Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Comments from the final day with the Twa

Kageyo testimonies

Solange Nyiramana, HROC facilitator, at the beginning of the second day:

Solange, left, with Rachel Bugenimana

There is a connection between the tree of trust and planting cooperatively. Giving the sack to one house is not the end of the process but the start of helping each other from house to house. You're building trust when you show your needs and feelings. To be good neighbours we have to help each other. Think of this work as planting the tree of trust for our new life here together. Remember, working together is the first way to build trust. We can't do anything alone.

(There had been serious arguments, unresolved when we left the day before, about which of 5 participant in each group should have the sack at their house. )

Zaninka Agnes:
This is my testimony. I can say it's good work. In the future we will have improved our health. We'll use the seeds to begin work, and if they grow I'll never buy vegetables because I'll have my own when it's time to harvest. Then, as well as helping my own family, I'll give some to others who don't have time or knowledge to be able to plant for themselves.

Mukampazimpaka Elizabeth:
I'm happy with this work, and especially how you are teaching us. We are not going to sit still but to teach others because we can't keep good things for ourselves. Thank you for giving yourself to teach this practice of vegetable growing. Please continue in the whole country.

Mukarutabana Anne-Marie:
Thank you for coming with this work for improving our health. After you leave we'll keep doing what you taught. It's good that you've helped us to work in groups. We'll work together to harvest and to plant the second round. We will work as a group and use our strength for watching out together to avoid problems.

Nyiramajoro Angelique:
When we first moved here it was not easy for us and we're still not familiar with the area. As time goes by we're starting to feel human like the others as we work on activities. This new activity will improve our health, our children's and our own. I don't have any gift to give you except my thanks.

Mukampfizi Esther:
I thank God for this seminar which has made me so happy. We were wondering what kind of seminar we would be getting and God sent you with this one on vegetables. This will help us overcome our isolation and feel like other people. Many people don't like us and don't come to us but you came.
This is the first time we've seen packets of seeds. We knew the vegetables but not how to grow them. Now we've learnt from you we'll work hard and the harvest will be good for our health.

Tuyisenge Jacqueline:
Thank you so much from my heart, for showing us life and giving yourself to work with us. Thank you for the seeds which show your love for us and your concern for our health and our children's health, and for the skills you have given us. Thank you to Solange for being the first to come and for bringing others to help and teach us.

Habimana Jean-Claude:
(He has the role of community organiser for the Batwa part of this resettlement village. He made a more formal speech, from which these are some extracts.)

In this village we were fearful when we first came, then we heard from Friends Peace House. Their teaching [about trauma healing] started to make peace in our hearts, and we're grateful for all their helpful teachers. Now two groups – one mixed and one of women – have had this teaching about vegetable growing, and having the two groups both learning has contributed to our work on gender equality. We'll continue this work for our good health even when you've gone. We hope you can come back and bring us more seeds and we'll show you our results. We want to extend the skills you've given us to others. God bless you with peace, health and security.

Jean-Claude as he wished to be pictured, in front of his house

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Some troubles among the Twa (now with photos)

Written Weds-Thurs, 27-28 Oct; posted Sat 30 Oct

Since my first Growing Together workshops, I have always given seeds to the participants. They are lightweight, inexpensive, relevant to the work and straightforwardly symbolic. Even when I give enough for several packets per participant, they are opened, wondered at, sometimes sniffed, and shared around. For the first of the Twa villages the groups devised a system whereby a responsible person would be designated to share out the remaining seeds fairly after the sacks had been planted by people's houses.

When we returned for the second week, we heard rumours that seed had not been fairly shared. Was it the fault of the responsible person elected by the group? Arriving at the fourth village, adjacent to the first, Solange was approached by several members of the first group to ask me for extra seeds. She learned the story. While the responsible person was at school, a participant had approached his wife, who handed over the packets. And despite repeated protestations he was keeping them all for himself. I had no spare seeds with me; I arranged with Solange that she could take fresh supplies next month to the follow up day, to give to those who had kept their word and bought a sack.

This week's work is with two groups in the same resettlement village. Today was the first day for the second group. Other groups have settled quickly after the introductions to the first task – revising the lessons from the HROC workshop about trust and mistrust, trauma and trauma healing. These were restless. Soon the cause of their agitation was revealed. Two of the sacks planted the day before had been stolen in the night. This village is a long way from anywhere else – it had to be neighbours who had stolen from neighbours. What could be done to stop it happening again? Was it even worth carrying on with the practical work of preparing and planting the sacks if they would also be stolen?

The shock and loss were traumatic, if on a small scale. We agreed to discuss the problem in the afternoon, once people had had a chance to talk it through. Our team of three were clear we needed to model the good listening promoted as a tool for healing. An exercise from Joanna Macy's work on 'Despair and empowerment' came into my head. We could invite anybody who wanted to express their feelings about the outrage to do so and all the rest of us would affirm the speaker with 'Indeed, it is so' or something similar. I don't know why that didn't happen, but instead there was a conversation about whether the thief should be handed over to the authorities for punishment when found, or whether there should be an internal community process of discussion and reparation – a kind of Gacaca.

We moved on to planning for the next day's work – planting in small groups at one chosen house for each group. In previous workshops the decision had been made on practical grounds – who lived close enough together for the trainers to move between houses. Here all the houses were close together, with identical facilities. Dividing into groups and then cooperating had proved a difficult concept to convey. Last week, also, we had to get the four householders to stand and then direct each 'team' to stand together in a different corner of the room. Eventually this time we got to four groups with five women in each. Now to decide which house to go to. One group settled quickly while the others thrashed about, getting noisier and noisier, babies and mothers alike.

Solange tried to impose order by shouting. Hopeless. After checking with Rachel, I suggested a version of a technique I've sometimes used or been part of. In Quaker circles it's usually described simply as 'having some silence'. Here I suggested prayer, and I began, asking for guidance and a spirit of cooperation. Rachel translated, then added some words of her own. We waited for perhaps a minute.

Now please would they go back into the groups, then come and sit quietly upholding the others once they had decided. One more group found agreement, two still failed. Exhaustion was apparent. We would go home and hope for something better by tomorrow. On the way out of the village, we briefed Jean Claude, the community leader.

[Returning on Thursday, we caught up on the story. J-C rearranged the groups Solange had arbitrarily imposed, separating family members known to make trouble. The sanction he suggested was that we would work only with the groups who had agreed a location. They would then teach the others, after we'd left, when they were ready to work together. His strategy worked.

The women told us they had felt bad when we left while they were quarreling. J-C said he'd asked each new group to base themselves at the house of the person who was finding it hardest to accept the situation, on the grounds that this was the person with most to learn about cooperation and they should start with her.]

Caption: Rachel (l) and Solange at work once we get going

Caption: Some of our onlookers

Later, in the restaurant as we wait for our food, fits of laughter seize my three companions – Rachel, translator and fellow gardener, Solange N, the HROC facilitator who has worked most with the Twa, and Edouard, the Yearly Meeting driver loaned to us for the HROC car. I wait in hope of a translation. 'We know it's sad and serious, but isn't it ridiculous that men should get up in the night to steal as sack full of earth and stones! Do they think they'll find riches resulting from the touch of a white person's hand?'

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

More from the Batwa (now with photo)

More about the Batwa

I tried to come without romantic notions. I do feel a deep sadness at the way the dominant culture, now pretty much worldwide, continues to destroy the remnants of other ways. But my pity, my anger that so much of what the world may need again has been destroyed, won't help.

Hearing that Batwa in Rwanda traditionally worked as potters, I thought it might be viable for them to develop and market the cooler made from two concentric vessels, known as the Zeer pot. Ordinary containers for water or for cooking are cheaply available from other modern materials, but fridges depend on scarce electricity. Such a project could be next year's continuation. In one of the villages above Ruhengeri last week I saw a simple, elegant water pot lying close to the site for a sack. 'Where did that come from?' I asked. 'Oh, those Batwa down near the lake make them, and sell them very cheaply. They're not like us. We're getting developed – we work in building, for example. But they're not developed at all.'

Yesterday, Monday 25th, we began 4 days' work with two consecutive groups who have been recently settled in a kind of model village, built by a Swedish/Norwegian government sponsored programme. The houses have rendered walls and sheet metal roofs (the kind the president thinks every house should have), rain water collection, toilets, frequent trainings from NGOs. But they don't want to be here.

The land is parched, recently appropriated from what should be the National Park of Akagera, feebly fenced with two strands of barbed wire, and gardens are vulnerable to incursions from they don't know what animals – probably zebra and giraffe. At least it has rained a couple of times.

