Thursday, 26 November 2009

November 24th

To anyone who has just discovered my blog it must seem that being a VSO is a sort of permanent paid holiday. Not so. It’s just that I’m at the very end of my placement; I’m also in the situation where it’s the school holidays, so I can’t visit schools, and all my office work has been completed. So I’m spending my time doing some travelling and saying my goodbyes to various people.

Today finds me waking up in the men’s dorm at the Presbyterian Guest House in Gisenyi. I’ve come up with April, an Australian VSO, to get away from Gitarama for a bit and to have a last look at Gisenyi before I leave. We had intended to go to Lake Ruhondo, an extravagantly beautiful lake hidden away in the hills of northern Rwanda. Unfortunately the only accommodation there is a church guest house, and this weekend it is closed to the general public because they are running a retreat until next Friday. So it’s Gisenyi for us, not that Gisenyi should ever be thought of as a second best choice. It’s one of my all-time favourite places in Rwanda.

We have spent a lazy Monday swimming in Lake Kivu, eating well and doing the sights. The Congo looks peaceful and affluent (appearances are so deceiving!), and watched a fabulous sunset over the Congolese side of the rift valley. Nyiragongo volcano is steaming well, and the red glow from its lava lake against the night time clouds is just as spectacular as ever. Lots of buildings in Gisenyi are being demolished and it feels as if they are planning major improvements. If only these would extend to the roads – dusty, sharp edged lava stones which tear your shoes to shreds.

All this has been rudely interrupted by a phone call from Claude past on Monday night. He’s not feeling well and there’s a big meeting tomorrow of the people involved in our Global Links project. He wants me to deputise for him, and to be at Gitarama for 9.30 on Tuesday morning. I have to explain that I’m up in Gisenyi; I’ll get back as quickly as I can but it will take me most of the morning. He agrees to that, but it means we have to leave Gisenyi on the first available bus and clatter back to Gitarama like a couple of naughty schoolchildren.

“Global Links” is a DFID and British Council supported programme (VSO are also heavily involved) which links schools in three countries. In our case there are three schools in Lilongwe, Malawi, three in Muhanga District in Gitarama, and three in the far north of Scotland (one in Nairn, one in Inverness and one on a Hebridean island). The plan is for the Scottish group to visit Rwanda in march, and the Rwandans to return the visit in the summer. The meeting is to see what progress has been made in establishing links so far, and to work through everybody’s expectations of how the links will operate and what they’re for. (This is crucial for the Rwandans; global links don’t work if there’s a donor-recipient relationship, with one country using the link as a vehicle to ask for financial aid all the time). There has to be equity in expectations. The problems lie with language, and the physical difficulties of communication. Gahogo primary, one of our three, still doesn’t have a laptop. It has electricity, but will not have a modem in the foreseeable future, so any internet linking will have to be done through one of the café’s in town.

The meeting goes right through until half past five. I’m unshaven, and wearing tee shirt and jeans – not exactly the formal wear which I’ve been so conscientious in trying to present myself throughout my placement. Claude comes in for the afternoon session; ill or not I’m as always impressed by his grasp of details and his speed of thinking. This guy is definitely going places.

Fortunately we are fed at lunchtime, because in the evening it is Charlotte’s last night before she flies home at the end of her service in Gitarama. We all pack into “Orion” and wait ages for brochettes from a waiter who behaves as if he’s a stand in come off the street. You want cutlery? – OK, I’ll bring cutlery for one. You want salt? OK, I’ll see if I can find some. You want serviettes? OK. I’ll see if there are any. And so on.

Our numbers are thinning rapidly. Moira back home for Christmas; also Christi. Charlotte finished and gone. Me about to go. Nathan going home soon. Becky on Zanzibar. Michael going home for Christmas on the same plane as me.

I’m glad I was able to take part in the Global Links day. Even though it won’t concern me – I’ll be long gone and finished before any visits take place – it’s nice to know what’s being planned. If only Inverness was not so far away from my part of Dorset (it must be about 900k; about as far away as you can get within the British isles) I might be able to help by giving the Scottish group some idea of what they can expect in Rwanda.

We’re also going to miss Charlotte. The clothes, the diet, the sense of fun, the couch surfers…. Lots of happy memories. VSO is such a transient experience – when you sign up you think that two years is a ridiculously long piece of your life to be committing to Africa. In reality it’s all far too short. And you seem to spend all your time either getting to know new arrivals, or saying farewells to friends you’ve just got to know.

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