Thursday, 13 August 2009

Heat and Dust

August 10th

My God, it’s a shock to the system having to get up at 5.30 again! Barely light outside, and a dusty grey African dawn. We’ve had absolutely no rain at all for over a month now. All the earth roads are covered with an inch or more of powdery dust and even after just a few hours I can taste it between my teeth. And that’s with the windows closed.

I’m up to the office for seven o’clock and greeted like a long lost friend by everyone from Claude to the cleaner. Even the postmistress makes a fuss of me when I go to check the mail, and even our baker across the road from the flat asks me where I’ve been and why I haven’t been coming to see him. Claude has two lovely presents for me from Nerissa’s naming ceremony; a big agaseke basket with a pattern standing for wealth and riches, and a full-sized milk container (which also symbolises wealth and prosperity). I have a flash drive to give him, and an outfit for the baby. Nerissa will be one in November, and the outfit is both a coming back to Africa present and an advance birthday gift, too!

Claudine makes a fuss of me and I give her an outfit for her baby, Johnson. On my desk is the Father’s Day card from my daughter Catherine; it’s taken the best part of two months to reach me via snail mail. Perhaps the post goes slower in the dry season?

We have our weekly briefing meeting, and it begins to become clear that I haven’t got to do any leading in tomorrow and Wednesday’s INSET here in Gitarama, but I will need to chip in where I can and lead discussion groups and the like. More importantly, the big meeting to decide how Muhanga District is going to be restructured is happening today, and the formal announcements will be made on Thursday. Claude seems very upbeat about the whole process; I get the impression that someone has already told him that his job is safe. By ten o’clock everybody has gone to the meeting and Soraya and I are left with just Béatrice, the secretary, in the office. That’s not a good situation to be in; with the start of term there is a long queue of people waiting to see either Claude or Valérian or Innocent, and none of them are back until late afternoon. So the people sit patiently outside through the heat of the day. This includes women with small babies. The only shade is right outside my window and at one time I’ve got two women feeding their babies within inches of where I’m trying to write a report for VSO on what I’ve done over the past three months!

More importantly, Claude has the modem with him today and is willing to let me have it for as long as I need. I spend the whole of the morning, and most of the afternoon on line. What bliss! I can post my blogs which have been hanging around since before I left for England, update virus checkers, and deal with a massive list of VSO correspondence which has been backing up for weeks. It feels good to be back on top of things once more.

Other little titbits of information arrive during the day. The “New Times” has articles about bus chaos yesterday with all the students travelling to their schools – tell me about it! I was there and part of it! And there’s another article about the severe water shortages in the Eastern districts of Rwanda. I feel for Épi and Sonya and Tina who are trying to work in area where water is desperately short at the moment. I decide to put both these articles on the blog.

The bus fares from Gitarama to Kigali have been hiked from 700 to 900 on a permanent basis, it seems. A pity, because cheap transport to and from the capital has been one of the most pleasant things about living here all the time I’ve been in Rwanda.
The road running through the town centre is still not finished, but they’re at the point of putting on the final tarmac surface. There are workmen and lorries all over the place; air hoses are blasting dust off the road surface, sending enormous plumes of dust up into the air which hang in the sky for minutes on end and get into your eyes and throat. And other workmen are spraying molten tar onto any dents in the road and covering them with stone chips. You have to give these men a wide berth because they’re slap-happy with the tar spray and it splashes back off the kerbs and irregularities and splatters cars, trees, and any people who get too close. But where they’ve finished the road foundations we have a wide, flat, even thoroughfare through the town centre. What a contrast to a couple of months ago!
Claude tells me he needs my secondary census data urgently. I still haven’t had the figures from four schools, and I’m going to need Claude himself to prise the information from them. We won’t be able to make a start on that until after this INSET course on Tues and Weds.

For lunch Soraya and I go to Tranquilité and I have my first mélange since arriving back. I’ve decided that mélange is one of the things I definitely won’t miss when I come home for good! On the way to the restaurant we recognise father Bernard, who was one of the priests we stayed with at Nyabinoni last year. He’s been transferred to Rongi and that’s a useful bit of information to know if either of us wants to do some trainings up in Rongi and are short of somewhere to spend a night!

In the evening Soraya and I go up to the “Hotel Splendide” to meet Charlotte and others from the VSO office who are staying there ahead of tomorrow’s training. Charlotte is leading the whole process, and we run through the programme before we eat. “Spendide” might be the name, but the service is painfully slow. And it’s not as if we’re ordering anything excruciatingly complicated. Definitely not the place for a quick snack! Charlotte tells us that Kigali has just opened its first “fast food” restaurant, where you can buy things in boxes to take out. Truly, Rwanda is coming into the 21st century with a vengeance!

I walk Soraya home through a cool, moonlit night. The town seems very quiet, surprisingly so since tomorrow is Gacaca and usually people make the most of Monday evenings because they don’t have to go to work on Tuesday…. But the market on Mondays is getting almost as busy as Saturday because people know they can’t buy food on Tuesdays. I nipped in to buy a few things and got back into the bustle and jostle of an African market. Tesco might be clean and efficient and hygienic, but it has none of the fun and excitement and edge of a Rwandan market place.

August is one of the unsettling times in the VSO year where many of our friends are packing up and leaving for good, and it feels as if we’re becoming very thin on the ground. Joe O’Toole has returned to Ireland, and several other friends are about to go at the end of the month. But most of our friends who have been away for the summer are now back in circulation, and we’ll have sixteen or so new recruits starting at the end of August, so it’s just part of the rhythm of the year.

Best thing about today – being made to feel so welcome by everybody I work with It’s a lovely feeling.

Worst thing – not having unlimited water on tap. I’ve become very soft during three weeks away, and I’ve already started to take water for granted. Africa soon brings you back to reality. Water out of a tap is not something which any of us can take for granted for the rest of our lives, and possibly even in England we’re going to have to re-think out attitudes to water.

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