Today was stage 2 – going round to 4 houses where groups of 5 participants fill and plant their own sack. Outside house three an old woman was sitting on the ground with 4small clay pots drying. I asked to buy one or two, from courtesy really as I wanted to photograph her. She was sorry but she had none fired – getting wood is hard for her. She makes pots when somebody brings her clay from the valley bottom, because she's too weak to work the ground and she has to do something. God will take her soon and she's not worried because she's led a good life and never drunk beer or smoked tobacco.

I ask her where she learnt. From my parents. Has she taught any of her children? No, they're not interested.

Back in the church at the end of the day's work I show her photo to the group. It may have been preachy but I had to say to them that perhaps some of them might want to retain this skill from their old culture even while developing new opportunities to live in modern Rwanda. Tourism is developing and there will be a market, too, if they can hang on.

I'm reminded that the last Native American in Yosemite died only in 1978. By 2000 they had made a little museum behind the post office there, reconstructing what has been lost.

Solar devices

I've had a week of not being able to post, and without much email contact either. But I'm well and happy and hoping to catch up. I won't post the pic of Simon in the rain till I've got more text on its way.

I've written before about the low take-up of solar panels, even in the many places where there is no grid to supply electricity. (Part of Rwanda's new 7 year plan is to connect 50% instead of the current 10%.) When I ask I'm told it is too expensive, and anyway it's only seen as a stopgap before the proper supply arrives. So what about other solar devices?

There's Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) with two campuses in Kigali, prominent in internet searches. After the usual preliminaries I visited on a week ago. The usual preliminaries comprised several earlier attempts to interest anybody in facilitating a visit for me and an eventual personal contact.

The contact is through Augustin, my host for this visit, but he's in South Africa representing the Evangelical Friends Church of Rwanda at a conference of African protestant churches. So he arranges for Antoine to take me. We phone ahead, phone again from the car park, ask a guard for directions and eventually find the person we are looking for. He turns out to be attached to a unit working on entrepreneurial opportunities for young people and knows nothing about the solar and other technologies to improve cooking, illustrated and described on the printouts I am carrying. He does, however, take us to the director.

The director is clearly not very interested in us, but perhaps etiquette demands that he accompany us round the workshops. He shows us iron or steel chambers of various sizes – smallest 30 litres – for institutional cooking, insulated with mud bricks, and a bread oven similarly constructed. He is visibly disappointed when neither Antoine nor I express any interest in buying. (They do provide school lunches in several of Antoine's schools, but he considers the price totally unrealistic.)

Do they have any examples of the solar cookers whose descriptions I show him? He summons somebody to bring one and opens it for me to photograph, saying that to be honest it doesn't work very well. OK, thank you, and what about the one I have here on my paper? Oh, he thinks the students dismantled it and haven't yet made copies.

He is able to show us some experimental designs for small fuel-efficient cookers, and a larger two-pan standing-height version with a flue, that can be fitted in a kitchen and beautified with tiles.

Although I've forgotten to bring the printed information, I ask about the 'fireless cooker' one of my students says she has seen here. It's a kind of haybox inside a basket, and promoted by Practical Action, among others. It's also known as the peacemaker. No, they don't have that. I suppose it may be on the other campus.

According to information from May 2010, the federal government of Rwanda has officially approved and recommended a design known as the rocket stove. It uses much less wood than traditional open three-stone fires or the small charcoal braziers. KIST doesn't have one. I'm still hunting for shops or market stalls selling such a thing, and haven't found anybody using one at home. So no solar cookers and not much in the way of newer, safer and cleaner ways of using conventional fuels either.

Alongside KIST, a solar bakery project in Ruhengeri is also described on the internet and mentioned on many sites. On Monday morning, with 4 days ahead of me, I start asking seriously whether anybody knows anything about it. One of the pastor's sons finds a video clip on the internet site and lo, they recognise one of the widows in whose interest True Vineyard Ministries are developing several projects. The widow provides the name of a pastor and eventually – on Wednesday afternoon – a phone number is found.

The researches have taken a long time, our day is running late because this morning's students were two and a half hours late (because their food handouts had arrived and had to be collected), rain is coming, and I'm afraid that in the end the weather will beat me. Solange and I catch a bus before the heaviest of the rain arrives, and she comes with me in a taxi to the rendezvous with a young worker, Simon, who speaks good English as well as French, we're told. We phone from the taxi, wait, phone again, wait some more, and Simon arrives. Solange goes back into town in the taxi to an appointment with a friend. Simon and I, under umbrellas, pick our way to the project.

Simon is polite and charming – a sociology graduate in his first paid job and a pastor's son. He has no idea why I'm here. I tell him I want to see the solar bakery. 'You can look at it, but it doesn't work.' We go into a yard where half a dozen women are carding and spinning sheep's wool on a reasonably dry verandah.

There is the oven, imported from the USA by the American woman who set up the project and visits from time to time. It's on a trolley, under a roof of banana leaves topped with a UNHCR tarpaulin. It can be wheeled out when the sun shines; it swivels and various shiny plates tilt. But this is the coolest and wettest part of the country, and it simply doesn't get hot enough for long enough. They haven't yet managed to move it to somewhere hotter and drier, in the south or east. So don't believe everything you read on the internet.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Friends Peace House newsletter piece

Ruth Plett and Krystan Palinkowski, Canadian Mennonite capacity builders at FPH, are encouraging the Rwandese staff in putting together a bi-lingual (English/Kinyarwanda) newsletter to help the many 'peace' agencies in Rwanda to network. My contribution may be helpful to those who didn't begin reading this blog at he beginning, or who remember only that the beginning was around 70 posts ago.

As a volunteer with AGLI, the African Great Lakes Initiative of Friends Peace Teams, I am working for a few weeks at planting time during the rainy seasons over four years on a project called Growing Together in Rwanda. My main qualification for this work is that at home in suburban London I have had the same vegetable garden for over 30 years and it is still productive. To me the connections between good nutrition, good physical, emotional and spiritual health, and peace, are clear. At the most basic level, when people have enough to eat they are not so driven to compete over vital resources.

I began by teaching small scale vegetable gardening using organic techniques. The work has extended into diet, nutrition and promoting African Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs). The phrase 'growing together' suggests both 'working together on growing food' and 'building peaceful communities by working together'. My work was initially based in Friends Peace House, and I now also work with teachers and workers in the Friends Schools and with women's church groups.

This year a major part of my work is for a project with Batwa (now formally renamed as 'historically marginalised people) near Ruhengeri and Kayonza, in conjunction with HROC Rwanda. (HROC stands for Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities.) Through 2010, and continuing into 2011 if our funding from Britain Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends is renewed, a series of events first reassures and recruits participants, then gives a basic HROC training in trauma healing, follows with a vegetable growing workshop and concludes with another HROC training and a community celebration. The words of Nyiramajambere Esperance, a participant from a village near Kinigi, capture the essence of the work: 'In the first workshop on trauma healing I learnt to recover from my inner wounds. Now your teaching about vegetables and how to grow them will help me heal my outer wounds.'

Elizabeth Cave

A small mercy

Oh happiness amidst the infuriating – or character forming – slowness of the internet connection! With no expectation of success, I copied a piece written in the netbook and saved as Open Office (because saving as Word no longer functions), pasted it into the blog, and it read it! Surely I tried that last year? Either has improved – it keeps saying it has – or I got so into contortions between ways of saving, transferring and opening text that I failed to try the simplest. I shall still be switching between using my own netbook where there is wifi and borrowing other computers whose owners have a roving internet connection, but this is a great leap forward.

Whatever the explanation, the fact is a cause for delight. Now if only pictures would load in less than a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 17 minutes (so far), I'd be in blogger heaven.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Time for discussion

The two day workshop last week (11-12 Oct) was with a group from a Friends church just outside Kigali. It's the place where the Thomases have their moringa business but they are on furlough in Oregon for a year and I haven't managed to visit the site yet. This congregation is one of four where a programme called Discipling for Development is being taught. This seems to be an international programme whose syllabus teaches the virtues of hard work and persistence as well as practical skills, all in a biblical context. I'm a development worker, not a missionary. What I notice is that these women almost all grow more than one kind of vegetables – an unusual situation.

When we have had the introductions and agenda planning, and I have shown the basic diagramme of the sack garden and a slide show of examples from my earlier groups' work, we have time in hand before the mid morning break, when a participant will go home to get us a sack and a hoe. I invite the group to share their thoughts on connections between food and peace.

The church leader, Safari, our only man today, speaks up immediately. Having enough to eat leads to peace in the home and peace with your neighbours (because your children don't go begging to them) and peace in the community. His wife, Alphonsine, with their fourth child on her lap, adds that selling surplus from the garden can make money for the church.

