Thursday, 26 February 2009

The religious bit, continued

The religious bit, part two
re Sunday 22 Feb

I don't much like going to church, for several reasons, some general and some specific to my experience here in Rwanda. I don't like being in a situation where I might be assumed to believe things I don't believe. I don't like the busyness. I love traditional English church music, and I enjoy African call-and-response singing, but I don't care for choruses with formulaic melodies and harmonies. I experience the excessive amplification of keyboard and microphones as physical pain. I don't like being pushed to express a fervour I'm not feeling; I resist strongly the expectation that to every 'Alleluia' I will respond with a loud 'Amen'.

However, the Evangelical Friends Church in Rwanda is part of the world family of Friends, so these are my cousins. Most of the people I am working with belong, and they seem genuinely pleased to see me when I turn up. The English language service is relatively new, it needs support, and really I would be churlish to refuse to attend on even one of my four Sundays.

On my final Sunday, then, I set the alarm for six o'clock – not unbearable after a week without early starts – and enjoy the freshness of the early morning air on the 20 minute walk.

There are about 30 people present, compared with about 150 for the later service, including the American missionary couple with their children and two other members of Evangelical Friends Mission - a business specialist to help set up a moringa business and his wife who is teaching the adult English classes. A song is being taught as I arrive – I find it dull but my evaluation isn't what matters here. I sing quite strongly, recognising among the congregation several people whose English I know to be far from confident. There is a second song, and perhaps a third – they are so similar I find it hard to remember. The words are displayed on the wall in front of us, the computer operated by one of the two young men who also play the keyboard.

Now it's time for the address. It seems we are part way through a series. Last week the subject was Satan. Today we have moved on to demons. There are four questions to consider. I missed the first, I'm afraid, while preparing my camera, and can't recollect it. The others were also displayed: 'Are demons active in the world today? If yes, explain.' 'Can a Christian be possessed?' 'How can demon influence be recognised?' The young preacher tries to insist on plenty of interaction, but gets little. I don't know if the problem is poor English or lack of confidence in hazarding responses. The pastor and his wife from a neighbouring Friends church are the most vocal. The native English speakers (including me) hold back, for the most part.

One theme is whether Africa is more prone to demons than Europe and the USA. We hear a couple of stories of demonic activity in Rwanda, such as lifting a preacher onto the roof of his church in the middle of his sermon. I wonder whether to raise the question of metaphorical versus literal truth, but restrain myself. After about 45 minutes time has run out. We are exhorted to learn what we can about Satan, fallen angels, demons and devils, using the bible as our source of information. (I remember Bosco telling me a couple of weeks ago that the reason for praying before eating is to cast out the demons who otherwise are lurking to get inside people when they eat. I responded that there can indeed be bad practices that lead to food poisoning or even deliberate adulteration and he observed that 'you Europeans are so scientific'.)

Outside the church I comment to Debby Thomas that I was conscious of silence around the topic of prominent churchmen including bishops who participated vigorously in the genocide and wonder whether the subject is an elephant in the room. She makes an observation I find very informative - like most of what she tells me: many church people in this society will commit sinful acts, such as theft, for example, and say it wasn't their fault because they were possessed. There was talk inside church of it being only those supposed Christians who are 'mixed', who go to church in the morning and take part in traditional witchcraft in the evening, who are vulnerable. I'm no expert but I don't find that entirely convincing.

I have so much to understand. There are fascinating questions about the balance between individual and group responsibility, for example – Friends Peace House has adopted the slogan from Friends in Cape Town: 'Peace is a group effort'. In the groups I have been teaching I notice that if I ask one person to fetch something or do something, at least half a dozen others follow suit and it can be quite difficult to stop the flow. I remember on visits to the Soviet Union in the 80s being told very firmly that we Westerners were far too devoted to individualism and undervalued the communal. That certainly needs considering, whatever one's evaluation of its source.

No tidy conclusions. I suspect that much of what I experience as strange and uncomfortable may be very familiar to members of churches in other continents than Africa. It's enough for me that I have been welcomed despite my oddity. Bathed in such warm appreciation, I could allow my prickles to soften perhaps.

Monday, 23 February 2009

The religious bit - unfinished, of course

The religious bit – the first part

This, I expect, will be the most difficult of all my posts regarding how much to explain. I am writing for close personal friends and members of my own Quaker meeting (congregation) who have a fair idea of my theological position, for family members with various religious affiliations or none, and for others who probably know I am a Quaker (a member of the Religious Society of Friends) but with whom I have had little or no conversation on religious or spiritual matters.

I have probably conveyed by now the extent to which every session of every group activity on my program opens and closes with vocal prayer. All the participants' songs in the workshops also have Christian lyrics, their fervour often intensified by impromptu dancing. The voices on radio stations blaring their messages in the taxi-buses are as often preaching as commentating on football matches or giving news bulletins, and indeed I can't immediately distinguish between the first two till I hear, for example, 'Imana' (Lord God) or 'Arsenal'. (I don't know whether those buses with Islamic slogans painted on the outside deliver Muslim messages inside.)

Sometimes I get a translation of the prayers in the workshops but often not. There is one mode in which translations would be impossible, when several – or indeed a large proportion – of the participants are praying aloud at the same time. The other day we had a short prayer before lunch and Musafiri commented that there had been a request that the prayer should be restricted to the subject of giving thanks for the food, and not extend itself into glorifying the Lord for all his works or praying for the sick.

I wrote earlier (in the post entitled 'The heart of it') about articulating my spiritual convictions in a way that occurs only rarely at home in Britain. Aiming to be both relevant and sincere, I find I am at my most comfortable when talking about the natural cycles inherent in creation, about trying not to use up what we can't replenish – my main reservation here, although I don't often say so, is that I'm all too conscious of how much I use in my ordinary life. This is the focus of my personal spirituality.

When the Friendly FolkDancers were here in Rwanda or in Kenya, we were often asked to pray aloud and most of us found we could do it with a measure of acceptability and integrity. I'm not getting that request on this visit, though I am frequently expected to speak formally at openings and closings. What has happened with both the three day women's workshops, however, is that when I have delivered as much of my material on kitchen gardening as I think can be absorbed, when there have been several breaks for songs in Kinyarwanda or in English, when my circle dances are yet again without the necessary recorded music, it has seemed right to move into the area of spiritual experience or practice.

In the final women's workshop last week several factors encouraged me to try an experiment. First, these were women who already speak deep truths about their lives to each other; secondly, I was to be partnered for one session by Cecile, who has travelled among Friends in the USA and experienced what I wanted to introduce. Additionally, the group had responded with interest when I'd described the use of chants as meditation at Taize. I was disappointed when a delay in the arrival of staff lunch meant Cecile had only 20 minutes with me before the end of the afternoon session. We went ahead, nevertheless.

British and North American Friends share a communal reflective practice called 'worship sharing'. Typically a theme is introduced or a question posed and all present are asked to consider its import for them personally, at first in silence. Then any who feel called to speak on the subject may do so, preferably at no great length and with generous measures of silence between spoken contributions. Later speakers should not express disagreement with earlier ones; participants should give full attention to each speaker rather than planning their own response.

