Tuesday, 29 September 2009

I'm getting preoccupied with water

Saturday and Sunday, September 12th and 13th

This is going to be a quiet weekend. Most of the girls are off to the north to climb Karisimbi volcano. My feet aren’t up to a two day climb, and in any case I’m too tired from the week’s visits. Soraya wants time to recover, too, so I’m resigned to being on my own until Sunday evening.

I don’t get much sleep during the night. The night club down the road is thudding out a heavy bass line until five in the morning, at which point the guard gets up and his dogs start yapping. After the infinite quiet of Nyabinoni, with nothing but the distant coughing of cows and the early morning buzz of bees around flowering eucalyptus trees, Gitarama sounds so noisy. I wish I were back up in the wilds!

I get up early and I’m fazed by the water crisis. There’s no water even in the downstairs tap. The SORAS houseboy tells me there may be no water for four weeks. That means I have about three quarters of a jerry can of water and nothing else at all. (Except for my filter, which happily I filled right up before I left to go on my travels this week). It means that I’m going to have to wander from house to house with a bucket to get water until the rains come and the system gets back to “normal”.

I start to minimise water. No washing – use wetwipes. No flushing the loo – shut the lid and let everything stink in there with the window wide open. Washing up in an inch of water and never mind if the pans aren’t 100% clean; then throw the filthy water down the toilet. No washing hands before I eat – use the disinfectant gel that’s been sitting on my bedside table for months. No beer – it’s dehydrating. Sips of water rather than gulps. Put all this together and my jerry can should at least last me all the weekend and possibly Monday too. That should give me time to find a way round the problem.

I get started on writing up my inspection visits. Six reports, each of around six sides. It’s a lot of writing. By late morning I’m on my fourth. Then two things happen in quick succession. The SORAS houseboy has found somewhere nearby which has water. He’s filled up all his jerry cans and asks me if I want him to get water for me. Do I want…… this guy’s a saint! He fills a jerry can and two buckets for me and my immediate problems are over. I can even have a wash in a kettleful of warm water and perhaps the luxury of a shave, too. Mustn’t frighten the locals too much with my ghastly grey stubble!

Its good timing that I’ve got myself civilised, because within the hour I’m hosting Mike and family en route to camp in Nyungwe Forest. There’s rarely a day when we don’t have some of the other volunteers calling round, but the twins are definitely the youngest visitors we’ve ever had here!

After they’ve set off south I finish my fourth report and start making lunch. I’m tired with eating other people’s food and want to make something of my own. I’m afraid I’m not very imaginative in these situations and it ends up as my usual vegetable soup, this time with sweet potatoes instead of “Irish” spuds because the latter are still an exorbitant 150 francs a kilo (15p) in the market. Sweet potatoes are only 100 francs, so how sad am I that I’m saving 5p…..?

By the end of the afternoon I’ve nearly finished a fifth report, but I’m getting seriously jaded and need a change. In the evening I cook up an experimental concoction with salami sausage in runny peanut sauce, French beans and carrots with shell pasta. It’s wholesome enough but it wouldn’t win any prizes. The guard, who hasn’t been fed for over a week, can hardly believe his eyes when I bring him a plate of food.

I decide to watch a video for the evening, and I manage to get one of Piet’s films (Vanilla Sky) to run using my VLC software. It’s a bit clunky – the film seems to be divided up into 20 minute sections and I keep having to find and load the next segment, but it passes the evening. When I’ve seen it I can delete it and free up more space on my hardware. I also spend half an hour tidying up music files; I discover that some CDs are on my computer twice and I need the space for all the photos I keep taking….

During the evening it starts to rain properly. There has been a gusty wind blowing for most of the afternoon, and It’s been evident the rains are upon us. I’ve spent an hour making lists of the schools I think I can visit during the next week or two, but I think I’m going to be overtaken by the weather sooner than I thought. I curse myself for not getting more done as soon as I returned from England in August, but there you are – hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Sunday morning dawns cool and windy. More rain to come. At least I’ve been able to sleep without night music or yappy dogs.

Up early and get the final inspection report done. That’s a load off my mind. I decide to go to Momma’s for church because with all the girls up the mountain we’ll be short of muzungus at the service. I decide to practise my water minimising new life, so I mix a kettle of warm and kettle of cold water (that’s about 3 pints, not much at all), and use it to wash hair, shave and shower. Then it flushes the loo. Ha! I’m getting the hang of this economising lark! Just takes twice as long as usual, that’s all.

At Momma’s there’s only Meredith and Edison, the two Peace Corps volunteers, besides me. The service is more disorganised than usual; they’ve had a problem during the night with a young man taking an overdose of somebody else’s medication, and they’re not sure whether he’s going to pull through. All the adults are preoccupied; the orphans are unsettled and fidgety.

At the end of the service Arlene (Momma) asks me to sort out a problem with children at a local school. The school is demanding 2000 francs from each child for a building project. That’s all very well, and happens at most schools from time to time, but while Momma will try to find the money for each of her orphans, there are another 26 or so local children from desperately poor families who she supports in some way, from supplying shoes (pupils are not allowed to come to the town schools without shoes) to providing money for pens and notebooks. Apparently the school is demanding money from these children as well, and I understand that one child has been told she can’t come to school until she finds the money. Now that’s not on. It’s almost certainly breaking the law here, and certainly breaks the spirit of free education for the basic nine years which is the government’s current mantra. The head teacher is a colleague of mine, but if I find she knows this is what’s happening then she’s damned well going to have to change in a hurry or she won’t stay head teacher for long! Anyway it means that on Monday morning I’m going to have to throw my weight about in the office over this issue as well as the Nyabinoni practice of beating children for offences like lateness. I feel confident enough now to make a stir without worrying about cultural sensitivities…..

Back to the flat and dine on some more of yesterday’s soup (it made four batches), with left over pasta thrown in. On a whim I defrost some strawberry pulp that’s been lurking in the freezer for months (Delphine’s strawberries from the last rainy season). I decide to bring them to the boil just in case there are bugs left in them. Boiling pulped strawberries doesn’t do anything at all or the taste, I can tell you, but having kept them this long I’m not going to waste them.

With my official inspection reports done it’s time to start catching up on blogs, and that takes the whole of the afternoon. Outside the wind is whipping the leaves around; it’s like being in Dorset in our everlasting gales except that the temperature here is about 20 degrees warmer and the leaves being blown about are on banana trees!

At the Muzungu meal we are sixteen, with thirteen VSOs because we have Jane and Amalia with us en route for their placements in the south. Many of the girls have just come back from climbing Karisimbi volcano and are full of it – the slog, the useless mountain paths etc. Our group of people is so big it’s impossible to have conversations with everyone.

Back home and sort out some photos for the blog, and then bed. Another busy week beckons!

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