One benefit of the sack garden which we have already discussed – that evaporation is reduced – is very good, says Philomena. Even having enough food to feel full without vegetables is not good for health: vegetables build up immunity.

Your home will benefit, says Louise. I grow cabbages, amaranth and peppers, to sell at market and to eat at home. With the money made I can buy clothes and pay my debts. I have bought a goat. I can pay my tithe to the church and give to special appeals. I can praise God energetically because my physical health is good. I have enough to share with others.

Gaudance brings us back to the topic. For example, she says, the security people come round asking for money to guard your area. If you are not having to buy vegetables you will have enough to pay them. You will have peace at home and with your neighbours because your children are not stealing from them. Will there still be a need for the guard if nobody is hungry, I ask. Oh yes – there is still your property.

Josepha's contribution is that you'll be able to buy the school materials for your children.

Seraphina says that last year she planted vegetables, sold the surplus, and bought a hen. She has sold some chicks and kept some and now she has eggs for her children. One has breathing problems and has been advised to eat raw egg.

I don't now remember how my next note links to the previous comments, but the conversation has moved on. Beatride (recently widowed and with 5 children) says that when there is not enough at home, children commonly leave home, naively thinking they will do better without their parents. She means children of 16 and 17 who set up house as a couple. Having children before 21 – the age of marriage - is frowned on and the father may go to prison because under-age sex is a crime of violence.

I ask for clarification and we are off! Please will I tell them the position of the Friends church in England on sex outside marriage for teenagers. I do my best to be both honest and relevant. To my surprise they thank me for useful information about how to advise their children. All I said is that we discourage early sexual activity and expect that an individual's conscience will tell them there should be relationship and equality. We all agree that contraception is better than unwanted children, though it is recognised that it's not yet straightforward for pastors to say so in church.

Now we've done sex and marriage we can get back to vegetables without further diversion, I say. Oh, but it was so interesting!

That magic moment (+ new pics)

[Photos from the 3rd Twa village, 19 October]

Every time it works! Sometimes the students seem to have no idea here is an issue a all. Sometimes they think ahead and ask how to solve the problem. I tell them to wait and see.

A 50 kg sack is to be prepared for planting, with a column of stones up the centre. The stones may be alluvial pebbles, or shiny quartz, or lumps of lava, or even fragments of brick or tile, only nothing with cement. I have not yet had to improvise in a location with nothing suitable, though we sometimes get quite muddy hunting out our small prizes.

Caption: lava pebbles provide amusement before going into the sack.

We cut the top and bottom off a 1.5 litre water bottle, stand it in the bottom of the rolled-down sack, fill it loosely with small stones, surround it with the best soil we can find... Then what? Will I produce another empty bottle from my rucksack? Will the pebbles somehow balance on their own now they know what is expected?

It's often said that teachers need something of the actor about them. This is my moment of high drama. Usually I am squatting close to the sack with one hand protecting the stones from the soil being tipped in all round. I brush off the back of my hand. Holding the sides of its rim, I jiggle the bottle. For a moment nothing happens.

Will this be the day the magic has deserted us? Not so far. The stones settle a little, the tube is raised but not removed. The filling continues.

Caption: raising the rim

Caption: this is from day 1 with Batwa(5 Oct) at Musanze Friends Church, not from 19 Oct.

At the end of each round a different student takes a turn: usually the men get to go first unless I make a special point of inviting an individual woman or girl. The nervous ones don't jiggle firmly enough and have to be encouraged. The bold risk dislodging the guide. Occasionally when the stones are large it takes an extra moment of suspense before everything falls into place.

Caption: nearly at the top

Such a simple satisfaction!

Caption: watering a completed sack - Solange looks on

Sunday, 17 October 2010

What am I doing here?

I have been proofreading Augustin's dissertation for an MA from the University of Wales, via a theological college in Uganda. It's about HIV/AIDS and development with reference to a small Friends church in the west of Rwanda.

The interviews aren't written up yet so all I have to go on is his introductory pages. there seems to be some degree of consensus among the authors he reads - and I've no idea how representative or otherwise they are - that it's more than time to think about and deliver aid differently.

Why do the poor stay poor despite efforts by governments as well as far-reaching aid agencies? Because everybody comes in and delivers packages designed somewhere else and done to the poor instead of asking the intended beneficiaries what would help them, and appreciating the value of their own skills and resources.

The Friends Church in Rwanda has been saying for the years I've been coming here that it's time the church members developed and used their own resources instead of waiting for outside aid to enable any development. Apparently the president himself has adopted the same theme - that Rwanda needs to stand on its own feet now; that the war/genocide is in the past and it's time to outgrow the childish dependence on generosity from other countries.

The mindset is not easily changed, however. A new toilet block at the school here, for which I carried some bricks in 2008, is not built 'because there isn't the money'. I still get caught up in arguments about why I (or AGLI) won't pay bus fares and per diem/sitting allowance.

In the years after the genocide many agencies came in and paid people to attend trainings in the best hotels with food and drink provided. There is still a universal expectation that a training will include a good lunch, even if it's for less than a day. That's understandable when teachers, for example, are very poorly paid, and there are few other ways of eating than a hot (or warm) cooked meal.

Augustin is clear that giving handouts of money or clothes etc is unhelpful. Yet people are desperate, and what seems a little to me can be greatly appreciated by the recipient. I don't propose to stop bringing second-hand flash drives, for example, because they enable study. I will think again about clothes. And personal gifts to people who put me up, invite me to their houses, etc surely can't be too harmful? Perhaps a useful test is 'Would I do it at home?'.

That leaves the central question. Is what I am teaching what people have asked for, or is it yet another package, designed by me and delivered willy nilly? And I don't have an answer. I really hope groups don't come and spend two days merely to humour me and eat good lunches. I'm glad the structure of my visits allows me to work with a group, ask them what they'd like next, go home and work on it, and come back with something tailor-made. I never would have thought of cooking and eating as being requested, but it has been, and it was lovely.

I'd be glad of comments, if blogspot allows you to post them - I'm told perseverance is needed. Now it's time for me to go and eat lunch chez Gaudance (wife of Augustin), including two salads we prepared together yesterday.

[Posting pics is a continuing challenge. I'll do what I can when I can.]

Thursday, 14 October 2010


Yesterday evening, as the dishes at dinner were uncovered and we began filling our plates, Gaudance commented that we were eating a rainbow. (I'm sorry I didn't think to photograph my plate.) I've found this a difficult concept to communicate when teaching about the importance of eating a variety of foods. So I was delighted that she'd got it, and delighted, too, with my colourful plate: whitish pasta, yellow fried plantain, dark red beans, carrots with onions, tomato-coloured gravy, and a deep green vegetable from the garden, for which they don't know the name and which has a strange fishy flavour. Augustin asked what 'rainbow' was, and wrote the word in his notebook.

Working with another women's group in the afternoon, I'd been challenged by Solange, my translator, to say what on earth was meant by 'dark green leafy vegetables'. I pointed to somebody's dark green shawl. Moringa was also mentioned on the handout (prepared by Anne) focussing on vitamin A and eyesight. Was moringa a dark green leafy vegetable? I thought so, or as good as.

This morning there was an item in a Voice of America broadcast for Africa about the critical importance of nutrition for the foetus and the first two years after birth. Apparently Thailand changed its development priorities to focus on that and has had very good results. Yesterday's news in English on a Rwandan station was reporting the prime minister's speech at the beginning of the new seven-year presidential term. The goal is to move Rwanda out of the category of least developed nations into the middle income category.

I had brief conversations with both Augustin and Antoine about that conjunction. Is anybody in government working on child nutrition? How could people with power to change things be helped to see that without good nutrition there won't be the mental capacity for the hoped-for surge in economic growth, even with the new emphasis in the school syllabus on entrepreneurship?

Antoine's response is that you have to start in the schools. OK, I said; you are the Inspector of all the Friends Schools... And he interrupted me to phone for some packets of moringa to take with us to the school at Katarara in the next ten minutes. A couple of hours later the head teacher was taking some to stir into the day's beans. This school is in an area prone to famine and feeds all the children with food donated by the World Food Program: maize meal, rice fortified with soy, iodised salt; perhaps the beans were local.

Caption: Is this enough beans for 500?

Cption: Four of these beds provide greens twice a week to cook with the beans.

I've had a couple of conversations lately about how difficult it is to start a small business here, compared with Uganda, for instance. The regulations have been eased somewhat for foreign companies, but Rwandans have to meet so many criteria that most are discouraged. On our car journey I learn that although the Friends' church's moringa business is all set to expand its processing, buy more leaves from local farmers who are keen to sell them, and then get the product at a price most people can afford into ordinary small shops, there is a hitch.