I chose a sentence from 'Advices & queries', a series of some 40 short paragraphs which serve as 'a reminder of the insights of [Quakers in Britain]'. I wanted something which would keep us touch with the ordinary work of growing food, would explicitly mention God, and would invite broader consideration. I settled on the opening sentence of A&Q 7: Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life. Cecile translated and the silence began. Anxious that I had not sufficiently emphasised that there was no hierarchy to the sequence of contributions and that the 15 minutes remaining might pass not in relaxed contemplation but in insecurity, I spoke first, very briefly. A few seconds later one of the participants who is a deacon at the local Friends church spoke – with a brevity admirably unlike her usual style. Two longer contributions followed, the latter telling the story of how the speaker had prayed for God to guide her throughout the long processes of getting her children back from her divorced husband and how his family had moved from suspicion to friendliness, eventually letting her take her children home after his remarriage.

It was time to finish already. I asked if they would like a similar session tomorrow and saw smiles and gestures of assent.

The next day, Friday, was the last. We finished the practical work with the sack gardens, talked over several points again, sang, ate, reconvened after lunch. This time we had a good half hour. My partner was Musafiri, whom I had observed to be less committed to the periods of prayer and bible study than most of the Friends Peace House staff. He seemed happy enough to facilitate this activity, however. This time I chose two short extracts from A&Q 42: Seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world... Rejoice in the splendour of God's continuing creation.

I had said I would not speak first this time. There were plenty of contributions and not many silences. Not every word was translated for me; as far as I could tell, most speakers focussed on the human part of creation. One told of the joy of finding children to adopt after her own had been killed in the genocide, another of occasional moments of joy in the sunrise amid long periods of pain and depression. I asked if there was one final contribution and there was. I indicated that it was time to move on. Musafiri spent two or three minutes saying how for him this calm atmosphere was the most conducive to worship.

Sorry but I’ve run out of time. I’d rather send this incomplete than not at all. Part two, if I manage to write it, will be about the English language service at a Friends Church yesterday morning, 22 Feb.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Amazing grace

Last night at the end of dinner, just before bedtime, Jeanette gave me some information that really upset me. Cecile could not be my workshop partner next day because she was needed for a different group at the same time. I had noticed the overlap on the timetable earlier but she had said, I thought, that somebody else would take the other group. When we parted after the wedding on Saturday I had said I'd see her next in our workshop and she had not demurred.

I don't know why Jeanette didn't tell me straight away when she came home at the end of the afternoon, but she didn't. She rightly identified that I would be sorry to have to work in French yet again when I'd been looking forward to having an English-speaking partner. She couldn't know that I have also been accumulating a lot of questions about Friends Peace House (FPH) programs and about the general situation in Rwanda, and that I'd identified Cecile as the person to whom I could put some of them.

I was pretty tired, physically and mentally, after two consecutive days making sack gardens and compost heaps in the gardens of David B's house and the little guest house. I was struggling to generate the necessary energy for warming to the idea of doing the same things for the third time in a week. I took myself to bed, hoping to feel more positive in the morning.

This morning came and I was quite unhappy. Jeanette had left early, before I was up, and Bosco, who is not usually here during the week, took nearly half an hour in the bathroom. How could I find a way of turning my mood around, so I could do a decent day's work? I resolved to express my dissatisfaction. After all, these people teach nonviolent conflict resolution all the time, don't they? I constructed my statement, looking up a good range of appropriate French words in case that was how it would have to be done. 'When plans are changed and I'm not told, I feel sad and powerless.'

The rain started early today. I phoned for advice on whether the start of the workshop would be delayed, and was offered a ride in the HROC car, which I accepted. On arrival I was greeted by a cheerful Musafiri. He was to be my partner today in place of Cecile and I had no grudge against him. He was composing his report on our first workshop and needed me to check the sections in English, apparently downloaded from the web. He also wanted to insert some of my photos; I had them on a flash stick but we encountered the problem that's bugged me before – a small part of the selected image swelling to fill the allotted space. I could probably have solved the problem but he was reluctant to yield control of the mouse, which was sticking badly. All that could wait, however. I had at least been distracted from my negative feelings.

In front of the meeting rooms I was greeted by Cecile, splendid in robe and turban. Her preferred group was obviously higher status than the one she'd handed over. She told me it was to be a meeting of many women's groups to plan for a women's peace congress later in the year, hosted by Friends Peace House, and that her presence was needed. Clearly important work. My resentment was fading but I said my piece, adding that I would have liked her to phone me and tell me herself that the plan had changed. She apologised, lightly but sincerely enough. I was ready to move on.

My group assembled gradually. I had expected them to be more westernised in dress than the women in Gitarama but they were almost all wearing traditional 'pagnes', wraps. All these women had been to a Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) workshop; none was very young; they were members of several local Women in Dialogue groups. Our room was rather small and they sat in two rows of 14, with only a small space for the tutors and flipchart. (The grander group had the larger and better shaped room.)

I'm not going to describe the first parts of the workshop – the rule making, the personal introductions, my introduction about kitchen gardens and nutrition, the drawing of a sack garden on the flipchart, the passing round of the laminated information sheet and my laptop with a photo from the demonstration garden at Gako. A the end of all that, just as we were about to go outside and begin on the practical work, more rain poured down, thundering on the roof and lowering the temperature considerably.

They asked a few more questions. Lunch was due in half an hour. Would they like to sing, for a change of energy? All sang, some danced, Musafiri and I clapped along and he congratulated them on a good rendering of a song that was new to him. They would like me to teach them a song.

Nobody in this group understands French, let alone English. They are members of various churches, including Friends. Personal reservations about the theological implications of the words notwithstanding, I decide that 'Jesus, remember me' will be the best choice. I write up the words. We practice the words. I sing the first line of the first half of the tune and invite them to imitate me. Terrible! I signal the pitch with my hand. I step across the room as I sing, rising and ducking to show the ups and downs. Still pretty painful. I ask if they can explain the problem. We are dealing with only two notes; how can it be so difficult for people who sing all the time? Musafiri comments that some of these mamas are finding the English really hard. I have already suggested singing 'la la'. Now I demonstrate. They try again. Not much better. I begin to think that two notes only a semitone apart may be hard to distinguish, but there's nothing to be done about that for now. We persevere for some minutes more, learning the whole tune. It's only the first phrase that makes me wince each time it comes round.

It's close to the planned lunch break but lunch is delayed for half an hour by the rain. I don't think there's enough space to dance here – we were expecting to use the level ground below the house. I'm running out of ideas now. Do they know any Alleluias? At least we can all sing the word. They strike up: 'Al-le-lu-u-u-ia, Al-le-lu-ia, Al-le-lu-u-u-ia, A-a-men!' I know that tune. I join in. Ah yes, it's 'Amazing grace'.

