No longer a moto-taxi novice!

No longer a moto-taxi novice!
No longer a moto-taxi novice! It can be exhausting but it's great fun!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Settling in to Nyakarambi

Now in Nyakarambi.

I arrived in Nyakarambi on Wednesday after a journey of just under three hours. Dorothy was here to greet me and to show me where I am going to be living.  The little house stands in a bamboo fenced garden very close to the main street of the town.  Only 75 metres away they are just finishing building a new branch of the Bank of Kigali, which will be very convenient. The bus stop is just a few metres further.
On our first day we decided to take our first moto-taxi ride as we had to go down to the Tanzania border, to the little town of Rusumo, where we opened bank accounts at the brand new Bank of Kigali.  The manager took three of us one by one, while the other staff sat doing nothing – it took most of the morning.  We then took a stroll down to the bridge over the Agakera River, which forms the border, to see the waterfalls – quite impressive! The border crossing is a one track bridge with a huge queue of heavy lorries waiting to get through immigration, which takes hours, apparently. We had a pleasant lunch overlooking the river and across to Tanzania. (Melange, of course!)
I have visited two schools so far.  The first was 40 minutes by moto-taxi on dirt tracks – quite a hair-raising ride.  You arrive at your destination covered in dust, which you have to get rid of as much as possible because clean clothes and shiny shoes are considered essential in professional circles in Rwanda. We had a very warm welcome from the staff. We saw the school’s English club, science club and the library, as well as meeting the head teacher and the school teachers.  At the end of the morning we were surrounded by school children while we waited for the motos to come back.  It was very unusual to have six white visitors all at once so there was a lot of excitement!