In most African countries a bribe would be a way through the red tape. Here that isn't done. The problem is that the Rwandan Bureau of Standards admirably insists that new food products conform to US or EU standards. But there is no such standard for moringa. Test results for several measures of purity have been submitted but always rejected. What would be acceptable readings? Zero on all counts. Impossible, of course.

However, movement may be possible. Uganda has just licensed moringa with much less strict standards. So there are some figures to work from. And does Rwanda really want poeple to import moringa and give the profits to a Ugandan business when there is a Rwandan one eager to proceed?

I'll tell you when I hear. Mean time I'm doing my bit towards a level of development that seems for now to be somewhere over the rainbow.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

An unsolicited testimonial

Yesterday evening Augustine and Gaudance had visitors for dinner, the pastor and his wife from Kamembe, the part of Cyangugu where the Friends School is and I got so stuck in mud last visit. I think I'm getting better at looking awake but not bored while the conversation gets ever livelier and I don't understand any of it. (It was salutary to find how easy it was to do the same to Antoine when he was my visitor.)

Then as we were finishing, Augustine turned to me. Madame Pastor wants to give you a testimony, he said. I had the presence of mind to ask them to wait while I got paper to jot down what she was to say - Dave Z, AGLI co-ordinator, and others often ask for quotable quotes. This is her story:

A cooperative of 30 women from several churches, the 15 who took my workshop and 15 more, called Shining Light, has been formed and meets every Saturday to make sack gardens in different homes. They all contribute 200 Rwf (20p) a week, which pays the rent for a small piece of land at 36,000 Rwf (around £35) for two seasons(ie a year).

They have already sold the maize they planted, and saved some of the proceeds to rent a second field further out of town. The next step will be to buy a goat for every family and the manure will feed the kitchen gardens and fields. They will buy a few every now and then depending on income. The aim is for every member to have one.

I asked if they are eating differently.

In the beginning some of them neglected the teaching. She herself now plants kale, parsley etc. At every meal they have different vegetables. She has three sacks at home. It's good to work together and difficult to construct a sack garden on your own. So others learn by helping. The money they used to spend at market every day can now go to other things.

Did all this happen after my visit?

We had the idea before, but Elizabeth opened our eyes and we saw real possibilities. Now FHI (Food for the Hungry International, presumably a US Christian charity) are teaching us about nutrition and keeping us encouraged.

Has people's health changed?

Her husband cuts in instantly: Look at my wife, how healthy and beautiful she is! (I'll post her photo when I can.) Then he asks if I can get him a simple book on nutrition for him to teach adults and children at church. I fetch my 2 pages of notes on vitamins and minerals and give them to him on one of the many 2nd hand flash drives scavenged for me by Eleanor.

I think that counts as success.

Kanukaze Venance is really more beautiful than this picture suggests.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The second Twa village

Yes, there are problems living here, but oh it's beautiful.

Nyiramajambere Esperance, on the left of this group, thrilled Solange and me by volunteering a quotable quote: In the first workshop on trauma healing I learnt to recover from my inner wounds. Now your teaching about vegetables and how to grow them will help me heal my outer wounds.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Compost contrast

My informant at her compost heap
In the Twa village where we go for day two of the workshop, groups of four or five students are to prepare and plant a sack garden. As we arrive, I see heaps of small stones for the core and rich, moist soil for the surround. I had been afraid there would be no compost. In fact each house has a heap, in the narrow surround before other people's crops begin. 'We might as well put all the rubbish in one place', I am told by one woman. And I realise that because of their relative isolation from recent development, these people have little that is not biodegradable.

Vegetable waste goes into the heap, as do ashes from cooking and the droppings of rabbits or sheep, which some keep. What about urine, I ask. Oh, we do that all over the place since we don't have toilets. Try asking all these little boys to pee on the compost heap, I suggest. (Faeces? I don't ask.)

Back in Kigali, as well as a sewage system which is gradually yielding increasing amounts of gas for cooking and lighting, there is now a compulsory household levy to pay for the weekly rubbish collection. Rachel, who is a keen vegetable gardener, tells me that last week the bin men berated her for not putting her kitchen waste into the bin. You're not supposed to make your own compost any more, she observes. The government is always looking for ways to make money. You have to send everything away now and let somebody deal with it and then buy back the compost they make from what you give them.

[A picture at last. it took nearly 20 minutes to load. I'll go back and try one where I said I'd send some before.]

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Getting around - revised version

Composed late on Tues 5 October, posted Weds 6th, revised Friday 8th

Today has been quite a day. I've had six bus rides, two moto rides and two longish walks.

Planning the Twa workshops, it soon became apparent that we should go up to the villages, so the sack gardens would be in the right place. I knew the Batwa live separately from others, at a distance from amenities. I also knew it had taken them two hours to arrive at the workshop in a church in town. I don't much like bumpy moto rides but apart from setting off at 6am there is no alternative.

We set off at 8 this morning on the first, uneventful bus ride into the centre of Ruhengeri (now more properly called Musanze). The second bus, after filling up with fuel, took us from there to Kinigi, the nearest village to the Gorilla Centre in the Volcanoes National Park. Our fellow passengers had already been to market and were heavily laden, making the frequent changes of seat to allow people on and off quite complicated. (The mini-buses have seats for 15 plus the driver, but carry an extra person per row, not counting babies, bundles etc.) From Kinigi we were expecting a third bus ride but the wait would be two hours, which we couldn't afford. So we took motos for further than expected, once pinkish fuel had been poured out of 500 ml water bottles into the bike tanks. However, most of the ride was on a tarmacked road, courtesy of gorilla tourism. The final ten minutes was seriously uncomfortable, probably more so for me because I tense against the bumps, hanging on grimly to the passenger grip at the back of the seat and finding my knees clamped to the driver's haunches from time to time. I'd be happier putting my hands on his waist but that isn't done.

The scenery is as fascinating as the first time I saw it, three years ago - rich black soil heaped into ridges for potatoes or beans or maize; an occasional eucalyptus copse with a conical earth-covered charcoal stack (Is there a technical name?); drifts of white pyrethrum (to be sent to Kenya for processing into insecticide); simple houses with split eucalyptus wattle filled with mud and/or leaves. I was sorry not to be able to use my camera, but the only movements I could manage were to get my hankie out of my trouser pocket without dislodging the hotel room key or to hitch the rucksack straps on my shoulders after they's slid down my waterproof.

We arrived at a small village with good new primary and secondary schools, built to UNESCO standard with glazed windows, a pitched roof and gutters draining into an enclosed water tank. Solange paid the moto drivers and the usual 5 minutes was spent writing out the usual 3 pre-stamped receipts. Two class members met us, to lead us on foot to their village. 'How long will we be walking?' I asked. '15 minutes.' Not bad for the children to get to school, I thought. I found the walk a pleasant relief after the bike. It was sometimes rocky, sometimes grassy, never steep. It took at least 40 minutes.

There was time for some chat on the way. First our guides pointed to the forest, off to our right. 'We go there to collect water,' they said, 'And this morning we saw some gorillas.' They smile. As a white person who has done the gorilla trek I feel embarrassed that the gorillas are so well looked after and not the other previous forest inhabitants. But I can't put it in those terms. The conversation moves on. 'Our grandfathers were given land here but they sold it', they say. 'Now we have none.' That's a layer of complexity I hadn't seen before. 'Our people didn't use money. We exchanged things like meat.' 'Did your grandfathers get money for the land they gave up?' 'No. They got sheep.' The old, sad tale, then.


Three hours later, day's work done, we were led down a different path to the highest point the bikes could reach. We bumped and skidded for ever, it seemed. I imagined white water rafting, which I've never done. Eventually we emerged as few yards from Kinigi again. I asked why we'd come by a different route: because it was less of a walk.

Two buses back to our Karisimbi Lodging, and just time for Rachel to pick up her luggage and turn round to catch the 3pm bus to Kigali. An hour's rest and I set off again into town to do email and blog. There was room for me on the third bus that passed, after I'd declined the offer of a bicycle taxi. Again it refuelled en route. I wonder whether it's a regular pattern of small toppings up - using the cash collected at the end of the previous ride and a few before.

Internet hour spent, I crossed the road to find tbe bus back. It was nearly full so shouldn't be long setting off. Oops! Just change the battery, displacing two passengers but not letting others off, lest they desert this bus and take an earlier, fitter one. It seems that filling that last place, for an extra 20p, makes a real difference.

Rachel says that getting the network of these taxi-buses into all parts of the country to link with larger 'express' buses is one of President Kagame's successes, together with making passports easily available so Rwandans can visit neighbouring countries and get new ideas. Sometimes I imagine how full the roads would be if each passenger had their own car. Surely no country would want to let that happen?

