Monday, 10 August 2009

Night flight back to Rwanda

August 9th
Back to Rwanda for the last part of my service. I leave London at dusk; from the plane England is all built up with lights and roads, and occasional black patches in between. France is the opposite – massively black, with occasional clumps of lights marking the towns. It’s too cloudy to see either the Channel or the Alps, and before I know what’s happening we’re landing at Rome and taxiing along endless runways to and from the terminal. But I’m lucky; I’ve managed to get a seat with extra leg room all the way to Addis Ababa. As we land at Rome the things that stand out from the plane are the cafes with rows of outdoor tables all lit up, looking like a mass of tiny bun tins from the air.

From Rome to Addis I manage to sleep, and the next thing I remember is dawn at high altitude. A cold, mauve colour, gradually changing into the most ethereal and beautiful blue. Completely even, and unsullied by any cloud or con trail. A beautiful, beautiful welcome back to Africa.

When I flew home via Addis at Christmas I remarked how Rwanda was bright green and lush, whereas Ethiopia was brown and burnt up. This time the roles are reversed. Ethiopia is the most vivid emerald green, a startlingly bright green. A green so bright as to look artificial. We have thick cloud right down to the last few hundred feet on the approach to Addis airport, and just after we land the heavens open and there’s a tremendous downpour. The runway is covered with puddles, and as planes take off they cascade water from their wings. It’s an impressive sight.
Rwanda, when we catch sight of it through the mid day clouds, is brown and dry looking, and definitely in need of a good rainstorm. There are plenty of lakes, and as we descend to their airport the landscape looks more and more familiar, and I realise that Rwandan once again feels like “home” to me.

At the airport I’m met by Kersti and Irene. Kersti’s car is on hire to Michael, so Irene has driven her Jesuit Refugee Services pick-up truck to meet me. It’s blazing hot in Kigali, and I’m more than ready for the lift into the town centre.

During my holiday in England the Government here has sacked the Education Minister and replaced him. The date for the start of the autumn term has been put back again to tomorrow (August 10th) after being brought forward to the 3rd. But in true Rwandan fashion the decision to alter the date was made at the last minute and has scrambled all sorts of training courses being planned. Why can’t people here make a decision and then stick to it? The effect for me is potentially serious. I have an enormously heavy suitcase loaded down with sweets and presents for people – a whole 40kg of food no less – and I can’t lug it around for long distances. All the bus terminals are swamped with young people travelling to their schools for tomorrow’s term start. (I had assumed that with an August 3rd start to the term I’d have avoided all this pandemonium). The woman at the “Horizon” bus desk says the earliest she can give me is 2.30 – and I have to kick my heels for an hour and a half.

Fortunately I find a seat and I’m happy to sit and read my English newspaper, out of the sun and away from the beggars. Eventually someone takes pity on the old muzungu and they shoehorn me onto the 1.30 bus; in the end I don’t have to hang around for more than ten minutes.

So I’m back at Gitarama by three. Even better, the bus is going on to Kabgayi and drops me and my suitcase about 50 yards from my front door. How’s that for service! You wouldn’t have been able to get that level of service in England!
During the bus journey I’ve been texting like there’s no tomorrow. Tom’s dropping in for a few minutes only; he’s off touring round the south of Rwandan with a visiting group of Americans and won’t be staying tonight or Monday night. Soraya’s in town and comes round at three to fill me in on everything that’s been happening. And what changes!

Hayley’s finished her service early and has already left for Kigali; she flies out in the small hours of tomorrow morning. A job she applied for has come up, and she has just one week to re-enter England before she’s hard at work on a “proper” job. I’m really sorry not to have been able to say goodbye to her face to face, so we chat on the phone for a few minutes.

The other key issue is that it looks as if I’m supposed to be heading up two days of teacher training on “inclusion” this Tuesday and Wednesday. Michael won’t be able to help me because he has visitors staying over with him. Geert may drop in for one day. Kerry and Moira should be able to help, and Soraya. But we need to pin Claude down on exactly what’s happening, where, and when; and also get some definite decisions out of Charlotte on who is leading and exactly what they want us to cover. It’s desperately short notice if I’ve got to prepare two days’ work from scratch!

I spend the rest of the afternoon trying to get sorted out around the house. Tom, bless him, has left plenty of food in the fridge so at least I don’t have to go shopping straight away.

In the evening I drift down for the muzungu meal; there are sixteen of us tonight because we have Amalia and Sarah visiting from Gikongoro and Kigali. (Amalia is here tonight because she finds it impossible to get any place on a matata going back to Gikongoro today. Every single bus is full to the gunwales with school students. I did really well to get home to Gitarama so quickly, and could easily have had to spend a night in Kigali).

By the end of the evening my head’s reeling from trying to take in all the news and gossip; with trying to think what I need to do for this training course; and from spending 24 hours on planes and hanging around airports. I’ve decided that I love flying itself, but hate everything that goes with it – the airports, the security checks, the stress of trying to remember what I need to have packed, and so on.
One good thing. Geert says the Dutch money for our Shyogwe building project has arrived and both the school office and the classroom block can be finished enough to put them into service. That’s not the full amount for the classrooms, but enough to get them weatherproofed and serviceable. He’s here for another ten days and will jolly things long; we hope that by the time he leaves everything will be working itself through and all I’ll have to do is pay the occasional visit and take more pictures for the Randstad sponsors.

Best thing about today – I love being at home with my family, but it’s also so nice to be back here in Rwanda. I’ve had such a welcome from everyone, and I feel I’m home.

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