Would they like to know something abut the origin of 'Jesus, remember me'? I tell them about Taize – Brother Roger's compositions, the crowds of young people, the prolonged repetition of the same chant as a form of meditative prayer, the different languages. I smile but say nothing when I hear the word 'Kinyarwanda' in Musafiri's translation at that point – not used in Taize, I suspect. I comment that I know many people who don't go to church butt who find Taize chants spiritually nourishing. One doesn't have to be a Christian to have a spiritual life. Many nods.

Lunch still isn't ready. May they ask me some questions? We talk about my family and where I live. Would they like to hear something about the Friends Church in Britain? I find appropriate terminology is tricky here and use the words hesitantly. Musafiri immediately suggests 'Quaker'. I speak briefly about how our worship is framed in silence – listening to God being the other half, as it were, of the conversation, compared with talking to God, which is what happens in Friends services here. Immediately the room lights up.

One of the rules agreed a couple of hours ago is that people should raise a hand and wait to be called to speak. Half a dozen hands are up. The first woman says that she is often troubled by memories of the genocide and the only thing that helps is sitting quietly at home waiting to be led to a Bible passage. Another tells how she sings the same praise song over and over for reassurance. Another paces up and down inside her small house, praying softly. Another asks God to still her racing heart – whether that is physical or metaphorical is not revealed.

It's time for the pre-lunch prayer. This is the deepest and the most interactive group so far. I think the intimate space helps. It seems likely that their experience both of the HROC process and the continuing group meetings also gives a confidence and a willingness to speak.

The plan is to resume the program with sack preparation after lunch but it's so cold that women are tightly wrapping themselves in their shawls if they have them or their arms if not. I suggest to Musafiri that we stay indoors for the afternoon and he agrees.

I give instructions and 'recipes' for making liquid plant foods from chopped green leaves and from animal droppings. We talk about putting back into the ground as much as possible to replace what we take out. It's well known in Rwanda that there is no more virgin forest to be cut down now, so people can no longer simply move on when the soil is exhausted by bad practices. (It's less than 30 years ago that parts of the country were still inhabited mainly by the wild animals now confined to three National Parks on the edges of the country.) I ask whether any of the women already use natural foods for their plants. One or two soak meat scraps and bones. Several know how to make compost heaps by layering dry and green vegetable matter. I remind them that peelings are also useful. (I don't tell them that yesterday I was working with the young man whom I'd first encountered spraying fruit trees with a chemical fungicide. He had great difficulty understanding that kitchen rubbish which will rot can go on the compost heap while tins, plastic, broken mirrors etc can't – and that burning them isn't a good idea either.)

We have 20 minutes before finishing time. I offer some choices. They could teach me a song, or we could dance with very contained steps, or we could try this morning's song again, with reinforcement from Celestin, who learnt it in the car with me on Monday and who happens to be hanging about. The last choice appeals to them, so C is fetched and places himself in the middle of the back row, a strategic position.

He and I sing a few turns, first in unison then with somewhat random harmonies. We invite the women to join in. We have a critical mass of competent singers and improvement is rapid now. C suggests dividing into two halves; the tune is so structured that having the second group start when the first is half way through will give consistent harmonies. The women spontaneously get to their feet. Confidence and volume increase. I take the hand of the woman next to me and coax the whole group into an ellipse that fills the available space, holding hands. I begin to circle. Some women sway from side to side with each step and others imitate. Soon the whole circle is full of movement and energy. I see we have five minutes till finishing time. I halt the dance and we sing softly to a close.

Musafiri tells the women to return to their seats for the closing prayer and some notices. As the circle breaks I am wrapped in hugs and embraces. In unpromising circumstances, amazing grace indeed.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The volunteer packed her bag

For her New Year's Eve party my sister requested that each guest bring a game. Mine was 'The cardinal packed his bag'. The cardinal packed his bag and in it he put an apple. The cardinal packed his bag and in it he put an Apple and his Boots. The cardinal packed his bag and in it he put an Apple, his Boots, some Crayons....

Compared with the recognisable structure of the three day workshops, today is largely unknown. I'm promised to David Bucura but he has other duties for most of the day, it emerges. I am to go to his house and see if I can construct some demonstration items in his garden. There will be three or four young people to help me. There have been earlier mentions of also teaching one song to his church choir for the newly introduced English language service.

I declined his suggestion of a seven-o'clock start today. I'm to get myself to the Friends Church compound at Kagarama, 15 minutes' steep uphill walk away, for nine. The challenge is to take everything I shall need and nothing to add unnecessary weight to my backpack.

Before leaving I apply sun cream and take my anti-malaria and anti-histamine pills.

I wait only a couple of minutes on the bench in the shade near the church gate before David's car appears, driven by Celestin. I've travelled with him several times before, he likes practising his English with me, and to my surprise one day last week it was he who led the 30 minutes of worship at the beginning of the day a Friends Peace House. (Understanding his role or status is beyond me. It seems that he drives for Friends Peace House and the Friends Church, but for others as well, using a variety of cars, and paid directly in cash by whoever has requested his services. His work for HROC will not last long because one of the team is having driving lessons.) I have been looking through my book of Taizé chants while waiting. I decide to try one on Celestin. It has to be simple and in English. Here is one with straightforward melody and harmonies, and only a few words. They're not words I would choose for myself, but they seem very like many of the hymns sung here. (Old joke: How do Quakers sing hymns? Slowly, so they can read ahead and see if they approve of the words.) 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'

As we drive I teach the words and the melody. Before long we are harmonising ad lib. That was a good choice.

Where are we going? I don't recognise this part of town at all. It's a local government office. There is a queue of about 20 standing in the sun and another 20 or 30 sitting on rows of benches under a canopy. David comes to the car. I am to get out and greet his brother's mother-in-law, her daughter and two more relatives. The brother lives in Coventry. Could I take a small present? I check that he would collect it from me. 'OK, but nothing too bulky, please.' I have no idea whether this was premeditated.

David assures me that at least one of my gardening team speaks French. He looks at some of my illustrations and asks to photocopy them – a first. Celestin drives me to the Bucura house, singing happily.

By lunch time I have used (not in alphabetical order) sun hat, sunglasses, laminated teaching pages, paper from my pad to give to my students, mini-laptop and flash drive to show photos of earlier workshops here, gardening shoes, camera, English/French dictionary, scissors, boiled drinking water in a bottle, a selection of seeds, and finally a book to read while my lunch is cooked. (I've finished 'Machete season', read the Rwandan sections of ''The key to my neighbour's house: seeking justice in Bosnia and Rwanda' by Elizabeth Neuffer, and am starting on 'Between vengeance and forgiveness: facing history after genocide and mass violence', by Martha Minow, which seems very well worth reading so far, despite being 10 years old and focusing on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa rather than the more recent efforts in Rwanda, which are my main interest.)

David arrives as I am finishing my lunch. I don't know which of the party had to sign a document; it took all morning.

Now after lunch it's raining and thundering before we have begun to construct the compost heap. I'm composing on my laptop but I'm down to 34% battery. I decided not to bring its power cable.