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Pictures from first workshop with the Twa - really

Tuesday 5 Oct, 5pm

I thought I would have a polished piece ready by now, but actually I'm too weary. it's a good kind of tired, resulting from many new impressions and two moto rides over volcanic ground too bumpy for a bus.

So I'll start with a couple of pictures.

Sorry, I've waited 10 minutes for the first pic to load, with no visible progress, and am giving up for today.

In case a litle news is better than none, I can say there were 20 participants, 15 of them men, aged roughly 20-40 at a guess.

The first day was in a Friends Church and went very well
till there was a long argument after we'd theoretically finished: why wouldn't we pay their bus fares like other course providers do? We ended it by agreeing to give them cash to buy their own food instead of lugging a picnic up the mountain on the second day.

Caption: This was the participants favourite picture of themselves on the first day.

Today we went to the village and divided the participants into 4 groups to fill and plant sacks. A good time had by all till a heavy shower brought proceedings to a scrappy end. The group will meet the HROC people again and have promised each to buy a sack.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Le Congolais

written Sunday 3rd, posted Monday 4th

On each visit I use my French less, and particularly this time people are trying to speak English - not only professionals (such as Antoine) and students but also the driver of the church car, the house worker where I am staying...

This evening French was just what I needed, however. Solange, Rachel and I had done our final planning for Monday and were eating at the long table in the guest house dining room. To our side were two young men. One left and the other turned to me. I'd said something to Rachel in English and then used French to the buffet atttendant. 'Oh, you speak French.'

He is a Congolese doctor, one of many employed to work in government hospitals because there are not enough Rwandan doctors. (Rachel says there are plenty in Kenya, and in the USA where they go for specialised training not available here and don't return. I wonder if DRC has enough or if it's the bottom of the chain.) He asks what we are doing here and is full of approval. The commonest illness he treats in the local hospital is child malnutrition. Typically a child is fed and nursed back to health; six months later he is back with kwashiakor again = from parental ignorance. There are greens growing wild that even the poorest people could eat but they don't know they should. He's hardly ever seen malnourished adult women in Congo, he says, despite the fighting, but he sees them here. He observes in passing that the obesity in developed cultures and the starvation he sees here are both forms of malnutrition.

I wonder aloud why there seems to be no human instinct to eat green stuff - even dogs have it. Even cattle, he adds. Rachel says there is a long way to go in combatting ignorance. There is also a problem with traditional culture, still observed and passed on by some old people: women shouldn't eat chicken. Why? It's the culture. But how could that have come to be the culture, I ask. Those foods are for the men! Solange adds that it used to be common for people who keep chickens to ignore the eggs (and when I check this improbable fact with Rachel later she says that used to be so and isn't now, but many would still rather sell the eggs and have the money for other things than give their children the good nourishment).

The doctor excuses himself - the ambulances bring people to the clinic early on Mondays and he must sleep. We toss around ideas for overcoming ignorance and outdated customs. Rachel, whose own garden is so productive they hardly buy vegetables, is hatching a scheme to get 9-12 year olds to spend a week learning to grow and cook vegetables during the school holidays, if she can find the funding. You have to start young, she says.

[Today was the first day with the Twa - very rich but I'm not ready to write about it yet. I need to choose a couple of photos. And it's about to rain so I must get back to the guest house quickly.]

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The week ahead (post completed)

On Sunday afternoon Rachel, Solange N and I will be on the 3pm bus to Ruhengeri. That's a different Solange - not the HROC coordinator but the facilitator who has worked with most of the groups of Batwa where I am taking the Growing Together work. (The first, Solange M, will replace Rachel on Weds and Thurs, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

There two workshops will be the first of the six I'm to do as my portion of the HROC-Batwa project largely funded by a Quaker Peace and Social Witness Relief Grant. Usually I can assume a group will be able to produce some usable second-hand sacks as well as an empty water bottle or food tin. For these groups, hwever, we have to provide everything. I don't know how much of my usual material - on compost, for example - will be irrelevant to their cramped and impoverished circumstances. Fortunately I shall have a HROC facilitator as well as Rachel, my translator with a post-graduate counselling qualification. My hope is that we shall be able to make explicit those connections between food security and other kinds, so clear in my mind but somehow so difficult for me to communicate here. We are also tasked with identifying a few participants who might go on to train as HROC facilitators.

The plan is to do day one in a church building in town, revising basic HROC work and constructing a demonstration sack. On day two, the three of us will hire motos to go up to where the Batwa live, close to the mountain forests where they are no longer allowed. Solange says the climb takes two hours on foot, so I'm preparing myself for a long bumpy ride. Participants will prepare and plant their own sacks in groups of four or five. With these arrangements I hope people will end up with a sack garden where they need it and can tend it daily. If the scheme is reasonably successful we repeat it on Weds and Thursday for a second group. If not, I suppose we make a new plan in the evenings. We shall be staying together in a guest house for the four nights. (In two weeks' time we do another week with the same pattern.)

Then on Thursday evening the others return to Kigali and I move to a Friend household - probably the head teacher from Kidaho where I stayed with Antoine last time - for three more nights. On Friday I am to work with a school, Saturday is a day off, going to lunch at a lakeside restaurant with the American teachers of English, and on Sunday there's to be a pastors' celebration. I don't know anything about that but I think only my presence is required.

Next Monday is the start of another two day introductory workshop with a church women's group near Kigali...

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Elizabette's feast

[Written Thursday 30 September, posted Saturday 2 October]

When I paid my second visit to the women's group in Byumba in February, they asked if I would come back to work with them on diet and nutrition and prepare food together. Before leaving in March, I established that David Bucura's wife Rachel would work with me as linguistic and cultural translator. Without her input I would have felt presumptuous; with her the 16 of us were on a journey of mutual trust.

Yesterday, after an adequate but rather dull meal in a restaurant, we went in a gaggle to market, where we spent rather less than the restaurant bill on ingredients for the delicious food we were to create. (We couldn't go to market in the morning because entry is limited to those with certificates of national health insurance, which some of the women don't have.)

the food was locked in the church office overnight. I paid for firewood to be bought. I tried to think of everything we would need - cooking and serving pots, plates and forks, sharp knives, washing up bowls, and bottled water for rinsing the foods to be eaten raw.

I also taught some theory around diet and nutrition - thank you, Anne, for the material which helped Rachel in her preparation. The complementary proteins chart, left blank for students to right the Kinyarwandan words and their own food combinations, was a success, once I had lent out every pen and pencil in my bag and turned some chairs round to serve as writing tables.

Today could hardly have gone better, except that I left in a rush and forgot my camera. But then Babette's feast was a transient beauty, too. We were using the kitchen at the back of the church building, a sunny yard and the church room.

First I set out all the foods, grouped into carbohydrates (rice, potatoes, macaroni), protein (eggs, milk, cheese, peanuts), soya oil, lots of fruit and veg, and salt, herbs from Marcelline's garden, garlic and ginger. it was 10 o'clock. We could eat at 12.30, I thought. Oh no, they said, it would take longer than that.

Eggs were boiled, peanuts roasted, rice picked over, and the day's main excitement - grating - began. I had brought half a dozen graters and four peelers. I should have thought to add at least one decent knife. Despite yesterday's plea we had only two knives, reasonably sharp but awkward to handle.

Somehow everything got done, except my planned guacamole (not enough garlic). Apart from demonstrating the grating and peeling, and insisting the potatoes be scrubbed and not peeled, my main contribution was a cheese sauce for the macaroni. There was beetroot, tomato and onion salad,; grated cabbage, carrot and onion with lemon juice; sliced tomatoes garnished with green peppers, raw leek and avocado.

Starting just after one, we all ate our fill. A single pan of leftovers was taken to be eaten by I don't know who. Then they cleared up while I walked into tow to buy the bus tickets back to Kigali.

Evaluation 1: They liked it all, and especially the beetroot salad. They don't make salads because mayonnaise is too expensive and they didn't know you could have salad without. (The colonial power was Belgium so perhaps that explains it.) They wanted a recipe for the cheese sauce and I described other possible milk sauces. Cheese is now being made from cow's and goat's milk in Rwanda, and is starting to come down in price. They want me to visit them again, though there was no obvious subject. Apparently they are thinking of forming an association to market their new vegetables if they can deal with certification and storage. I said I was sure advice would be available but I couldn't give it.

Evaluation 2: I managed to keep the large group as occupied as they wanted to be, despite the queueing for the use of the knife. Several small children, as well as the adults, tasted new foods. I was horrified by the smoke-filled kitchen, to the extent that I asked how much it would cost to insert a chimney, thinking to pay for it myself and say it came as a present from my Friends' Meeting to theirs. However, the Church rents the property so they couldn't make any alterations. Apparently it hasn't been considered important to avoid breathing smoke, though they know that alternative ways of cooking are being developed. Last time I was proudly shown a newly installed kitchen chimney at the pastor's house, so the design is known. It would cost less than £6.

