you have a simple and exotic dessert. See, who says VSOs can’t look after themselves! Just you wait till I get cracking on Soraya’s sweet and chilli banana recipes!
In the afternoon I take time out to read a book (I’ve finished the P G Woodhouse I borrows from the VSP library; it’s amazing how few of the other local volunteers have even heard of Jeeves and Wooster, so I’m going to pass the book round them).
In the evening we decide we can’t be bothered to cook for ourselves and ring the girls to see if they want to eat out. Instead, they invite us round to their house and we dine well together.
Pappy the dog will be going to his new owner in Kibuye in exactly a week’s time, so this may be the last time we get jumped on by the beast!
Then we head off to Orion bar for a night of drinking and live music. Well, the “live music” turns out to be a man and a woman singing along to a karaoke style soundtrack. He’s not bad; she’s just under the note, especially on high notes. There aren’t many other people in the bar, but the few that have come are enthusiastic and supportive. The sound system is up so loud that normal conversation is impossible. Then there’s a long power cut, and the performers implode with mortification. But the audience continues singing anyway, and there’s a party atmosphere while we wait either for the electricity to return or for someone to work out how to start the generator. It turns out to be the usual problem, where someone has “borrowed” the petrol used to run the emergency generator, so there’s a pause while a guy gets sent out ton wake up the garage owner and buy more. Then the music continues, this time with a loud generator giving extra background din.
By half past ten we’ve had enough, so its home and bed.
As you can see, I’ve done absolutely no work for the District today. I’ve done a lot for VSO in the shape of handover notes. But this is how it is on VSO. There are some days when you’re working flat out and you end up tired and grumpy (“Voluntary Slaves Overseas”, as we call them) and you think “what’s the point of coming to an exotic country in Africa if all I’m going to be doing is working morning, noon and night just like back at home?” Then there are other days when you just have to make your own amusements. Everything balances out in the end.

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