Four hours later and I'm back home, computer plugged in, to finish the tale. In the afternoon three of us made a compost heap of a cubic yard or so, with the surrounding soil so sticky I was carrying about half a pound on each shoe. I used my gardening gloves and secateurs.

What did I bring back unused? Umbrella, lightweight long-sleeved shirt, descant recorder, four photocopied pages from the 'Friends' Hymnal', hand sanitiser, money and phone – combined weight probably under a pound. Satisfactory.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

A morning off

Morning off, Sat 14 Feb, and schedule

I am not wearing my watch yet. I'm breakfasting alone, in summer-weight pyjamas and dressing gown. Jeanette and her husband of five months, Bosco, are not yet up. It's past eight o'clock – a welcome change after three days of rising at 6 and leaving at 7 to catch the 7.30 bus from Kigali centre.

I looked for my watch to check the length of a radio item on the coming changes in the British legal system involving supermarket and online competition with solicitors' firms. Unusually the servant (I must get J to write his name for me!) has not switched his little radio, outside the dining room window and near the kitchen, away from English language. The item has the quality of one of my beloved BBC Radio 4 documentary programmes and it has lasted at least 15 minutes. Not Voice of America, like most of the Eng lang broadcasts I've caught, but Deutsche Welle.

The supply of cold water in the bathroom is being replenished so the loo can be flushed. (Water comes into the house in two stages – carried from the tap near the front gate to the indoor store room, then to the 30-40 litre container in the bathroom. I asked J why they don't have indoor plumbing and she said the permit and the labour are too expensive, but at least they have their own tap.) I could ask for hot water, heated on the small open charcoal stove, for my morning wash but I don't need it, having washed everything including my hair yesterday evening, ready for the wedding this afternoon . Solange, a FPH employee and an orphaned genocide survivor, is one of David Bucura's protegees and a friend of Laura S C, my London contact and adviser for all things AGLI, who worked here for 2 years. She is marrying a soldier, a recently joined member of the Friends Church.

The church ceremony begins at 1pm. J and I have cried off the dowry ceremony this morning because I need some down time and she needs to go for her weekly visit to her hairdresser. (There seems to be a hierarchy of hair management for women – the most citified and prosperous have hair extensions; the next choice is a wig, some with light streaks or wonderfully complex plaiting; others choose according to the occasion between leaving their natural hair exposed or wearing a turban or simple cloth.)

Before leaving home one of my chief anxieties was how to manage the expanses of empty time I expected to be a feature of a first trip. Actually it's hard to fit in sleeping - let alone resting - what with workshops etc, blogging (which I'm really enjoying), keeping myself, my kit for each activity and my bedroom (with most of my belongings filed on the floor in the absence of cupboard or hanging facilities beyond a single nail) in a reasonable state of order and cleanliness, and engaging in the ever-present struggle to get enough internet time. I thought the long dark evenings would be hard to fill. True, I need to be home by 6.40 at the latest in order to see the ground beneath my feet – the other evening J and I were trapped in the internet café by a downpour at dusk: we slithered home by the light of occasional house lights and passing motor bikes, and I wouldn't want to do that on my own. Actually each evening is filled with washing, eating, a little blog composition or reading, and I'm ready for bed.

This seems the right moment to share my calendar with you.

30 Jan – 1 Feb
A slow start, with little to do except review my teaching material (most useful) and go to morning service (10-12.15) at the Friends' Church where David B is pastor.
2 Feb, Monday
Morning and afternoon meetings at Friends Peace House. Outline programme agreed. Downtown for money and phone card. Go through and apportion gifts with Francine, who works with the orphans as well as running the guest house, in the evening
3 Feb, Tues
Visit to organic farm training centre at Gako in morning. Brief and inconclusive discussion about workshop costings with Josephine, the FPH treasurer, then workshop planning with Musafiri in afternoon. Move from guest house to stay with Jeanette.
4-6 Feb, Weds – Fri
Workshop at Shyorongi for 30 young people. (Actually I missed the first day after a night of d&v.)
7 Feb, Sat
(Weekend of severe power cuts.) Outing with Antoine Samvura and 6-yr-old daughter to his 2 hectares of land an hour's drive from Kigali.
8 Feb, Sunday
Quiet day, with long conversations, sotto voce although there's nobody within earshot who speaks French, about religion and politics, with Bosco.
9 Feb, Monday
Visit Mwana Nshuti, training school run by FPH where I am to give workshop later. Attempt with Gaston to sort out sound system. Uninterrupted couple of hours in afternoon with office modem – almost catch up on emails despite v slow connection.
10 Feb, Tues
Day at George Fox College, the school where Antoine is head teacher. Observe English classes in morning, teach adult class in afternoon, after restaurant lunch with Rwanda Yearly Meeting Executive Committee (8 men) and shopping for seeds. (People are feverishly learning English to keep their jobs as the official European language changes from French.)
11-13 Feb, Weds to Fri
Workshop at Gitarama Friends Church for women's group with Jeanette.
14 Feb, Sat (today)
Morning off. Wedding this afternoon and probably into evening.
15 Feb, Sunday
David B's church for morning service.
Afternoon as yet unscheduled. I might manage to borrow Antoine's laptop and modem – much the most efficient.
16 & 17 Feb, Mon and Tues
Committed to David B for garden demonstration projects and presentation of donated clothes to the church orphanage and poor women. Maybe something to do as well with his involvement in Church Mobilisation for Poverty Reduction, whose project description (in English) he gave me at first opportunity.
18-20 Feb, Weds-Fri
Workshop with Cecile N for a local Women in Dialogue group, to be held at FPH, I think.
21, 22 Feb, Sat & Sun
As yet unscheduled, apart from taking Cecile, Jeanette and Bosco out for a meal at local Resto/Bar on Sunday evening.
23-24 Feb, Mon-Tues
Workshop with Gaston for Mwana Nshuti.
24 Feb, Tues, late afternoon
Farewell and planning meeting at FPH.
25 Feb, Weds
Fly out at 13.45.
26 Feb, Thurs
Due into Heathrow at 5.45, Kenya Airlines permitting.

Not a lot to occupy me, then.

More images from Gitarama women's workshop

Posing for the photographer

Morning tea break in the pastor's house

Cooking for 30+

Jeanette at work

The power supply

OK, I've not yet succeeded in interspersing text and images. So here are the extras.

The heart of it

The classroom space inside Gitarama Friends Church

Participants bring contents for the sack gardens

The heart of it, Thurs 12 Feb

It's the mid point of my time here, the middle day of three for this workshop with the women of the Friends Church in Gitarama, and this is what I came for.

Standard workshop facilitation practice matches Rwandan custom as we review yesterday's work. The president of the church women's associations thanks the visitors – Jeanette and me – for being here again and leads a prayer to thank God for protecting us on our journey sand everybody else in their homes since we were last together. I thank the women for their hard work yesterday – and I mean it.