P.S. Talking with Cecile, I learned that most people are ignorant of the connection between smoke and lung disease and wonder why so many children and older people suffer. She says she will alert the pastors so they can spread the information all over the country where they have their churches.

A new start

[Composed on Friday 1 October. Posted on Saturday 2nd]

The fact that I'm writing this only on Friday indicates how busy I've been from the very day of arrival. I landed at noon on Monday and the initial planning meeting was that afternoon. My schedule is mapped out. The biggest problem will be doing all I am committed to, doing all I want to do, and having any social time at all.

On Tuesday there was a meeting of pastors and heads of schools at the Friends Church headquarter at Kagarama. Antoine invited me to take half an hour describing my Growing Together project and having some discussion. This was a longed-for opportunity: I usually find it impossible to convey my sense of the connection between my vegetable growing work, wellbeing - physical, social and spiritual - and peace. For this audience I emphasised the origin of my project in inspiration from two women Friends - Debby Thomas, one of the Evangelical Friends Church International missionaries with a concern for nutrition, and Laura Shipler Chico, previously an AGLI volunteer for three years in Rwanda, working on AVP and HROC. (Readers unfamiliar wit the initials could go to I'm sorry my skills don't extend to inserting links.) Next I considered various layers of meaning in the phrase 'growing together'. Then I described my reason for working with the teachers in the Friends schools as being to give them a taste of British English, while studying a health related topic taht could be useful when they are consulted in their communities because of their status as teachers.

There were pertinent questions about how I could spread my information throughout Rwanda, to which I replied that I can only plant a few seeds and it's for them to provide fertile soil by encouraging good students to go into agriculture and health sciences, and not always economics, business and computing. The discussion was mostly about which schools I should visit, and why not for longer. It's good to know I must be doing something right.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent in Byumba, and the next post will be about that. This morning I arranged to spend half a day with the Women in Dialogue group in Kagarama, with whom I want to use my new material on diet and nutrition, and try out an idea from Practical Action for an insulated container for slow cooking.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Record of Samvura Antoine's visit to Britain

24 May - 12 June 2010
Samvura Antoine is Inspector of Friends Schools in Rwanda (about a dozen) and clerk of Rwanda Yearly Meeting sessions and Executive Committee. He managed to get a UK visa and spent 3 weeks staying with Elizabeth in London.

Tues 25 May
Preliminary visit to Friends House.
Bus ride to Waterloo Bridge; walk along South Bank and across Westminster Bridge.

Weds 26 May
Friends School Saffron Walden (FSSW); head Graham Wigley (GW)
This is an all age school, from 5-18 - primary and secondary. School founded in 1702. Moved to Saffron Walden c.1870.

30 physics and 30 chemistry books promised. Means of transport not yet decided, or covering the cost.

Student visit to FSSW agreed - probably into year 9/ Sec 3. Ishimwe Sandrine (Antoine's elder daughter) to be first student from Jan - July 2012. Then see about the future. Elizabeth Cave would be her guardian. The school would pay her tuition and board, and could provide second-hand uniform. Her travel costs will have to be found but local Quaker meetings might be glad to help.

We discussed ongoing contact through letters, Skype etc. Teacher exchanges were also mentioned and GW thought welcoming a teacher from Rwanda to FSSW might be possible but accommodation might be a problem.

Antoine invited the head or other teachers to visit Rwanda. GW's reply was that FSSW would get intangible benefits and would not necessarily need to send individuals to Rwanda in exchange.

EC mentioned the DIFD Global Schools Partnership - Department for International Development is a branch of UK government, but the programme may be cut under the new financial economies.

Thurs 27 May
Sibford School; head: Michael Goodwin
This is an all-age school, founded in 1842.

They hope to take one Rwandan student for 6 months each year, providing free accommodation, food and education.

They hope to invite Rwandan teachers to join the school for short study visits. And they hope to visit you.

They will try to provide books and, perhaps, computers.

MG will discuss these ideas with other heads of Q schools and encourage them.

Friday 28 - Monday 31 May
Britain Yearly Meeting
All sessions attended. Programme can be seen in 'Documents in Advance' (and on BYM website: Many important subjects were considered, including progress after last year's decision of principle on same sex marriage and whether to include journalists in YM sessions. The matter of journalists had been under consideration for at least 30 year and the meeting struggled to arrive at a change of policy, through two sessions of consideration.

It was good to see how the members of the meeting arrived at decisions, and how the minutes were drafted by the clerk and agreed in the meeting after further contributions from the floor. The participation of children and their presence in some sessions was striking. Also the quiet behaviour of Friends and the respect given to the clerks.

In the breaks between sessions Friends could buy main meals or snacks as they chose, rather than everybody being given the same food. Accommodation for distant Friends is provided in the homes of London Friends. A payment of £15 per night is suggested. Some Friends prefer to stay centrally in a hotel and the clerks are give hotel accommodation to enable them to do their work well.

On Sunday Growing together in Rwanda (GTiR) hosted a lunchtime meeting for 20 people, where Antoine talked about l'Eglise Evangelique des Amis au Rwanda (EEAR) including the schools, Friends Peace House and Elizabeth's work, with projected illustrations. On Sunday evening GTiR had a display at the Groups Fair and a 5-minute verbal presentation in the courtyard.

Tues 1 June
Evening talk to Muswell Hill Friends
About 12 people heard Antoine talk about the EEAR in general and the activity of FPH and Growing Together. We showed pictures of the aspects of the church's work. Elizabeth did some translating.

Weds 2 - Friday 4 June
Visit to Yorkshire, as guest of Arthur Pritchard (clerk of High Flatts Local Quaker Meeting, member of YM Agenda Committee and Quaker World Relations Committee)

Visit to Ackworth School to meet Andrew Ward, co-clerk of Ackworth Meeting and a teacher at the school. The head was away because the school has a week's holiday. AW hoped discussion would lead to benefit for UK and Rwandan students, and would raise the subject of exchange visits with the head. The provision of text books was discussed.

Brief visits to The Mount, Quaker Girls' School, in York, and Bootham School.

Evening talk about EEAR at High Flatts Meeting to 15 Fds from Central Yorkshire and Brighouse West Yorkshire Area Meetings.

Visit to the Quaker Tapestry at Kendal.

Sunday 6 June
Worship at Ealing Meeting
The meeting was beginning the process of discerning its future involvement in GTiR. Antoine described the work of EEAR and spoke about the possibility of EEAR and BYM growing together.

In the evening a meal with the Sender family - Wendy, Peter and Sam.

Monday 7 June
Appointments at Friends House:
Interviewed by Jez Smith for 'The Friend', the British Quaker weekly magazine (founded in 1843).
Discussion with Gillian Ashmore, Recording Clerk. Invited her to Rwanda and especially to Rwanda Yearly Meeting.
Met Laura Shipler Chico, formerly a volunteer in Rwanda for 3 years at FPH, now East Africa Peace Secretary for BYM. Joined for lunch by Jaci Smith (Peace Education Programme Manager) and Lucy, an assistant in Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW). After lunch a meeting with Steve Whiting (Turning the Tide Programme Manager) who will be taking the training in active non-violence for social change to Western Kenya later in the year.

Tuesday 8 June
Visit to Mayfield Primary School, a state school attended by the children of one of the members of Ealing Meeting. Shown the school by Belinda Ewart, head teacher. Visited many classes. Admired the teaching style and the number of adults present in various capacities.

Lunch in the house of Sue and John Flemons, with Martin Raven (all members of Ealing Meeting). Joined by Tewedaj Mekonnen, an Ethiopian woman who attends Ealing Meeting.

Wednesday 7 June
Sightseeing in London: the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the Thames path, Tate Modern, across the Millennium Bridge to St Paul's Cathedral, bus to Trafalgar Square.

Thursday 10 June
1. Visit to Sidcot School, Winscombe, Somerset
School founded in 1699. Present buildings date from early nineteenth century, with the arts centre completed only last year. The school owns 80 hectares of farm land and hopes to cooperate with Yeo Valley Farms on organic cultivation.
Head: John Walmsley
JW chairs the meeting of UK Friends school heads, which will take place 11-13 June. We understand that Kathryn Bell, head of Ackworth is also interested in arranging visits from Rwandan students and the sending of text books.
JW thought that encouraging gap year students (18-19 yrs old taking a year between school and university) to go to Rwanda as English language assistants or in other roles would be a possibility. He himself would like to visit Rwanda.
On the tour of the school a particularly impressive aspect was seeing children from year 6 coaching children from years 1&2, which they do once every week.

