Monday, 26 October 2009

Sociable Saturday; Zanzibar’s suddenly a lot closer!

October 16th

Into Kigali early; me on the 7.00 bus, Michael on the 7.30 and Soraya on the 8.00. I get some money changed (best exchange rate I can get today is 890 to the pound; what’s happening to our currency again?). I do a bit of shopping and we all meet up at Simba for a coffee and hot croissant.

Then Michael and I go up to the Programme Office; we both have things to sort out there. I think I have managed to get my flights home finalised (the information I received would have left me stranded in Brussels). Judging by the exchanges with the travel agency I think they had simply forgotten to type the extra line of print that gave me my flight details for the Brussels to London leg, but I still won’t rest until I’ve got something in print with all the info I need, and that might take a day or two to arrive because it’s the weekend. Anyway, it looks as if I’m going home on Brussels Air, and to Gatwick, which is exactly what I wanted, arriving home at 0700 on December 4th.

Next there’s a lot of sorting out to do with travel expenses. All my dashing up country in the last month has given me a massive bill to reclaim, but eventually after a few false starts we get it all organised. One of the P.O. staff even knows the village of Kanyanza where I stayed with the priests, so it feels nice to realise that even when I’m up-country there’s somebody at the office who can visualise where I’m working.

Having sorted out travel and finance, I need to start the visa process for Tanzania and Zanzibar. The Tanz. Embassy is within walking distance of the VSO office, at Nyarutarama, but there’s a storm coming in and thunder rumbling all around. I wonder if I’ve made a sensible decision to walk it… I manage to get to the right place in the dry, but discover that I need two passport photos for my visa, not just one, and while I can collect all the forms and get them filled in at home, I can’t get the visa application lodged today. So it’s back to the VSO office in the teeth of the storm and rummage through my personal file to find a couple of photos.

By now the storm has arrived and it’s clear we’re going to have a real downpour. I’m very lucky and just manage to get onto a matata down to Nyabugogo as the heavens open, and because it’s a stopping bus by the time I reach Nyabugogo the first lot of rain has been and gone and there’s sufficient lull to let me get out of the bus and to dash across the ruts and puddles to the long distance coach booking office.

Here my luck holds and I’m able to book three seats in the prime position at the front of the bus for Dar es Salaam. Fortunately I have enough money on me to pay for them, so within ten minutes I have the tickets booked, written out, paid for, and in my hand. And our names – me, Soraya and Épi –are duly written onto the seating plan for the bus. Twenty eight hours from Kigali to Dar is a major undertaking and I wouldn’t be happy unless I had seats with extra leg room. Fortunately the booking clerk, who must be almost as tall as I am, takes one look at me, laughs, and immediately tells me to sit in seat A which has the most space of all.

By now I’ve done all the business I can in Kigali and I’m anxious to get home. I’ve looked for porridge oats (unsuccessfully at a reasonable price) and lentils (no trouble at all), and dealt with a few emails.

Right now I’m dodging quite heavy rain at Nyabugogo and looking for a slow matata to take me home. I’ve got Delphine coming round for an English lesson around about two o’clock and on a slow bus I’ll be cutting things fine. To say nothing of the fact that I haven’t eaten and my stomach’s growling. So there’s a lot more leaping around puddles, dodging minibuses which are so steamed up that the driver seems to be navigating by sixth sense, and avoiding the touts who are desperate to sell up and get out of the rain. We find a bus which is going to Gitarama and I pile into the dry. To my huge surprise it sets off with only about six passengers inside. This is most unusual – normally the driver won’t think of leaving until the bus if packed full. But the rain has driven everybody under cover, and he judges that the only thing to do is to make it clear that he’s moving off and see who emerges out from under the eaves of surrounding buildings.

It means our progress is very slow, but by the time we’ve reached the edge of Kigali we’re nearly two thirds full. It continues to be a slow run; we stop every 500 metres or so, but at least the driver doesn’t hang around at the stops waiting for passengers. We just stop long enough to let people on or off. But long before we get into the middle of Gitarama Del’s ringing to see where I am and whether I’ve forgotten her. The rain seems to be following us as we drive; there’s a dry patch near Rugobagoba, but Gitarama is wet and I’m glad of my heavy cagoule on the walk from the town centre to home. Unfortunately some of the papers in my rucksack have got wet, but the essential things like photos and visa application form are untouched.

I let Del in and we make some soup quickly to fill us up and warm us, and then we do some English. Del’s very happy – a couple of months ago I lent her some money and she bought a big job-lot of beans. She’s been storing these until prices rose. Now she’s clinched a deal to sell them to a boarding school in Ruhango at a price which will enable her to repay me the loan and give her a clear profit of around 30,000 francs. That’s three months’ wages as domestique to Moira and Kerry and a very good rate of return. I just want to feel my money back in my hand (and her profit in hers) before I relax, though. But I like the idea of having been able to give someone with a bit of initiative and enterprise the wherewithal to better themselves.

Del goes and Tom comes in; meanwhile April has rung to ask us what we’re doing about eating tonight. We look at each other and shrug and say “well, why not eat out?”. So we all three go to the same restaurant as last Sunday. Becky comes along too, and we find the food is just as good again (though my goat stew, kunundera, is a bit over the top peppery tonight. I’ve almost got tears in my eyes after a few mouthfuls! The only problem with this restaurant is that it won’t allow alcohol in the place. I notice that, for this reason, it’s a favourite place for girl students from the university to come and drink and socialise. Thé africain is the drink of choice; I have some and it’s lovely. The girl students are mightily attractive, too….. Down, boy!

By the time we’ve eaten it’s too early to go home to bed, so we drift down to “Orion” for a drink. There’s football on the big screen telly (Ghana versus Brasil; 0-0 draw), and a single guitarist playing right next to us. The amplification is bearable and his style and repertoire are agreeable, too. Eventually we start back home. April has to work tomorrow near Kibuye and needs a (relatively) early night. Just outside our flat we meet Helen, who has been eating with Léonie; the girls come in and we spend a while chatting and eating Haribo jelly sweets. I’ve recently finished the first of the four “Twilight” books which are all the rage with the women volunteers at the moment. Profound literature it isn’t, but they’re quick reads and at the moment unless you can talk knowledgeably about Edward the vampire here, you’re just not into the conversation circuit at all….. Soraya texts me to say that this morning, at the VSO office, she virtually read the entirety of volume four on line. That’s how addicted everyone seems to be (not to mention sad…) Finally we call it a day and it’s off to bed and read something different.

Best thing about today – lots: sorting out money at VSO, and flights too; getting tickets booked to Dar.

Worst thing: - I’ll have to go back to Kigali on both Monday and Tuesday next week; on Monday to hand in my visa application and on Tuesday to collect it. Never mind; at least it’s only a hour or so on the bus!

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