Yesterday we were setting up the sacks for planting in the yard behind the pastor's house. Nothing we needed was to hand. Topsoil, rich and poor, from round and about; manure, fresh and rotted, from people's homes; stones from the adjacent hillside; all brought in sacks and bags and old cardboard trays and emptied onto the ground. The biggest problem was finding bottles or tins for forming the column of stones in he middle of the sacks: these women don't have drinks in plastic bottles - only occasionally coke and Fanta in returnable glass bottles - and they don't eat from tins. We found one discarded plastic tub of acceptable diameter and I donated my personal water bottle, saved from a restaurant at lunch time the day before. Eucalyptus saplings, already stripped of their branches, were cut to length by the pastor's wife, in apple green broderie anglaise, expertly wielding a machete. Soil and manure were mixed with hoes and the first two sacks filled.

Continuing my introductory remarks, I say that today we will be preparing the remaining sacks, seven in all, and planting the seeds. Abandoning the reticence that is so prominent a feature of British Quakerism, I find myself talking to these women in a way I would normally risk only with my closest friends. Perhaps it helps that my limited command of French does not allow me to be subtle. God, I believe, has planted a seed in my heart, and in all our hearts or souls. We know the work of God in our individual lives and we know God's creation includes the way seeds develop into plants. When we tend our plants we are co-operating in God's work in the world. I hear little sighs of agreement; I am not being heretical or absurd.

The women re-form into yesterday's groups, absorbing three newcomers and filling the gap of several absences. (It's not surprising that there are comings and goings – at least half of these women have up to six or eight children and some have brought toddlers who are left to play within view outside, as well as babies who are shifted from back to breast to lap. Only one or two participants are old enough for their children to be adults and perhaps half a dozen are students not yet married.) Preparing the remaining sacks takes most of the first session, before a break for sweet milky tea and doughnuts. Jeanette and I are not detached instructors: I am watching as closely as I can – showing how close the stakes have to be to support the sacks, setting aside the freshest manure for using in the compost heap tomorrow, making the first cuts in the sides of the sacks and indicating the spacing for the holes. I am also taking plentiful photos, not only of the work but also of various importunate children. J is hands-on in a way I had not expected from her formal demeanour at FPH.

After the tea break the groups choose which seeds to plant and I issue supplies from my collection of packets. It's not easy to get a sense of how much seed I have given out but I'm beginning to be suspicious. Somebody extends her hand for cabbage seed and I ask her which sack it is for. She withdraws, giggling. I close the bag of seed packets and set it aside. I have already explained that my supplies need to provide for three more groups. The only participant who speaks English has declared herself my special friend and she asks for some seed to take home. I refuse.

Planting completed, the women decide to pray for the seeds they have planted. The seven sacks are in a row close to the back wall of the yard. Seven groups form and pray in quiet voices. Then the pastor's wife prays more loudly for the whole enterprise. There is a sense that we've done our best.

After lunch we make a prompt start. More than with the youth group last week, who were well disposed but for the most part not really concerned about the subject, I sense a real desire among these women to extract as much information from me as they can in the three days. We have touched on the matter of feeding the plants in the sacks, especially if the soil is not particularly rich. The recipe for a 'plant tea', made with an infusion of different kinds of green leaves, will have to wait till tomorrow when I shall have visited Debby Thomas to get the Kinyarwandan names for the plants needed. For now I have instructions for making a liquid manure feed. By the time the instructions have included a sack for soaking the droppings, a container for the water, string and a stick for suspending the bag in the water, a dilution of one cup of fertiliser with two of water and an instruction to give one cupful per plant every two weeks, I'm glad of a good diagram to pass round for clarification.

Next the theory for tomorrow's compost heap. The women listen attentively to Jeanette's account, in which she expands somewhat on my French, sentence by sentence. She and I have already looked at most of the diagrams together and I have checked that she understands not only particular words but the conceptual framework as a whole. There are some good questions and comments. I hope I am emphasising adequately the difference between concept and particulars, establishing categories as well as examples. I keep emphasising, too, that they are the ones with the local knowledge, the experience of their own growing condiions; I an bringing only ideas for additional resources. 'But you are a “muzungu” (a white person)', they say. ' You know so much.'

Enough. The group wants to get on to the next activity.

Today the CD will really play when I need it. We assembled and tested the system before the first session this morning and I ran it again during the lunch break. I teach a simple French dance. This is fun. I don't need many words so there's no need to wait for translation. Once we have established that everybody starts with the left foot, even those on the opposite side of the circle, they soon have a good enough idea to dance to the music. And yes, it works. I add the arm movements, to much hilarity. We do a second lively dance, and a third, calmer, before coming back to our seats for finishing off and praying again.

The pastor comes in for the closing prayers. He has been looking at the sacks and counting the holes for planting. On one sack he found exactly 30 holes and prayed for the group of 30 women. Then he considered the total of around 300. How much money could be saved or earned if a cabbage costing 50 Rwanda francs grew at each station? They had a project of raising goats once but the goats died. This will succeed.

I wish I shared his confidence. I have tried to be realistic a every stage.

A satisfactory day's work, however, Jeanette and I agree on the bus home. Tired and grubby and slightly sunburnt, I am glad to be here.

First images

I'm learning on the job. Images I added after the first have appeared at the top of the post. Still, here's something. It shouldn't be too hard to associate these pics with my posts about the first workshop.

Giving away the lavender seeds

Labelling the seed pockets on the communal sack

'Avec ma vache'; I'm sorry not be able to improve this image. Plenty to learn.

These sacks are at the organic training centre at Gako, near Kigali. Having this image on my laptop to show the students gives reassurance that this method can work locally.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Vignette, corrected version


I am observing an English lesson for Secondary I. Children who started primary school as soon as they were old enough and haven't needed to repeat a year start secondary school at 12. Others come up to 10 years later, when their family can pay the fees or they find a sponsor.

The school year started only last month and the teacher has apologised for the low standard of the class. Some students, however, seem to me to be speaking and understanding pretty well.

A series of questions is written on the blackboard as prompts. Students volunteer to come to the front and answer questions posed by their peers. At the front now is a cool character – low slung trousers, shirt barely tucked in. I didn't catch his name.

How old are you? I'm 17.

Who is your best friend? Jesus. Jesus is my best friend because I don't have a girlfriend. I loved a girl but she didn't want me because I'm poor.

Will you get another girlfriend? Perhaps in a year or two.

Are there brothers and sisters in your family? I have two brothers and three sisters. I am the last-born.

What is your father's work? My father was killed in the genocide.

Quite matter-of-fact. I detect no emotional shift. He was two years old. That's just how it is.

PS, Weds 10 Feb
I am reading 'Machete season: the killers in Rwanda speak', borrowed from the FPH library. The killers Jean Hatzfeld interviewed came from near Gitarama. These ordinary Hutu farmers talk of hunting down Tutsis week after week in the papyrus swamps where they fled to avoid the killing in the villages. Returning on the bus from Gitarama after the workshop there, the sun is bright, although to the north there are heavy clouds and occasional drops fall on the windscreen. We are in a lush valley bottom, with bright green rice, fronds of tall grass used as cattle fodder, and what beyond, feathery, head high? Papyrus.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Settling in

Settling in

Red for reconsider, red for rejoice! Lurking modestly along the side of my little laptop is the slot for my photo card. How could I not have looked properly before? Some 300 images are now copied onto the hard drive and backed up on a red flash stick.