2. Evening event at Taunton Friends Meeting, West Somerset Area Meeting, organised by Zoë Ainsworth Grigg.
The meeting house dates from the 16th century, and has a burial ground as well as a meeting house building. The evening began with shared food, prepared by Zoë and others.

Elspeth Waldie, a member of the Society of Friends, from Purple Field Productions, spoke about her work making films on subjects such as HIV/AIDS, AIDS testing, and domestic violence, for showing to audiences in the countries concerned, who may well be illiterate. Then we watched her film about Centre Marembo in Kicukiro, made in 2006 to show UK audiences a positive view of Rwanda. She gave Antoine copies of 3 of her films, and suggested a return visit to Rwanda.

Antoine talked about EEAR and its programmes, using the photos prepared for earlier talks. Then Elizabeth showed pictures of her perceptions of Rwanda and her work in micro-agriculture. The group showed genuine interest and asked stimulating questions. They suggested making sack gardens with the children in their meetings.

Friday 11 June
Shared evening meal with members of Elizabeth's Growing Together in Rwanda support group, and informal evaluation.

Monday, 8 March 2010


Written Sunday afternoon, 7 March

In line with most of the arrangements for this visit, the evaluation was a straightforward process. David, Antoine and I met in David's living room earlier this afternoon, immediately before my departure. Neither of the appropriate people from Friends Peace House was available. David was the organiser for my programme with the church groups and Antoine for the schools. FPH is the locus for HROC so will be involved in my October programme, where I shall be working with groups of Batwa after they have done an introductory HROC workshop,

I suggested that we do the evaluation in French, with pauses for translation or clarification if needed. That gave me the opening to repeat to David what I'd said a couple of days ago to Antoine after several minor frustrations – that I like to be told what's going on, and not have it assumed that I don't want or need to know. 'Perhaps it's a fault in me', I said. 'No, no', said Antoine.

David spoke first. I made notes but they're inaccessible in my checked baggage. (I'm writing in the departure lounge at Kigali. Last time there was free internet access here but this time I'm getting nothing beyond a statement that I'm connected.) Basically he thought communication had gone well, my workshops were well received everywhere, more churches – even other denominations! - are asking for me, he hopes I'll do more on diet and nutrition and try to open people's minds to other than traditional Rwandan cooking methods and recipes.

Antoine started by complimenting me on my youthful vigour! He had translated for me with the CGFK workers and sat in on the sessions with the teachers in Kidaho and Butaro so he'd experienced my work directly. Caption: A was also the driver for the week in Ruhengeri. This view of Muhabura across Lake Burera was taken on the drive from Butaro back to Kidaho.

He was well pleased too. He noted that there had been some problems with translators.

My turn. I don't enjoy holding forth in French without the feedback of conversation, but I did what had to be done. Overall I too had been well satisfied with this visit. There had been some problems with translation – especially in the north where there is said to be a better standard of English but I had to work all the time in French with translators who'd obviously been recruited at the last minute. There had probably been rather too much travelling round and I was quite tired.

I had thought through how the timings might work out in October, with or without the grant from Britain Yearly Meeting. (I shall hear early in April.) I propose spending nearly a fortnight in either Ruhengeri or Cyangugu, to give time for Batwa, schools and women's groups, including seeing how work started this time has developed. If the grant materialises I shall need to spend six working days with Batwa in each of the two regions, leaving me with not much time in Kigali. If it doesn't, I can meet some new local church groups, and perhaps build interest in supplying leaves for the moringa project – they need to be transported (by bicycle) to the processing site by 10am on the day they're picked.

So there's plenty to do. David is encouraging me to work on finding a successor. Antoine would like new topics for conversation classes with the teachers – thank you Anne for the very successful sheet on childhood diarrhoea. I plan to prepare material on nutrition, including the complementarity of vegetable proteins, probably in the form of worksheets to be filled in with words in Kinyarwanda supplied by my translator. (The possibility was raised of my having one translator for the whole visit next time.) I'm hoping one or two groups will invite me and a Rwandan woman – it's too soon to identify her - to go to market with them and prepare some different foods together. People who've contributed money need to be told how I'm using it and invited to give again.

For now, though, I need to pack up the computer and be ready to board the flight to Nairobi. Take-off should be in 10 minutes and obviously won't be, but there's a 3-hour wait scheduled so I expect we'll make the connection for the midnight flight to Heathrow. There's a fiery sunset.

PS: the journey home went fine. It's gloriously sunny here after a frosty start. Plenty to do here, too.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Two walks with Antoine: 2

Part Two, Friday

Three times on this visit I have been driven past a run of fish ponds and failed to photograph them. On the third occasion, at the beginning of this week, Danzile offered some intriguing information and Antoine said we would visit them on our way back.

He pulls in to the side of the road and Danzile says she will wait in the car. This avoids the need to park rather better and lock up, but as our walk proceeds I worry that she will be getting very hot. I would have been happy to ask the first workers we meet if they are happy to be photographed and leave it at that. But no, we are going for the full works.

Those first workers are up to their elbows in suds, and producing bowls full of something white and fluffy. Cotton crosses my mind, but only momentarily. As we get closer I can see they are washing small polythene bags. Antoine asks a question and we are directed up a slope into a smart new office building. We greet a receptionist/secretary and she takes us in to her boss, whose business card describes him as Ruremesha Joseph, specialist in continental fishes and pisciculture, inspection and quality control, and 'Economie halieutique'. (L'halieutique peut être définie comme " la science de l'exploitation des ressources vivantes aquatiques" according to Wikipedia.)

He gives us a long narrative in French. I find the strings of figures confusing: are they numbers of fish or francs worth of development funding? (Recapping with Antoine today, I am pleasantly surprised to find he too got lost in 'les chiffres'.)

The enterprise is a joint venture between the district of Muzanze and a business which also operates in Uganda and DRC. In 2003 there was a serious drought and the two lakes of Burera and Ruhondo, whose scenery we have been enjoying all week, lost their fish stocks. Livelihoods and food supplies were at stake. A university offered to produce enough small fry to restock the lakes, but fell short.

I didn't take in all the details, but the site was identified, two small dams constructed and the ponds dug. There must be at least a dozen. Would we like to walk round?

The project manager was a complete enthusiast. He'd trained in France for six months. He had plans for further developments but lack of funding was holding him back. He said much more about breeding than I could follow. I did get the point, however, that this was a natural process – GM is banned in Rwanda.

Fish were imported from Uganda, which is still the source of some of the fish food, though that should change soon. We walked past a series of ponds with fish from the tiniest to the size of a sprat. I started muttering after the second pond and we cut short the tour after four. I'm sorry to have to report that once again my footwear was inadequare, since my walking shoes were drying out on the parcel shelf after Thursday's drenching. The pond margins were quite slippery and occasionally I needed a hand.

A central covered area housed two washing operations – for environmental conservation through re-using the bags in which small fish are transported to various lakes and ponds, and good husbandry through cleaning the fish when mud fouled their gills.

On the other side each pond had a wooden structure on one side, protruding over the water. Danzile had provided the information that these structures were rabbit hutches. Our guide explained that feeding greenstuff to the rabbits and letting their droppings fall into the ponds for the fish to eat avoided the need for shredding the food artificially. The rabbits were allowed to breed and were sold locally for meat.

I was invited up a ramp to look more closely at the rabbits – varieties from Holland and USA as well as a local breed. Fine – I like ladders and there was no mud.

As we made our way back to towards the car our guide spoke of his future plans. He'd like a fishing lake for people to catch their supper, weigh it, and buy it to take home. He didn't want to sell caught fish to eat – I think there may be a contractual prohibition. Antoine asked if he'd thought of opening a restaurant. Oh yes, but at the beginning he couldn't interest anybody.

He stopped in the middle of the footbridge. The stream marked the boundary of Muzanze District so it was a good place for him to part from us. Would I be coming back to Rwanda, he asked. Yes, several more times. Would he try to get his restaurant open by 2012 so I could eat at it? Yes, he'd try.

Two walks with Antoine: 1

Part One, Thursday
Thursday 4 March was my last day of teaching - on Friday a meeting to prepare for October's joint project with HROC was planned. Antoine proposed an early finish to the workshop so we could go for a walk. He would like to take me to his wife's family home and his own and it was not possible to drive. Could I walk for perhaps one hour?

I wondered about the weather - it had rained on two afternoons out of three so far, on the edge of the remnant of the tropical rain forest where mountain gorillas used to live side by side with the Twa. By noon the cloud was thickening but no rain had fallen. As we left the workshop after lunch I began to hear rumbles of thunder. Were we still going? Well it's OK so far, said A, and we can get a little way at least.

