Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Runny jelly, and the great text book bazaar

August 17th

Into the office as usual on a Monday determined to get more done than last week. Fat chance. Claude’s lost the rent invoice (again), so nothing doing there. I manage to get the process of signing and stamping my renewed contract underway; with any luck it’ll be signed sealed and delivered just as I’m finishing. (But apparently it has to be done so as not to queer the pitch for future volunteers). It’s now in the mayor’s in tray. But the mayor is away on holiday, so we’re hoping the vice mayor might deign to cast his eye over it.

There’s no Monday briefing meeting for us this morning; by seven thirty Claude is already besieged by visitors. I really can't adjust to this crazy system they use in Rwanda whereby nobody is able to delegate, and everything has to be read, signed off and stamped by just one person. The more important that person is, the bigger the queue of people beating a path to his or her door, and the greater the chaos when that person is away. Just imagine the pile of paper that’s building up because the mayor is taking her holiday at the moment…

I pinch the internet modem and get blogs posted and emails written. Béatrice has printed me off a blank secondary school census sheet and somehow I’m going to have to get it out to the five schools for which we have no details. That could take some time.

Soraya and I have a serious talk about Zanzibar and agree to use the evening for planning. After Saturday night’s party we know that Épi is OK for the dates we have in mind, and I won’t feel secure until we have some sort of draft programme sorted. And maybe the odd booking might help, too!

Today turns into one of those silly days when I need to speak to Claude to organise things, but he’s so busy I can’t disturb him. (I know I could always play the muzungu card and walk in and interrupt whatever he’s saying to a Rwandan visitor, but that Rwandan may have travelled since four in the morning to get here from Nyabinoni, and I think it’s not polite or culturally sensitive to pull rank).

I spend the time seeing what needs doing to finish my handover notes for my successor. The chief job is to go through every school (150+) and for each give a brief description of what sort of place it is, how to get to it (method of transport, cost, time needed), and a thumbnail description of the main points about it. That’s going to take me some time, but it will give any successor an enormous advantage when he/she starts working. All I received when I came to Muhanga was a printed list with the names of schools (and some were missing), their head’s names (some were out of date) and phone numbers (many of which proved to be impossible to ring because of the hills). I also want to do little sketch maps for each secteur to show where the schools are within the secteur, but you’d be surprised just how difficult that’s turning out. A lot of schools that I’ve been to, especially those I visited early last year, are so remote that there’s no way I could even begin to place them on a map. I find myself repeating over and over again phrases such as “you have to make sure before you leave Gitarama that your moto driver really does know where to find this school”!

While all this is going on, there is a party atmosphere in the lobby to our building. We have received an enormous number of textbooks – the small conference room has been stacked to the ceiling over half its length. It seems typical of the way this country works that textbooks come, not in dribs and drabs, but in deluges. We have beautiful primary school atlases, specifically made for Rwanda. They are absolutely excellent. We have social studies textbooks for yrs 4-6 in English. So the French ones we received in November last year are already redundant. We have lower primary science books in Kinyarwanda; we have upper primary Kinyarwanda language books; we have reprints of upper primary science books in English. We have lots of reading books in Kinyarwanda for every year group at primary – these are a real triumph; they are colourful and absolutely suited to their intended readership. But we also have a lot of books arriving still in French; books which must have been ordered just before the decision to switch from French to English. It’s a book bonanza.

Among the books is a big, lavishly illustrated volume paid for by two Americans. It’s all about the gorillas, the pressures on their habitats and why it is so important to ensure their survival. It really is a most beautiful book, but it must have cost an absolute fortune to produce. Isn’t it funny the effects the gorillas have on people! I bet this book is the result of this American couple coming to watch the animals, and being so impressed by their beauty that they’ve decided to invest their fortune into materials for Rwandan schools.

