Friday, 13 November 2009

Looking back and looking ahead

The difference two weeks of rain makes! This is one of the sacks planted at Mwana Nshuti in February.

Friday 13 November
On my last full day (27 October) there was to be an evaluation. Arrangements were vague: all I knew was that it would be in the afternoon. Rashly I assumed a pattern similar to last time, with a meeting at Friends Peace House and supper at a restaurant. Wrong and wrong!

In the morning I texted Cécile and David B for information. Cécile sent a holding reply, then phoned not me but Antoine. By degrees I asked the right questions to elicit the information that there would be no opportunity to change clothes between meeting and eating, that the meeting was to be at Gasharu, that Josephine was to be there (so I need not have made a separate journey to see her at FPH to discuss the accounts). As far as I could tell, Antoine was as surprised as I that on our arrival at 4pm a full festive meal was laid out for us, very soon after we had finished lunch together at home.

Antoine, David and I ate what we could, drank tea and waited for the others, who arrived at around 5. By now some of the food had been taken back to the kitchen and it was agreed that we'd talk first and C and J could eat afterwards. (If I'd been able to anticipate this, I'd have eaten later too.)

It was established that I would speak in English and the others in Kinyarwanda, with Josephine - the lowest status person with the requisite skill, as customary - translating. That marked the formality of the occasion, as we all would have understood each other in French.

(I don't think I've written about a style of discourse which seems to be traditional, whereby there is a master of ceremonies whose job is to welcome participants -or guests on a social occasions, outline the programme and introduce speakers. I had been surprised, for example, taken to a party to celebrate a graduation, to find a family friend invited to play such a role. For our meeting Antoine was in that role.)

I'm writing now of an event more than two weeks ago, so I've forgotten some details. I was warmly thanked, mainly by David, for my various activities, which were itemised (see below). Then it was my turn. I was not looking forward with any pleasure to this moment. David had previously told me I should speak frankly about any difficulties encountered. My eyes prickled and my voice wavered. I was relieved to find, at least, that I did not sob and no tears fell. I said that it was obvious my feelings were influencing my thoughts.

First I wanted to emphasise that all my working experiences had been positive. The programme was well shaped. I had learned from seeing what had worked well and what less well after my previous departure. All the new groups had been welcoming and enthusiastic. I loved spending time with the women and their babies.The young adult students at Shyorongi would have a lot to share with their communities and the confidence to introduce new techniques.

I had, however, found the rest of my time much harder than in February. My not speaking Kinyarwanda was a difficulty, but not one I could realistically do anything about, for a few visits of a few weeks only. Previously there had been times when I didn't understand what was being said and nobody translated even the gist of it - that had not been a problem then. But during these last weeks there had been too many occasions when I might as well not have been there at all, with long periods of conversation and laughter from which I was excluded. It was a social problem, and one which I might just have to live with. More importantly, however, plans and decisions regarding my work were also made without consulting or even informing me - witness the arrangements for this very meeting.

There were apologies, of course. They would try to remember to include me in conversations; it was mostly carelessness to switch out of French or English and not switch back. And for work arrangements they would try to remember to appoint somebody to tell me what had been decided.

That would be an improvement, I said. But what I hoped for was to be treated as a colleague, not just a visiting technician. In February my work had all been based in Friends Peace House and I felt I had a place and a role there, albeit temporary. This time I had been working for one programme (and one individual) after another but with little continuity. I would like there to be one person for each visit to have an overview of my work and be my first point of contact - to be a kind of line manager. I think that was understood.

We discussed the importance of follow-up work, deepening and refining, enabling those I had trained to go on and become trainers themselves. I said there had been a good balance this time between return visits and new groups. Cumulatively there would be more groups I had worked with, so it would be more difficult to keep up with them all .

They asked me to propose a programme for my next visit, which will probably be for five weeks in Rwanda after a week in Burundi at the end of January, and I agreed, while pointing out that I don't know about possibilities for new work and shall need suggestions. (Already mentioned were my desire to work with science teachers in Friends schools, and a possible project with a HROC facilitator and a group of Batwa.)