We left the car outside a church just off the tarmacked road. A told me to bring my computer and camera, just in case of thieves, and I packed them into my handbag, together with umbrella, purse, passport and signal-free phone. We set off, uphill, between small fields of potatoes, millet and cassava. After 15 minutes it began to rain. I took out my umbrella - A had none and he had even forgotten his cap, he observed. We took shelter under the tin roof of an open-sided structure, together with half a dozen men and boys. (I suppose the women kept working in the fields - they do most of the labouring.)

As the first heavy burst subsided, A suggested we carry on. I had an umbrella, didn't I? Our route took us past a primary school, the one he had attended as a boy, where he borrowed an umbrella. It was bigger than mine and he offered to swap. Foolishly I declined.

Onwards and upwards we continued. More of the path disappeared under trickles then torrents. At least the volcanic soil wasn't as slippery as clay, and frequently there were lumps of larva to provide a better footing. I am not at my fittest after weeks without my usual level of activity, but I kept up OK.

The bottoms of A's trouser legs were splashed, then soaked. I was wet well above the knees and nearly to my shoulders. I was concerned for the contents of my handbag, which I was wearing on my back. A few others were on the path but many were sheltering against buildings. Did I want to wait for a bit? No, what was the point? By now my feet were also soaking and I didn't want to get cold standing about.

Time after time we saw a house ahead and I thought this might be the one. We climbed for an hour and a quarter. Eventually I confessed to a headache, probably from the altitude. Was it serious? No, not worth making a fuss. (I couldn't see any intermediate stage between keeping on keeping on or summoning an emergency medical service with unpredictable results. At a later stage A talked about how in the old days the Red Cross would send four men to carry a sick person on a litter.)

At last we reached the compound where some of his wife's family still live. It is only 7 or 8 minutes' walk below the border of the preserved forest on the steep mountainside. The main house was being rebuilt and one of the two households had decamped into a storehouse, very dark, with clothing slung on ropes between the rafters. Antoine was given a large mug of tea. (I later asked him why I was offered nothing and he said he'd declined on my behalf because country tea would upset my stomach; I wish he'd told me.) I took off my wet overshirt and was lent a polyester sweater, removed from the rope and stripped from the shirt inside it, which I was to keep for the rest of the excursion. Bonaventure, the head of ESK (Ecole Secondaire a Kidaho, one of the Friends schools) who is our host for the week, is a brother of the family and a fairly frequent visitor, so it could be returned when laundered.

We probably sat there for half an hour – it seemed outside time. My headache cleared. Somebody commented that we would have done better to visit in the morning – yes, but we were working then. The thrumming on the tin roof lessened. My sopping wet shirt went into my wet bag and onto my back again. My computer, camera, phone and passport were repacked in a paper bag (no polythene bags in Rwanda) inside a sturdy document wallet, which Antoine was to carry for me. He asked for a bamboo cane to help me on the way down and checked it for splinters.

In Rwandan custom, guests are always accompanied a little way when they leave. Antoine's mother-in-law, who must be close to me in age, found shoes and a shawl and came with us; a younger male relative led the descent by a narrower route we had not taken on the way up.

This was the best part of the walk. It stopped raining completely; the path comprised mostly rounded rocks with a good grip; my trousers dried to below the knees. It was beautiful and it was fascinating. As we descended we passed cows and goats and their young herdsmen. The path was strewn with strips of chewed sugar cane. The air bore a slight fragrance of eucalyptus smoke. Others came to greet Antoine and walk part of the way with us, as had indeed been happening at the beginning of the ascent as well.

After only a few minutes it became impossible to ignore the returning rain. I stopped wishing I had taken charge of my camera. Umbrellas went up. The water line on my trousers ascended almost to the bottom of the sweater. Grandmother made her farewells and returned home. After maybe half an hour the young man did likewise.

I began to sense an atmosphere of pilgrimage as Antoine pointed out the border of his family's land, and indeed his own field given him by his parents. We entered a very pretty garden and knocked on a front door. It was eventually opened by a young houseworker and her toddler, but Antoine's brother and his family were not at home. The next house was smaller and simpler. It was occupied by a son of the family who had apparently decided to move in on his own; there were a few pop posters on the walls.

We sat for a few minutes, then left. This was the family house of A's childhood as the youngest of 7, built by his father. In the garden A showed me a rockery, then a bee hive, then the site of his mother's grave. His father had been a well respected farmer and a bee-keeper, he said.

Accompanied by the nephew, in unrelenting rain, we walked to the other side of the family land, looking up hill and down to see its extent. A couple more houses had been recently built for (or perhaps by) other households. The rough track followed the contour. Before the war you could drive a car along here, A remarked. Then umuganda, communal work on the last Saturday of every month, was well organised and things were kept in good order. Now the track was deeply rutted, with occasional sections of rudimentary larva cobbles rising above the puddles. In an instant of inattention to the muddy grass, I fell to the side, not injuring myself but dirtying one sleeve of the borrowed sweater and one leg of my longsuffering trousers.

Maybe half a mile further on, we met A's sister-in-law returning, with two more women. As always, hands were shaken all round and greetings exchanged. Not far now, A said, as we left them.

We reached the car at six o'clock, four and a half hours after leaving it. A handed over the borrowed umbrella to the nephew. The drive back was short. I had just enough with me for a complete change of clothing. Apart from a tweaked intercostal muscle, now well again, no ill effects.

Muhabura in the sunshine on Friday, showing the division between settlement and forest.

Reading 'Lord Jim' in Rwanda

In the final flurry of packing for six weeks away, I discarded two novels. By the end of the first week, without company in Burundi, I had finished 'An equal music', which turned out to be a much quicker read than Vikram Seth's other novel, 'A suitable boy'.

'Middlemarch', written for a Victorian audience who also had plenty of time to read, was an excellent choice in October. In the first days, conditioned by a much busier life at home, I read for the story line, eager to get to incidents remembered from previous readings. Then I deliberately slowed down, relishing the visual detail, the moral complexities, the delicious ironies, which sustained me for nearly the whole month. But I hadn't found a successor for this trip.

Reading and blogging are pretty much my only occupations in the evenings. The situation was serious.

There must be libraries containing good English novels in Kigali – indeed I know VSO has a collection of books to lend to volunteers and I could probably throw myself on their mercy. Later I found several books I wanted to read on Ruth and Krystan's two shelves. After a few days in Kigali, however, in Nakumat – one of two westernised town centre supermarkets – buying a grater for the Bucura household I remembered the stand of shrink-wrapped Penguin Classics, where I had bought a copy of 'North and South' to pass the eight hour wait in Nairobi on my way home last time.

The selection was pretty similar - I don't know how often they restock. Nothing was an obvious choice. Then I started weighing the merits of 'Lord Jim'. Conrad's prose needs focussed attention. Indeed one long paragraph can be enough to induce sleep. Despite the volume's slimness, compared with 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles', for example, I decided it would meet my needs. It would not overload my backpack. As far as possible I had avoided Conrad at university, apart from 'Heart of Darkness' which was a set book. I knew my maternal grandfather had been a keen reader, buying first editions, which my parents had given away when clearing my grandmother's house. How my teenage self rued the fact that at ten I had been too young to intervene!

I'm still only a third of the way through, as other books I wanted to read can't be taken with me. The first 30 pages were hard going and I made a couple of false starts. Now at almost page 100 Jim's inexplicable act at a moment of crisis, which leads to his trial, ostracism and disgrace, has just occurred - in the narrative of Marlow, whom Jim chose to listen to his account of the circumstnces which almost justify his moment of shame but which will never come out in the trial. The merchant ship on which Jim is a junior officer, carrying 800 Asian pilgrims acrosss the Indian Ocean, is evidently about to sink, in the night, as a squall approaches, with no time to rescue the pilgrims and not enough boats to accommodate them. In a moment which Jim can't recollect, though he recounts the rest of the night's events in considerable detail, he has saved his skin by jumping into the boat launched by his three despicable senior oficers, like them abandoning ship. Twice in the description of first few hours in which the shame of his situation grows on him he uses the same phrase: 'all in the same boat'. It's literally true. And it prevents him from separating himself from the 'three dirty owls'.

Some of the most poignant stories from the war in Rwanda are those of Hutu who were pressured into killing – often to save their families, not themselves. Still, they did what they did, and horrendous circumstances don't excuse their actions or reduce their prison sentences.

Since 2003 many killers have been released from prison and have returned to their communities where they live side by side with survivors whose relatives they killed. Unable to escape each other: all in the same boat.

And in Rwanda as a whole – a small country, densely populated, with political tension rising ahead of elections later in the year – even those who don't like each other much have to sink or swim together: landlocked and, as it were, all in the same boat.