And almost every primary head teacher has come to the office to make sure his/her school gets its share of the books. They’re all laughing and chatting like primary children at playtime, and occasionally squabbling if they think someone’s pulling a fast one and getting more books than they deserve. A fleet of pickup trucks has been chartered by the District, and for each secteur one truck is being loaded with all their schools’ books. I have a squint at the weather – it would be a real tragedy if we had a downpour while these books are being taken out to the schools. Fortunately the day, while cloudy and cold, doesn’t look likely to give us rain. I only see one pickup truck with a tarpaulin to protect its cargo.

At the end of the afternoon I head to the market. Vegetables are starting to become more expensive. A kilo of onions has gone up from 300 to 350. Spuds are 135 for ridiculously tiny and rubbery little things. You can’t get decent peppers for less than 50 each. I’m almost out of soya flour, but nobody seems to have any that looks half decent. I buy more peanut flour instead, but I must get on and use it and not leave it to go mouldy as happened last month.

As I walk down the newly finished main road through the town there are clouds of grey dust hanging in the air. The road is covered with gravel chippings, far more than can adhere to the tarmac. Every time a vehicle passes these loose chippings become more and more comminuted, and tiny particles float up into the air as dust. And because this little piece of road has a nice smooth surface, with no bumps and no traffic police, everyone's driving like idiots; as if this was a clear road in open country. You wouldn’t credit how a road can suddenly become twice as dangerous in a matter of days. None of us pedestrians have adjusted to the speed of the traffic. We all tend to walk in groups of two or three abreast; when we meet groups coming the other way one group just steps out into the road without looking behind, because in the old system traffic was moving so slowly it always had time to slow down or swerve. Not now. Every time we go into town we see near misses and its only a matter of time before somebody gets hurt. Hopefully it won't be me.

When I reach the flat the electricity is off again. Our flat, and the outside lights, and the MTN shop, have no power, but for some reason the SORAS shop is OK. I’m fed up with this – I’ve got a big meal to cook and however fast I work I’m not going to be able to get it done before dark. Why on earth has the power supply suddenly decided to go awol, and in such a random way. Tom and I were just beginning to think that our electricity cuts were a thing of the past. So I go downstairs and ask the SORAS manager to phone Electrogaz. He’s really nice and says rather than phone, he’ll go and demand action in person. (It’s just before five and his office is about to close – and so’s the Electrogaz office). Tomorrow is Gacaca and you can bet your boots nobody will come out then, so we’re potentially without any electricity until Wednesday. The manager’s words have some effect, and I later learn that MTN has been beating up the poor Electrogaz manager as well. A technician comes and after two false starts we get our power back. But I’ve got no confidence that technicians know what they’re doing, and I race round like a madman to get my dinner ready in case we lose power again. Cooking by candle light may sound romantic but it’s not just inconvenient – it’s bloody dangerous!

After all this fun Soraya comes round and we start doing some detailed planning for our Zanzibar trip in November. Just reading about perfect white coral beaches suddenly makes me feel better. I can’t wait to get to the Indian Ocean…. We break out my Mars bars from home and toast each other in chocolate to balmy nights and happy days to come on the spice island.

Oh, and why the mention of runny jelly in this day’s title? I make up a jelly in the usual way, but try to customise it by adding some fruit salad before the jelly has set. There’s not much liquid in the fruit salad, but it has the effect of preventing the jelly from setting. Curses! I end up with a pint of blackcurrant flavoured juice, with bits of pineapple, pawpaw and banana floating around in it. That certainly wouldn’t win any prizes in the Melplash show, so I treat it as a sort of fruit cordial. It's tasty; but liquid rather than jelly-like.

Tomorrow’s plans for going up country to do a school are thrown because Emmanuel at Ndago rings Soraya mid evening. He wants her to come on Thursday instead of Tuesday. So first thing tomorrow I need to redraw my plans for the week.

Best thing about today – hmm. Not one of the most active days. Just thinking about turquoise seas and white sand on Zanzibar has got to be the best bit.

Worst thing – power cuts. BLOODY ELECTROGAZ! I hope your ears are burning!

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