That evening we went to the bar opposite the house, where the owner allows his customers to re-charge their phones, laptops etc.  He’s a very friendly man and pleased to have three Brits coming to live near his bar! Beer is 600 Rwandan francs, about 75 pence, for a large bottle – but we have to remember that we only earn 170,000 Rwandan francs, the equivalent of £175 a month! It’s a pleasant way to get your equipment charged up.  Our solar panel at the house is a bit unreliable, and only gives about three hours of lighting on a good day. Fellow volunteers are finding that their house that is supposed to have electricity and running water but supplies are cut off, so they have to fall back on jerry cans and torches. Poor Abdel Ilah, has also got a rat to contend with at his house which is about half an hour’s walk from the bus on the main road. We are all finding that everything takes so much longer to do and after a weekend without a domestique it is easy to see the need for help. Working with kerosene or charcoal stoves to heat water to fill thermos flasks for making tea, washing up, having a shower and boiling water to filter for drinking takes for ever.  Taking waste water to flush the latrine (squat-type!), is another chore.  Washing up is a complicated process so I don’t know how I would manage to wash clothes, without help. It is quite clear that if we want time to go to work we have to have someone to clean, shop, cook, wash, using the really basic facilities available.  The kitchen has one small table, the cooking kitchen outside has the stoves on the floor, or in the garden.  All the water has to be delivered by the water carrier and much of it has to be boiled before use.  The dust makes clothes dirty each day, so the washing soon piles up.  Our domestique, Dignité, is a hard working treasure of a young woman, who is about to go to university each weekend, while keeping on her five day job with us! She gets the best prices at the market and cooks fantastic meals each day, which we can eat either at lunch time or in the evening. I’m sure I couldn’t manage without her and am glad to be able to pay her 25,000 RWFrs a month, which is a good salary in this country where teachers only get about 30,000 RWFrs!(£33)
On Sunday afternoon we set off in a moto-taxi convoy to visit one if the national genocide memorial sites, which is quite near Nyikarambi.  Of course most of the journey was about half an hour on dusty tracks up and down hills and through small villages. The young driver I was with was having some difficulty on the steep hills and eventually we ground to a halt on a steep and rutted climb and the bike fell over.  I managed to get one foot down then rolled backwards in the dust banging my crash helmet hard on the stony ground – luckily I was wearing the official VSO helmet and not the cheap plastic thing the moto drivers carry.  I’m glad to say I was unhurt and I’m happy that my baptism into falling off a moto was when we were stuck rather than belting along down a hill! My nice new waterproof is now taking on the colour of the Rwandan red dust! The poor driver was mortified – it’s the height of disgrace to dump your passenger on the ground and all my smiles did nothing to help his disappointment.  Our chief driver sent him off in shame and called someone else for the return journey.  It is a matter of great prestige to be selected as a regular VSO moto driver as well as a reliable source of income and we try to keep drivers we are confident with.
Well, we were given a guided tour of the genocide site, which was pretty harrowing as the guide went into some detail of the massacres and torturing that took place there in 1994 – some 28,000 were slaughtered and the site has a total of 51,000 bodies, a number that regularly increases as they continue to discover other mass graves around the area. It’s difficult to write about the legacy of the genocide with any real understanding, as each day we learn new snippets of information about the nightmare most people you meet have lived through and hear of the deep trauma they still have to deal with.
Work starts in earnest:
This week has been a whirlwind of activity, punctuated with long periods of waiting or watching quietly.  The guided tour of the District Offices by the Education officer took up much of the first day – we shook hands with at least fifty people and promptly forgot their names.
Tuesday and Wednesday were teacher workshops in a school some 40 minutes away along the usual bumpy, dusty tracks up and down the hills by moto-taxi.  The scenery is amazing, but the dwellings along the track are poor mud brick huts surrounded by banana trees or scrub with a few goats and cattle.  The kids stand by the road and shout “muzungo” and wave as we pass by.  It’s not an insult from them, but it means “rich whiteman” and can be used unpleasantly though very rarely.  The school “Bisigara Primary” was welcoming to us and all the teachers from other schools there for training.  The workshop was a first for Dorothy as the first part was to be delivered in Kinyarwanda by two young teachers who were from a school using the family grouping system, which the workshop was exploring and promoting.  Although we understood only occasional words it was clear that the two teachers were confident and enthusiastic in their delivery and the participants responded well to them.  The day continued with group work and discussions much as a workshop would in the UK and the participants left enthused and pleased with what they had learned.  The main thrust is to get teachers to adopt a more child-centred methodology, using lots of praise and encouragement.  That message was also there in the second day’s workshop, which was about Peer Observation.  We actually had lessons set up to be delivered by one teacher while the rest observed and took notes. After discussions two groups planned a lesson each and chose a teacher to deliver it.  Again they observed different aspects and gave feedback to the teachers.  It was amazing to see how far they could progress in one day, as we saw lessons, which were coming near what we would expect in the UK from good teachers.
On Thursday we visited another primary school, Rugarama 2. (Please take it  as read that each visit involves a hair raising moto ride in future!)  This is a model school, where the family grouping system originated, arising from the need to deal with the many orphans and traumatised children after 1994. This school is often visited by teachers from all over Rwanda, to see good practice at work.  The school is really clean and tidy, with gardens the children look after, a good library and science laboratory.  Of course it is all light years away from what we have in the UK, but we can see good progress and a good deal of improvisation and initiative, for example in the science equipment.  You see plastic water bottles for measuring, bananas as stoppers, kitchen ingredients as chemicals for experiments – nothing goes to waste.  Speaking of which, plastic carrier bags are illegal in Rwanda and that combined with the once a month “umuganda” community clean up, means that there is a good deal less litter lying around than in other developing countries.

Of course none of these schools have electricity so by the end of Tuesday both my phone and my computer were running out of power.  Very frustrating!! I managed to get a partial recharge at the District Office today, but as on Monday the power went off after about an hour.  They are working on a new building thee and on installing higher speed broadband so things should get better.  At our house the landlord has declared our solar panel system past repair and is hoping to install mains electricity at the end of October – that is if the District Office actually gets round to paying the rent arrears!! This evening again we were plunged into darkness at 7.30 in the middle of our Kinyarwanda lesson.  I’m sitting here in the dim glow of a candle using a rapidly dwindling laptop to write up a blog which I will upload this weekend in Kigali, where electricity and wi-fi are much easier to find.  What a contrast!  In fact today that was brought home even more… All Rwandans nearing adulthood or adult have a mobile phone, even living in a mud hut with no power!  The infant pupils had been modelling their hopes and ambitions in clay recently and what did they make but little mobile phones in great detail, even to the little sockets for chargers and headphones! There are little shops which sell a phone re-charge for 100 RWfr (9 pence). It is common practice to plug in your charger wherever you see a spare socket, even in the bank for example!

