Saturday, 10 October 2009

Next assignment (in Gitarama)

October 9th

Father Marcellin is coming in to Kigali today on church business, and in a moment of reckless generosity offers me a lift on the back of his moto as far as Gitarama. I accept with alacrity – it is cheaper than the taxi bus, less cramped, and will be a lot quicker. I don’t think he’s fully realised how heavy I am and how much my bag weighs; I must feel like a ton of spuds loading down the back of his moto!

So it’s up at five, and off into the rising sun without any breakfast. While I’m in the paroisse compound waiting for him I’m treated to early morning African countryside. The birdsong is loud and varied. On nearby hills people are singing as they lead goats out to pasture, or as they make their way to the fields – bright patches of moving colour against the unending green of cow grass and banana trees. After last night’s heavy rain the air is clear and fresh and cool. It’s a glorious day to be riding through the countryside of my favourite part of Rwanda.

Marcellin’s moto is almost out of petrol. There’s no filling station in Remera (Nyabikenke). What’s to do? Answer – it all comes down to local knowledge. We stop outside a house, to all intents and purposes the same as any other. There’s no sign or anything else to indicate that it’s anything but a normal dwelling house. A woman is sitting on the step, dangling her feet in the mud and chatting to two young men who are also lounging round. Two very young boys, barefoot, are clinging to the woman or half hiding behind a pillar and peeping out at the muzungu. Marcellin jumps off and rattles a torrent of fast Kinyarwanda, and they start haggling over prices. Then the woman goes inside and returns with a handful of litre water bottles filled with petrol. We fill up with these. More haggling and she returns with a can of oil for the reservoir. Then we have to wait while she goes to a neighbour to fetch our change. I don’t want to start thinking about where she keeps her stock of inflammable petrol – in her house where the children can play with it? Out the back next to her charcoal fire? But forget the western niceties; this is what rural life in Rwanda comes down to. If it had been me with my own moto I would never have known in a month of Sundays where I could buy petrol in the town, and it’s quite likely that nobody would have been prepared to tell me, either.

The road is quite an adventure. Every few yards there’s a deep puddle or muddy patch; every single one of these is a potential skid pan and could dump the pair of us ankle deep in liquid mud. Then there are the log bridges, now coated like butter with slippery mud from previous traffic. Our average speed all the way to the borders of Cyeza is not much above jogging. Everywhere the road is alive with people. Near Cyeza we pass about fifteen water sellers. They have just filled up their jerry cans at a (relatively) clean stream and are peddling two, sometimes three heavy containers of water miles up into the hills to surrounding houses. They have a hard life. The enormous weight of water always has to be carried uphill. Even at seven o’clock in the morning they’re bathed in sweat; stringy and thin but so, so fit.

We run the gauntlet of pupils going to school all down the valley – at Kanyanza they’re in uniform but running errands for their families before they go to school. At Ngoma and Butare we get the distant ones emerging from tiny little footpaths down from the hills onto the main road to school; older brothers and sisters leading the tinies. At Rutongo they’re hanging round the market as the early morning matata fills up, looking to see who is going to town and catching up on gossip (just like their parents) before reluctantly turning away and crossing the river to their school.

Mist is lifting above us; we are under the mist for a long way but the sun is low and is shining under the mist full into our faces, and lighting the mist so that it is pink on its underside. Everywhere smells of damp earth and vegetation; periodically you get a whiff of woodsmoke as you pass a tiny group of huts.

Near Butare there’s a notoriously bad piece of road. It’s steep, rocky, and there’s no section in the entire width of the carriageway where you can get a good line with a moto. Marcellin decides to take it slowly, stalls, and we both fall off the bike. No damage done except to our pride, but from this point on at every similar stretch and every dodgy log bridge we stop and I walk across to make life easier for him. He only has a provisional driving licence and he’s not used to carrying heavy passengers.

When we come to Cyeza the road surface is better and we pick up speed. In fact Marcellin revs up as fast as he can go and we sail, rattle and bounce our way through to the main road.

At the main road Marcellin has to drop me. I’ve not been wearing a helmet (what would he do with the second helmet for the rest of the day?), and with a provisional licence he’s not supposed to be carrying passengers even up country. Up-country has its own rules, and we abide by them, but the main tarmac road is something else and there are always traffic police checkpoints looking out for just such a couple as ourselves. I find a local moto and get myself back to the flat. Marcellin is a good priest and an all round great guy; generous to a fault and always cheerful. He in particular has made this week successful for me.

