Friday, 27 November 2009

Staring into my suitcase

November 26th

A quiet day today. In the morning there are a lot of letters to write, and I decide to work from home. We’re almost completely out of vegetables and most other food, what with me being away in Gisenyi and Tom up and down to the hospital to see J, so I go to the market and do a big shop-up. What I buy will probably last me until I leave.

I spend the rest of the morning cooking up an enormous batch of vegetable stew, which we can either liquidise for soup, or use as stock to make a base for other meals. From previous experience this system works well, and the cooking is child’s play with Tom’s pressure cooker.

By now its late morning. Soraya is preparing one of her final training sessions before she goes home. April is down at the internet café trying to download the latest iPod software to run on her new machine. She gets half way through when there’s a power cut and she loses the lot. Oh, the joys of going online in Rwanda…. I ring her and she comes round for lunch to sample my cooking.

I start dusting off my rucksack and suitcase; the real goal for today is to start packing, but as soon as I start I realise that there are too many days left before I go, and too many variables, to allow me to make a sensible job. I even think about trying to put all my stuff into two piles (take and leave), but there’s not enough floor space to do that. “Nakibazo”, as they say here, it will all fit in the case and I’ll set aside some time early next week. But with suitcase and rucksack on the floor, and a steadily growing pile of souvenirs by my bedside, it really feels like final days now.

In the afternoon I go to the internet café; power seems reliable and I’m able to get all my messages sent. Karen and Léonie come round to ask me to deal with a problem over mail – the women at the post office seem reluctant to give Karen a parcel which has arrived for her and we can’t put our padlock on the new outside mailbox until Becky comes back from Zanzibar. So tomorrow first thing I’ve got to go to the post office and sort things out.

Then in the evening Soraya and I are out to eat at Claude’s. (Our guard is smirking at me; Soraya is the fourth young woman to come round to my flat today….) There’s some catching up on news to do. Rwanda is starting to resume diplomatic relations with France after two years of bitter hostility; that will make a huge difference here. (But things will never reach their former level of closeness because of the country’s switch to English as its second language). The disturbance in the market yesterday was not over a fight, but to enable a meeting to be held, in the stadium, of all the market traders. All the licensed traders, more likely, because as far as we could see the vast majority of fringe traders were continuing to see as usual and steered well clear of the stadium. The market was closed and locked to prevent any thieving from unmanned stalls, and to force the registered traders to attend. Very Rwanda, that!

Claude fills us in on more details about the “Global Links” exchanges next year. There will be just three Rwandan teachers – Claude and two others yet to be determined – travelling to Scotland; dates yet to be fixed but at the end of May or beginning of June. There is a set budget for the exchanges, and Rwanda is penalised in its links with the north of Scotland because of the extra cost of having to travel from London up to Inverness. If Rwanda had been linked with, say, Essex or Dorset things would possibly have allowed another person to travel. And the Scottish delegation will be in Rwanda at the very end of March. They’ll be here for the last couple of days of the first term, but leave just before Genocide week.

Keza, Claude and Immaculée’s daughter, is growing up fast. She has plenty of teeth, is almost able to stand unaided, is vocalising well and has already learnt to say “papa”. She’s still amazingly well behaved but doesn’t miss a thing. Whatever is happening in the room, she follows it intently. And she’s a born mimic. If we clap or rub our hands, she does the same. If we blink our eyes at her, she blinks back. If we touch our noses, she touches hers. She’s going to be a very bright little thing. She’s much more wary of strangers than last time we saw her, and my glasses unsettle her. So we take pictures but she’s nervous about letting us cuddle her.

Claude’s illness on Tuesday turns out to have been a case of malaria. Now that’s worrying. Claude has lived for 32 years without ever needing to take time off work for illness. So why has he suddenly succumbed to malaria? Soraya and I immediately put it down to the stress of his new job – being the chief of education, health and good governance is a ridiculous workload and I think he is running himself into the ground. Even Claude admits that the job is too big to keep on top of, and that if he doesn’t keep up his major input into education, then Valérian won’t be able to cope with all the work on his own. It’s an untenable situation, but at least all the country’s directors are feeling the same pressure. The degree to which they’re getting stressed out will be down to the level of commitment they put into their work, I suppose. I wish Claude wouldn’t talk to often about finding another job, too – he’s absolutely on top of his game as education director and he’s exactly what Muhanga needs to run the system efficiently. I think our District is beginning to get a good name within Rwanda for being organised, and it would be a shame if Claude left and everything crumbled.

During the meal Claude says a very generous thank you to me for all the things I’ve done during the two years at Gitarama. He’s become a real friend, and I have no doubt that we’ll meet up again at some time in the future. Possibly he’ll come and stay a few days at the end of the Scottish visit in June.

Tomorrow there’s one of the big meetings of all headteachers and Claude wants me to talk to them and give them a summary of my “end of year report” which I wrote for the District. This is also the perfect opportunity to say farewell to all my friends, the headteachers of a hundred and fifty schools scattered among the mountains and valleys of the beautiful part of Africa. Things couldn’t have worked out better if we’d planned them years in advance!

After the meal Soraya and I walk through the empty streets back home – two miles on a cold, starlit night. There’s a ring round the moon, and you would never ever think you were living on the Equator. Soraya’s bundled up in layers of jerseys and a coat, and even I’m glad that we’re walking to keep warm!

Best thing about today – a chance to start thinking back over asll the things I’ve done during the past two years.

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