VSO Family Dinner

Sunday 12 September
Last night was the VSO Rwanda Family dinner – a six-monthly get together for all volunteers and workers at VSO Rwanda. Held in a large barn-like restaurant not far from where we are staying. We started off with some team-building games, which were not difficult and were good for getting to know other people. As darkness fell (just after 6.00!) we had drinks and began to settle down at tables ready to start the meal. A more sumptuous melange much as I described before – very tasty indeed.
The highlight of the evening was a performance by the Intore dancers – traditional Rwandan dancers, who showed off a variety of dances accompanied by drums and singing. After the performance they took a break and then came, as expected to get “muzungos” to join in. In fact this proved very popular and we had a great dance together. I think the dance troupe was pleased by our enthusiasm because they came back after changing out of their traditional dress and started playing again for us all to dance together.It was a great fun evening and continued well past the
programmed time!

In country training

Hi everyone!
Well, the first week has gone already and we will soon be leaving Kigali to go to our various destinations – there are 19 of us and about six of us will be quite close together in the south-east. Strangely four of us are the only men in this cohort and we are going to the same place. I met my predecessor yesterday and got more information about the job and the accommodation, but I’ll tell you more when I’ve seen it for myself. At the moment we are staying in a guest-house in the suburbs of Kigali, not far from the VSO offices and all our training has been here too. The rooms are quite comfortable, but basic. The en suite bathroom has a dodgy shower over the bathtub, which at best delivers very lukewarm water, but we have also had power cuts affecting both the lights and the sockets meaning cold showers too! Thank goodness for LED torches and headlamps! The food is very good – breakfast consists of bread or toast with omelette and slices of cheese, then jam or chocolate spread and fresh pineapple. Flasks of hot water are used to make tea and there is a coffee machine. Of course there is no fresh milk, everywhere it is just milk powder.
Lunch and dinner are what they call “melange” from the French word for “mixed platter”. Big dishes of grated carrot salad, tomatoes or beetroot, or grated cabbage, cold cooked aubergine – all with mild onion slices, and a dressing – that’s one side of your plate – then there are dishes of rice, potatoes, mashed or fried, roast or fried sweet potato or plantain, squashes or courgettes, cooked carrots, sweetcorn, maybe brown beans, then comes the fried fish pieces or goat meat stew, or today there was even beef too. You simply take a little of whatever you like and pile it all on the same plate. With it we have bottles of soft drinks or water. As dessert there are tiny sweet bananas or tree tomatoes (a mix between passion fruit/kiwi/tomato but very sharp and mainly seeds). Sometimes they serve vegetable soup (blended) for dinner with a less exhaustive “melange”.
On Thursday night we went out to a pub quiz VSO had organised for us and had the popular local dish of goat kebabs with chips. It was quite good food and the quiz was fun. Some of us went off yesterday afternoon to take the local bus down to the town centre. Ancient Toyota mini buses with about 12 seats cram in about twenty passengers for the 15 minute journey, which costs 180 francs – less than 18 pence! The local passengers are friendly and laugh at our attempts at Kinyarwanda and chat in French or English. We had a wander around the shopping area and found a bar with a first floor balcony for people watching. The shops are mainly tiny but there is a modern shopping centre and a few larger supermarkets which sell most things. We have to shop next week for household things – sheets, towels, pillows, candles etc. That will be very hectic I’m sure.
Most mornings the weather starts off bright and sunny then by lunch time the clouds begin to build up ready for lightening and heavy rain late afternoon or evening. One night it rained a lot during the night too, but the days have been warm and pleasant. It gets dark about 6.00 and the mosquitoes come out, so we need to put on repellent and long sleeves. Of course we sleep under mosquito nets too. Most evenings we make the most of a nearby bar and our friends, while it is possible.
The Kinyarwanda lessons are proving a real challenge for most of us – the more we learn the more difficult and complicated it seems. Apparently no foreigner has mastered the language and there is no fixed grammar rules which have been agreed by all. Eg they pronounce “r” and “l” in the same way so the spelling is either. Our teacher says “Emiry” for “Emily” and writes words with either letter!
I haven’t started my blog, yet as I’m planning to do that when the placement proper starts. More news will follow in time!