That was a hard meeting but a good one. Now I must write a proposal.

Back in England I went almost immediately to a stimulating and challenging weekend looking at the question of a zero growth economy for what probably need to be called over-developed countries, especially the UK. While I don't expect to have any direct influence on how Rwanda develops, it feels important to have thought through for myself what moving towards greater prosperity and well-being while avoiding our Western mistakes might look like. And there's no question that Africa is already suffering the ill effects of Western generated climate chaos and financial instability.

On my allotment I have done some pruning, weeding and tidying, ready for winter. I have planted broad beans as usual, and for the first time some peas that should give an early crop next year if not waterlogged. If I am encouraging people living with summer drought in Rwanda to keep vegetables growing throughout the year, I should also learn to grow more through my own low season. Winter salad shouldn't be too difficult in any but the coldest years.

This morning the BBC news carried an item about the National Trust, guardians of many historic gardens, organising their male gardeners at one property to urinate on straw bales for compost. I smiled at the memory of many surprised groups considering my suggestion of using human urine for their own compost making. Biological fact makes no concessions to culture.

Sunday 15 November
It rained and blew long and hard last night. My roof leaked and my peas may be waterlogged already.

Before planning for my next visit I should record what I did where during October. So here is my calendar.

Wednesday September 30th: arrive in time for lunch with committee of CGFK adult school.

Thursday October 1st: morning visits to homes of 3 women from Karembure who had taken part in my final workshop at FPH in February; in the afternoon visit Solange, a HROC facilitator living near FPH, who had a sack garden behind her house still producing spinach, made after seeing the women's work. (It was her wedding I attended in February.)

Friday 2nd: visit Mwana Nshuti in morning to look at February's work. Go with Musafiri in the afternoon to meet the youth group at Shyorongi and plan a second workshop with some of them.

Saturday 3rd: go for a drive with Antoine in the afternoon.

Sunday 4th: go with Fiacre and Emile, Antoine's sons, to the English language service at Gasharu Friends church at 7am. Go with Antoine to a graduation celebration in the evening.

Monday 5th, public holiday for Teachers' Day: visit Théogène, organiser of the CGFK adult school; go with him to the last hour of speeches for teachers and pupils from several local schools, assembled at CGFK; join some other teachers and Théogène for lunch in a local restaurant.

Tuesday 6th - Thurday 8th: daily workshops with the ground staff from CGFK; daily English language sessions with some primary and nursery school teachers and admin staff (not the science teachers I had been expecting).

Friday 9th: workshop with around 15 women from Gasharu church (my first time of working with Bonheur).

Saturday 10th: workshop continuation. Teach 'Amazing grace' for English service tomorrow. Evening meal with David Zarembka and Gladys K.

Sunday 11th: Gasharu church. Restaurant meal with Jeanette, joined by Musafiri.

Monday 12th - Tuesday 13th: two day workshop with Shyorongi youth group.

Weds 14th - Thursday 15th: two day workshop with Churches Mobilisation for Poverty Reduction women's group at Friends Peace House, Byumba (an hour's bus ride away).

Friday 16th: free day (but including meetings with Josephine and Solange).

Saturday 17th: shop with Antoine in the morning and cook for the family in the evening. Meet with David Zarembka at David Bucura's house in the afternoon to discuss future plans.

Sunday 18th - Tuesday 20th: to Nyakarambi/Kirehe to stay with British Quaker VSO, Dorothy Nelson, and visit 2 state primary schools, looking at their gardens and 'One child, one tree' projects.

Weds 21st - Thurs 22nd: two day workshop with Churches Mobilisation women's group at Bihembe.

Friday 23rd - Saturday 24th: two day workshop with women trainees at Kagarama.

Sunday 25th: church early.

Monday 26th: follow-up session with CGFK ground staff. Session with 4 CGFK science teachers.

Tuesday 27th: meet with Josephine at FPH in morning to discuss programme expenditure. Final meeting in afternoon (described above).

Weds 28th - Thursday 29th: fly home via Nairobi.