Monday, 16 November 2009

Waiting for the plumber

October 29th

Very little to report today. I spend the entire day at the flat. In the morning I am waiting for Théoneste, the plumber, to arrive. He’s supposed to be here at nine; he rolls up at ten thirty. But Tom’s already briefed him on our water problem and he comes with a replacement mixer tap for the bath and shower. He seems very competent and within an hour he’s done the job and the shower seems to be working fine. Certainly the water leak is cured. We have to pay him, but we’ll deduct the money from the next rent payment so eventually the cost will be borne by SORAS, who own the flat. What’s very unusual about Théoneste is that he gives a six month guarantee on his work. That’s why he’s the plumber that FHI always use, even though h is more expensive than the locals. The locals are all very well, but you tend to get the impression that they don’t really know what they’re doing. Théoneste tells us that the previous plumber we had last year did a bodge job so that there was a lot of grit and muck in the pipes (this has eventually corroded and destroyed the seating for the tap), and that the connection was so badly done that water has been leaking into the wall cavity for a year, hence the wet patch on our outside wall. The wet patch should gradually dry out now that the source of leaking water has been stopped.

In the afternoon I have another look at the English test data. It throws up some interesting incidental figures. In Muhanga District we have at least two teachers who are only 19 years old; these are not temporary appointments or students; they are permanent full time teachers in two of our primary schools. At the other end of the scale there are only about four teachers in the entire District who are older than me…… We have one specialist teacher of Arabic language (in the Islamic secondary school, of course). Out of nearly 1700 teachers there are 315 who have the word “imana” as the final three syllables of their surnames: nearly 1 in 5. “Imana” is Kinyarwanda for “God”, and the surname is very common in forms which mean “gift of God”; “dedicated to God” etc. In fact “Uwimana” (from God) seems to be the commonest surname of all; the Rwandan version of “Smith” or “Duval” or “Patel”.

One or two interesting snippets from the “New Times” newspaper. The powers that be have officially declared that “serious malnutrition no longer exists in Rwanda”. Around 45% of children are stunted, and that damage can never be reversed. But any children identified as severely malnourished have been admitted to hospitals, put on a crash diet and have recovered sufficiently to be discharged. Meanwhile, “local leaders” are being made responsible for tracking children’s health with powers to intervene if they think parents are not feeding their offspring sufficiently. It’s certainly true that on my travels in the countryside I haven’t seen any cases of Kwashiorkor for a while. On that level I think the government has done a great job, particularly in view of the sheer numbers of children in the country. Malnutrition is a major causing factor in child mortality, especially when combined with other factors such as gastro enteritis or respiratory infections. But low level malnutrition is, I think, still widespread.

On a lighter note, in Gisagara district around 10% of people are still living in grass-thatched huts. The official policy is that all habitations are to be roofed in metal or in clay tiles. Grass thatch is seen as being inadequate and backward. The people concerned in Gisagara say they can’t afford tiles because they are too poor; however, the official in charge of infrastructure says that many of them could afford tiles and it’s a question of people’s mindset. Traditionally they have always lived in thatched huts and out in the countryside it is so, so difficult to break the grip of tradition.

In the evening we have Helen and April over for a meal, and we’ve spent most of the previous evening and this afternoon cooking and preparing. Just as the girls are due the power goes off and the power cut lasts most of the evening. So it’s a candle lit dinner for four. We’ve decided to do a Mexican night with guacamole and pan crisps, and a massive mix of salsa, refried beans, savoury rice and mince. We pile our plates “engineer style”. The girls have brought a bottle of wine which disappears quickly. We end up so overfull and groaning after the main course that we can barely touch the fruit salad we’ve got ready – that can wait another day. At the very end of the evening the water goes off but the power comes back on. So that’s a good excuse to go to bed and leave the washing up till tomorrow.

After we’ve eaten there’s a massive swapping of music and videos; I’m ready to pass on virtually all of my videos because I won’t be taking them home with me.

A good day, if a trifle odd.

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