I'd like to say that means there will now be illustrations with the posts, but I don't for the moment see when that will happen. It could be as soon as the occasion on which I next have a usable internet connection, but time is at a premium for the next few days and I may have to choose between getting a few relevant images onto the same flash stick as the blog text but not having time to post them or posting unadorned text.

The sense of settling in probably results from having done several things more than once. I went back today to the shop where I bought seeds for the first workshop last week. It would be a longish slog from where the taxi buses arrive in town, but I could manage on my own next time if I need further replacements. I asked this time if I could look through the cheapest range of seeds for myself and was allowed behind the counter to browse. 5 gram packets, made up in the shop, of a dozen staples cost about 15p each. I was prepared to pay 10 times as much for a fancy packet of cherry tomato seed, but they'd sold out.

After a day spent mostly in the Friends school in Kagarama, I set off to walk home alone, also for the second time. I haven't enjoyed the helplessness engendered by needing a guide for every expedition to cyber café or the church and school complex or Friends Peace House. Jeanette has been wonderfully patient and I have gradually got the hang of looking for landmarks – a blue roof, charcoal by the side of the road being tipped from a sack and sold from quart-sized containers, the wall of neat blocks surrounding Antoine's house that means I'm nearly home and can relax. (I'm also learning here are some 'faux amis': several corners have that tree shedding its yellow flowers; every hundred yards or so there's an MTN sign for mobile phone cards and every couple of hundred a little shop selling Fanta and Coca Cola.) The difficulty is that none of my usual methods for finding my way is available: no street map, no street names, no way of explaining what I'm looking for in order to ask for help. Yesterday for my first solo effort I retraced the steps I'd taken with Jeanette that morning. Today, bolder, I set off from a different point with the confidence to steer in the right general direction and not to worry too much if the particular lane didn't seem familiar. I now know, too, that there is a broader, flatter road that I couldn't miss if I overshot and that getting back up the hill to where I need to be would be tiring but not impossible. I also suspect there's a fair sprinkling by now of neighbours who recognise me. I had a brief but charming encounter today with a little boy of less than two who seized my hand in both of his and told me goodness knows what as I looked around to see where he belonged.

Tomorrow my second three-day workshop begins, this time with Jeanette and the women's rights group in the Friends Church, Gitarama, where we danced last year. Yesterday Gaston and I sorted out a collection of sound equipment that I understand, just about compact enough to be carried on the bus - no driver this time. I'm beginning to feel dangerously like an old hand.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Questions of authority

Questions of authority, Saturday 31 Jan

[This is one of the postings I couldn't get into the right format for putting in the blog last week. I think it still has some validity.]

Several times during my preparation period, people asked me if I wasn't scared. Scared of what? Of illness, of violent crime, of isolation? No. But scared of not measuring up? No, not significantly either. At every stage I have emphasised that I'm not an expert, a professional, a specialist. I have done some basic research on cultivation techniques and on nutrition. I have a few books and articles. I have web references, their usefulness limited by discontinuity of internet access, however.

Now I'm here it's being borne in on me what my questioners might have been getting at. After breakfast I got out my bag of seeds again. Francine is particularly curious about beetroot (which is being promoted by Send-a-cow in Rwanda, I know). In the bottom of the bag I found just 4 seeds of the yellow dwarf bean I've been growing at home for 15 year or more from saved seed originally given me by fellow allotmenteer Gordon Ellard, so Francine's garden seems a good home for them, where I've encouraged her to conserve seed if the plants grow successfully. Radishes and rocket are also unknown to Francine. Crook-necked yellow squash seeds were bought in the USA where they seem to be suitable for all 4 climatic zones, so I'm hopeful of germination and plant a couple (more widely spaced than F expected). So far so good. We mark the locations with short lengths of bamboo I find in the mulch round the shrubs bordering the path, and draw a labelled diagramme as an aide memoire.

The vegetable area of the garden consists of several raised but unbordered rectangular beds, about 1x4 meters, with bright orange soil, much more friable than mine at home despite last night's prolonged downpour, and basically weed free. A few onions are growing, and some healthy looking carrots. The only visible weed is oxalis, and not much of that.

I see no evidence of compost. When I was being shown the washing facilities on arrival yesterday I asked if waste water should be thrown on the garden and was greeted with a surprised giggle. When it had rained I saw there was no immediate need for irrigation! I haven't asked about fertiliser, natural or factory made. Later this morning Francine's brother sprayed all the fruit trees with something that smelled quite noxious. If these busy people have systems that work well for them, who am I to come along and unsettle them?

My second transaction of the morning was with Antoine Samvura, the head of the Friends school here. I shall write later about the French/English language issue. For now I'm focusing on another aspect of our conversation. I began telling A of the Growing Together project which is my main reason for being here and the conversation turned to what I had learned from literature and conversations about the Send-a-cow organic gardening projects. 'I have a cow, some cows, and some goats on a piece of land about an hour's drive from here', he said. 'Would you like to see them?' So far so good. I accepted the invitation. 'The people who work there have no training. Are you restricted to the Women in Dialogue project or would you advise them?' I articulate what may be becoming a mantra: I am not a professional.

Later I am reading the laminated sheets of instructions from Send-a-cow on making a compost heap, making liquid plant feeds from fresh leaves and from animal dung, and natural pesticides from plants. Francine sits beside me and studies them avidly despite her lack of English. These are early days.

PS Sunday 8 Feb. I went out with Antoine to his land yesterday. More about that anon.

Out and about

Out and about, Friday 6 Feb

Yesterday we planted the first experimental bag garden in the community centre at Shyorongi, a village on a ridge above Kigali, straddling the main road leading to the west and north-west (to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda). Today another five potato sacks will be installed in private yards and gardens.

First we shall need to divide the students into five groups. Musafiri, my Rwandan colleague, asks the first group to stand. Three volunteers – not enough. He presses another to join the group. Second group? Two this time. Changing tack, he goes round the circle of 30. I don't know what he has asked, but he seems satisfied with the replies. Groups form again. At the end of the process I have counted six groups. There are only five sacks. Has anybody found another one, as suggested yesterday? No. OK, all sit down, he says. Number round the room in fives. Ones stand up. Twos. And so on.

That process, at least, was familiar. Now to distribute the sacks. Only four can be found. Moreover, yesterday there were only two empty water bottles where six had been assembled. (On my previous visit I noticed that our discarded water bottles were eagerly snapped up by children and adults alike, though the children got shouted at because drinking water of dubious quality carried in a bottle in the heat is not a good idea.) Musafiri suggests sending for the cleaning woman, the only person likely to have been in the room since yesterday, but a student finds the remaining sack stuffed behind some benches and straw mats in a back corner. Bottles are replaceable, so the matter rests.