There’s very little food in the flat so I have a late breakfast of some porridge and decide on an early lunch before doing some shopping. It’s a funny feeling – it’s barely nine o’clock in the morning and yet it feels as though I’ve already done a day’s journey! OK, so I can get unpacked and sorted out; I only have one school report to write and that doesn’t take long, and then the rest of the day is for relaxation. Or so I like to think.

Moira texts me and asks me if I can come and talk to the College of Education at Kavumu about teacher training placements next term. I’ve agreed to help them because I know Muhanga’s schools and can advise on how many teachers they could reasonably place, and in which schools. When I get there I’m whisked into a meeting with the Vice Principal and the Academic Registrar and within seconds we’re deep into the logistics of the placements. On the way I pop into the YWCA to say hi to Charlotte and Helen and try to co-ordinate food for tonight (see below).

Within an hour I have my next big assignment which will take me through the second half of October and almost to the end of my time in Rwanda. I have to revise and flesh out a letter to go to all participating schools collecting necessary information for the college; I have to go round the participating schools and negotiate the placements with them; I have to draft a memorandum of expectations for the college, the students and the schools, and I have to organise and run a training workshop for those teachers in each school who will be mentors to the trainees. And the letter needs doing by Monday next. So not too busy, then!

By now it’s about one o’clock so I go for lunch with Moira and Jane; Kerry is waiting for us at “Green Garden”. The “Horizon” buses operate what amounts to a free service between the College and the town, so we wait for a bus and hop on. We bump into Michael who is on his way to Cyakabiri to talk to the Bishop; with the Bishop effectively moving out of Shyogwe and into town it means that his placement in Shyogwe village is no longer convenient in terms of dealing with his employers.

The bus heads off from Shyogwe crossroads – in the wrong direction (towards Butare). It takes a few seconds and some worried glances before we realise the driver is having a laugh and mucking about. He turns the bus in the main road and comes back to the crossroads. There the real driver gets in and off we go again, this time heading the right way.

After lunch I relax a while at home, then head off to the market and buy vegetables. Today is Soraya’s birthday and we’re having a “pot luck” party at Becky’s for her. I spend a while making a bean salad; the quantities are about right but in the end it needs at least six hours to marinate properly and I’m only able to give it about half that. So the onion is too crunchy and the taste a bit too sharp to be ideal, but, hey, I’ve done my bit. We won’t starve!

Tom comes home, and the next job is to prepare my sermon for Sunday at Momma’s. If I thought I was going to have a quiet weekend, things change dramatically very fast. I’m well into preparing “Jonah and the Whale” which we’re going to act out. My sheet sleeping bag will make a perfect whale, and the benches at Momma’s a perfect boat. Nineveh becomes Kigali and Joppa becomes Kibuye, and Jonah will be chucked overboard somewhere in the middle of Lake Kivu.

Tom drops the news that Janine is no longer going to be our domestique; she is doing such a good job for FHI that they are taking her on full time as a permanent employee. (That means she’s get holiday and leave allowances; it’s a much better situation for her). Our new domestique will be Louise, who is a Rwandan single mum living with her little boy, Bruno, at Christi’s house. Louise knows us well; she seems trustworthy and reliable, so it’s a good arrangement all round.

Then Kersti rings to say why have I not been seen in Kigali lately and why am I cutting myself off from everyone? I say that I’m not and it’s just busy, busy, busy with work. She reminds me that this weekend is the Kigali beer festival and why don’t I come in for it? Why not indeed? So at a stroke I have Saturday night organised, and accommodation, too. The only problem is that I must be sober enough, and awake early enough, to do my sermon the following morning.

Soraya’s party is a hoot. There are about nineteen of us, including Louise and Bruno. Bruno keeps us all entertained chasing balloons round the room, playing football around all our drinking cups and plates of food, and climbing onto everyone’s knees for a cuddle. There’s plenty to eat, and while the rain is hammering down outside we play party games. There’s a long lasting one from Christi where we all write the names of five people on pieces of paper, and then in turns we have to describe them in a sentence, then mime them, then describe them in one word. With three Australian volunteers we have some very specifically Aussie names which are closed books to the rest of us (how many names of Australian Prime Ministers do you readers know?) Any my Boadicea and Long John Silver don’t mean much to many of the non-English volunteers.

Back home through the mud and grit of Gitarama’s sidestreets, watch a couple of episodes of an American sitcom from somebody’s CDs, and fall into bed. Nice to be in my own bed again!

Best thing about today – everything. Today is another classic example of the mix of predictable and unforeseen, the mix of hard work and hard playing, that makes volunteer life so memorable. For any of you who are reading this and thinking about coming out as a volunteer, you can take today as almost the definitive example of what your life can be like out here!

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