The five groups spread out round the village. Giving them some time to get started, M and I talk through necessities and possibilities for the rest of the day. It is wonderfully easy working with this man I hardly know, in a foreign culture, in a second language for both of us. I do need to think ahead for French vocabulary and am glad I kept the donated French-English dictionary to use till I leave for home.

I assemble what I think I will need for the excursion round the groups. Seeds, pictures and diagrams, camera, sun hat, umbrella, phone. I change into my gardening shoes. The classroom is locked behind us. Our student guide takes us to the first location.

Many of the village houses have a few flowers or shrubs fronting the road, then a fence or hedge, then a one-storey house with very plain exterior. We step through the gate made of vertical bamboo poles and a domestic world is revealed. First a heap of animal fodder covered with tarpaulin. Round the corner of the house a small vegetable plot, a chicken or two, a cow in a stall, corn cobs drying, the ubiquitous yellow water containers. Then the woman of the house, looking very surprised by this invasion. We have come the wrong house. Apologies and laughter. We try further down the road.

Here is our group of students, sack half filled. The girl whose house this is proudly shows me a tube for constructing the column of stones, improvised from some old sheet metal with wire ties. Watched by several small children, I get out the bag of seeds. Four or five varieties are chosen and set aside on labelled pieces of scrap paper. A child of round four is designated to see they don't blow away in the slight breeze.

Photo time. I need these pictures for showing to later group here, and for illustrating talks on my return to England. Nobody seems camera shy. (Later in the day email addresses are exchanged so the students can receive and distribute the photos. You're not getting them with this blog because I've brought the wrong cable for connecting camera to computer, and I haven't yet found a computer with a slot for the camera card.) The children's mother, whom I assume lives here, appears. May I take her picture? A big smile. 'Avec ma vache.' We go round to the back of the house. I take the picture and show her the image – one of the plusses of digital photography. A cow for every family is one of Rwanda's development slogans and the households I'm visiting are presumably among the most prosperous in the village, though to my untutored eye they show little at a first glance. Theirs are the children who proceed through secondary education and get selected to go on courses like this one. 'Twas ever thus.

We cross the road and wind our way down a path bordered with bright flowers, of which I recognise only one or two. And oh, here's a rose! To our right the land slopes away, planted with bananas and cassava and a view beyond of the other side of the steep valley. One of the students is digging out some compost, which smells just how compost should. We turn left and go to a spot near the house where topsoil, compost and dry ashes are being mixed and put in the sack. I don't know how these experimental demonstrations will work, but they do seem to be getting a good chance of succeeding. I give out more seeds for this group and for a young man who has come to collect the seeds for his group. Temporary seed packets are made from twists of paper and he goes on his way.

I was asked yesterday if I had any flower seeds. I have one packet of borage, one of lavender, and some English marigolds collected from my own allotment. I explain again that I don't know if any of these will grow here. Never mind, they'll try. I put a few marigold seeds into each of several outstretched hands. Then I start on the lavender. But the seed is very fine, my hand is damp with perspiration and the method is not going to work. I pause to pass round the packet, which gives an idea of the perfume. I realise the only sensible thing to do is to give these eager recipients the whole packet and be done with it. Have I remembered the strictures in the AGLI workcampers' handbook on making gifts to individuals? Well, yes, but what else can I do at this moment?

We visit the other three groups. All have completed the task. Back to the classroom in the community centre for fizzy drinks. Rain thrums on the tin roof.

Later in the day we talk about constructing a compost heap. I am able to make a comparison between what happens in a forest to sustain it – leaves fall, tress fall, animals leave their excreta, insects and worms do their work – and the elements to replicate, particularly in a large heap for several households. There is discussion about how to begin reversing the exhaustion and erosion of soils, to feed a dense population like that of Rwanda sustainably. I ask how many in the room are or will be students of agriculture – four or five out of thirty.

No neat ending, but I do find myself resolving to use more of these organic methods, and not just the avoidance of synthetic fertiliser and pesticides, on my own allotment. At the end of the afternoon I get back to a power cut, which lasts 27 hours. The lane leading to the house is almost impassable on account of soft mud and deep gullies. This reasonably prosperous young professional couple has no running water in the house. (There is at least a functioning sewage system in Kigali.)

Much to be done.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

It's simple, it's complicated

It's simple, it's complicated

The phrase came to me at breakfast with my host Jeanette, director of women's and children's programmes at Friends Peace House (FPH) Kigali, where I have come to work for four weeks after my visit to Rwanda with the Friendly FolkDancers at around this time last year. I was expecting coffee with my bread and omelette, as discussed the previous evening (and yes, I drink Nescafe here and not at home). A thermos was on the table but it had tea, not hot water. There's no electric kettle here, though some households do have them, and water can't be boiled quickly because you have to begin by heating the charcoal. So I drank tea.

Now at the end of a busy day I'm back before Jeanette. I had a moment's anxiety about getting into the house before remembering there's a servant here who does the cooking and cleaning. I'm in and I'd quite like a cup of tea. At home I would simply make myself one – clean water from tap, electric kettle, vast choice of teas in supermarkets and small shops, the freedom of my own kitchen. Here I consider miming my request – I have no Kinyarwandan, he has no English or French – but decide it's simpler to await Jeanette's return.

Getting to work this morning was simple – the FPH driver came in the FPH car, with my colleague Musafiri already aboard. The driver negotiated some steep and muddy side roads, with gullies gouged deeper by recent downpours, dropped Jeanette on the corner of the road that gives her a 20 minute walk up to FPH and took us into the centre of Kigali to buy some vegetable seeds. From there we drove steeply up out of town for about 15 miles to one of the villages where Musafiri runs workshops for local young people, to work with a group of 18-30 year olds . He is the youth worker at Friends Peace House (as well as running the peace library there as a resource for all local peace organisations, 'days of reflection' with a speaker and up to 300 participants, and very popular evenings of peace films and discussion for 'the authorities', who thus come into contact with FPH).

Musafiri told me at the introductory meeting at the beginning of the week that peace activities for young people are profoundly necessary in these post-genocide conditions. 67% of the population is aged between 14 and 35. Because of the war and its aftermath many experience being or having been child heads of household, with consequent poor education or illiteracy, frequent abuse of drugs including alcohol, and joblessness. FPH runs introductory workshops touching on nonviolent conflict resolution, human rights, AIDS/HIV education (rates of infection were low here before the genocide but are so no longer, and sex education has become an unwelcome necessity), environmental responsibility, and how to resist recruitment into the army or informal military groups. Of course a single three-day workshop is not enough and later workshops focus on conflict resolution, saying no to war, and building community cohesion – by doing household chores for elderly widows, for example.

(Ah! Tea has just been put on the table. And a tin of coffee but no plain hot water. Tea is fine.)

My chosen task here of spreading information and examples of some kitchen garden techniques has been made much simpler than I expected by the government's recently stated policy of developing organic cultivation and small scale food production. Indeed, every neighbourhood has been ordered to set up demonstration plots, with the usual threat of fines for non-compliance. Today's students are keen, well motivated and – for the morning at least – full of energy.

Thinking through all the necessary materials and resources was complicated, however. Once in the community centre we shall have to be self-sufficient. In the car we have six potato sacks (unfortunately new ones as there was no time to locate more environmentally and financially sustainable used ones), six empty plastic bottles (not new, I assume), one pair of scissors (from my first aid kit) and the seeds we bought this morning, with some more I brought from home (for symbolic as well as practical reasons). Waiting for us in the centre after a phone alert from Musafiri are two hoes, a shovel and a machete. Musafiri has also gone through his usual routine of gathering flip chart paper, masking tape, felt tip pens, and biros and small notebooks for the students, as well as ordering lunches and cold drinks for 30.

Most tricky of all proves to be finding a way of playing the CDs I need for the international dances I have been asked to teach to provide breaks in the garden work. I am trying to take nothing for granted. I have a small laptop but it has no CD/DVD slot. Musafiri has a workable CD player at home but when I ask him to test it he phones to say it isn't working. FPH doesn't have one. Much of the sound equipment brought from the USA for the Friendly FolkDancers last year was left behind, in the care of the FPH staff member who travelled with us as interpreter and dancer and knows how to use it. I have asked him to find and test it. and emphasised how frustrating it is for everybody to learn the steps of a dance then find the music won't play. He hasn't got round to it. In the car we have the central part and one speaker from a large old player; Musafiri thinks it will probably work, and there will be plenty of young men in the group keen to sort it out. On arrival I discover there is no electricity in the building. Perhaps Musafiri suspected this. He sends out for a generator to rent and the driver goes to buy some petrol for it. I am reasonably hopeful.

Making the demonstration bag garden goes well. We had thought of making all six here in the centre, but when I ask who will look after them the students say they have been asking around and found several nearby households keen to be involved, including village authorities. So the whole group of 30 focuses on the one bag. Three or four wield hoe and shovel to loosen nearby earth and carry it to the bag, one supervises the central column of stones controlled by raising the cylindrical part of a plastic bottle, many bring stones and drop them in place. A few of the young women take the opportunity for some private conversations but I don't sense disengagement, just overcrowding.

After lunch it's time to dance. The generator is fired up, connections are jiggled. Several students rush forward to charge their mobile phones in the surplus sockets. The music comes and goes. Stern instructions are given to remove the phones. I ask to test the track I shall be using and Musafiri presses the shuffle button. This is not the technique that would have occurred to me. (I realise only later that perhaps his sight is not good.) We get to my track. It plays. I explain that this is a slow introduction dance and we will do a more energetic one afterwards. (I am very conscious that I am a generation older than Musafiri and two generations older than many of the students, and the Rwandan dance I have seen is very fluid for the women and energetic for the men. I don't want them to be bored.) I teach the dance. 'Track one, please.' After two introductory bars, as I lift my foot for the first step, the music dies. Another try, and we get going. But for only about 20 seconds. I am embarrassed and frustrated: I tried so hard to avoid this situation but I am powerless. A few students sit down. Music again, and we manage to move into a snaking line, but not far before another halt. Enough! The complications have defeated me.

It's planting time. Collective decision making is not easy. Around a quarter of the students seem to understand my French. Musafiri translates for the others, and adds comments in Kinyarwanda: I'm glad he was able to go with me to visit the place where people are trained in the techniques I am using; he will know what needs explaining. My visual aids show leeks and peppers; we choose these and spinach beet, which I saw growing lustily at the farm training centre.

All crowd round the bag full of earth, supported by stakes fashioned by a confident machete-wielder and rammed down with blows from the back of the hoes. Rows of holes have been cut in the sides of the sack. What would you like to put where, I ask. Peppers on the top because they grow tall, and the others below. I put three pepper seeds into a waiting hand, and another, and another. (I hope they germinate. It would be a great pity if this experiment fails.) Next some beet. I suspect the same students may be always at the front, though I can't really look at their faces as well as the seed packet, so I ask for those who have had no seeds yet to come forward. I suggest writing on the sack, to record which seeds have gone where, as I change from beet to leeks. I look up, to see the planting pockets have been labelled with students' names. Neat!

Time to go indoors again. The students sing and dance for me - and for their own enjoyment, I hope. I teach the round 'The bells of peace', done in three concentric circles with simple steps, first writing the words, which are laboriously transcribed. It's too much for this stage in the day, too strange, too complicated. We might try again tomorrow.

Musafiri switches on the sound system to play quiet music behind the closing prayers. It runs without a stutter. Simple.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Almost off

Towards a first workshop
Tomorrow at 7.30 a car will come to take me to collect Musafiri for the first of three days with a group of 30 18-30 year olds. I speak maximum of 5 words of Kinyarwanda, M has very little English, our common language is French but my vocabulary is rusty and his accent is challenging.

This morning, thank goodness, we both went to view an organic farm training school, where I had permission to visit thanks to my friend Ann, a Send-a-cow stalwart. (Ann, your laminated teaching sheets are already proving invaluable for explaining my techniques.)

We saw bag gardens and keyhole, or mound, gardens. (You can see similar examples at We saw calves and pigs and rabbits – no chickens since the bird flu alert – and composting toilets for the resident students. We saw muck going in to the bio-gas plant, and the covers over the gas collecting tank, and heard the gas is used for cooking. (It is national policy to use this resource and collection has already started in prisons, to be followed by schools.)

Tomorrow we start a 3-day workshop together. I hope the French holds up. The group is 30 18-30 year olds. They do Rwandan song and dance as a peace activity. I am to teach some of my dance and songs, and start bag gardens and a compost heap: the compost should be ready for my next visit.

I compile a list of what is needed:
for the bag gardens, bags (to be bought this time, since used ones can't be gathered in time), hoes, spades, posts, a knife for slashing the bags, seeds which I have brought.

And there, dear friends, I must leave you. I have an appointment up the hill in 10 minutes. I'll get back when I can. There has been power for around 20 of my 60 minutes available. Oh yes, the new method of translation between computers works. Praise be.


Glad I posted what I did before the first power cut. 3 power cuts later I think I may have solved the compatibility problem. By the time I have my text from the flash drive converted ready to paste, the power may have gone again, so I'll post thus far. Watch this space, but have plenty of other pursuits.

Connected at last

Well, I have 5 elegant mini-essays composed on my laptop in OpenOffice and I can find no way to get them pasted here. So I'll cut my losses and give the abbreviated version.

I arrived a day late, thanks to a plane with a technical fault being unable to leave on Wednesday evening. It was a strangely good day. My luggage was somewhere in Heathrow, including my internet connection cable for the home computer. I took myself to the Babylon exhibition at the British Museum and savoured the forgotten state of getting to the end of a day without a list of tasks impossible to complete.

The internet connection is playing up so I'll try to send this chunk first.