Saturday, 27 February 2010

What have I been doing?

At this stage of my October 09 visit, nearer the end than the beginning, I wrote a diary of events. It seems the right moment to do so again. I'm sorry the layout is not clearer, but can't see how to improve it.

24 (Sun) left England
25 spent long day in Nairobi
26 arrived in Bujumbura before 2am. Afteer sleeping, planned programme for the week.
27-28 bag garden workshop with Kamenge church and clinic women
29-30 ditto with teenage HROC group
31 (Sun) church at Kamenge

1-2 workshop with group at Kamenge Friends church
2 (Tue) fly to Kigali
3 plan programme
4-5 revisit projects from October, discuss budget
6 visit Kigali genocide memorial
7 (Sun) Eng lang service at Gasharu Friends church

8-9 morning workshops with CGK workers, making keyhole gdn, afternoons w teachers
10 revision workhop with church women at Kagarama. Supper w Ruth & Krystan
11-12 make keyhole gdn w Byumba women. (Stay overnight)
13 drive to Gisenyi with David Bucura for wedding of Zawadi – HROC worker
14 (Sun) morning off. Meet w Dave Z in afternoon, then visit Antoine's family

15 bus to Cyangugu with Antoine
16-17 morning bag garden workshop with Kamembe women, afternoon sessions w teachers
18-19 bag grden workshop with Cyete women
19 last bus back to Kigali
20 to Nyamirambo for lunch w Ruth & Krystan. Free day basically
21 (Sun) bus to Nyakarambi to visit Dorothy & Vern

22 Kigina school visit w Dorothy
23 Global Schools Partnership w Dorothy, then bus back to Kigali
24 budget meeting w Josephine. Then herb garden work at David B's with Ruth & Krystan
25-26 keyhole garden workshop w Bihembe women
27 free day (ie today) – shopping and meet Solange to discuss October project
28 (Sun) Church at Gasharu, visit Antoine to confirm plans for next week, may see Cecile later

1 drive to Kidaho w Antoine. Session with workers then teachers at Fds school there
2 drive from Kidaho to Butaro. Ditto
3-4 bag garden workshop w Fds Church women (? Ruhengeri)
5 meet Joseph – Twa HROC facilitator – to plan for October, then drive back to Kigali
6 budget meeting w Josephine. Evaluation and planning meeting
7 (Sun) fly to Nairobi, then home early Monday. Phew!

English and French

President Sarkosy spent three hours in Rwanda on Thursday.

Ever since France's original inaction and later intervention at the time of the genocide, relations between the countries have been bad. The abandoned French Cultural Centre is a symbolic eyesore on one of the main roads into Kigali.

Last year schools were instructed to change European language teaching from French to English, with little notice or preparation. Rwandan teachers of French in private schools (including the 4 Friends' schools) lost their jobs as did some other professionals unable to pass an English test; English speaking Ugandans were sometimes brought in to replace them. This year schools started back a month late, so all teachers could receive a month's intensive English language training.

With a few exceptions teachers, like other Rwandans educated here, struggle with spoken English, even if they can read and write enough to understand an instruction manual or use the internet, for example. In my limited experience, French is the language most commonly used in informal mixed groups of Rwandans and bazungu (whites) to avoid the necessity for translation.

It is probably well recognised by the general public that the change was hasty, even if it makes good economic sense for Rwanda to use the same language as the bigger players in the East African Economic Union – anglophone Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. It is also the case that most government ministers and top civil servants learnt English before French.

Many schools have gone beyond the advice to start English in year 4 and are labouring to use English as the language of instruction from the moment children are in Primary 1, though many primary teachers themselves have little fluency or aural comprehension, as I have witnessed. (Kinyarwanda, the mother tongue for all groups of Rwandans, is, at least, still part of the curriculum for primary and secondary.)

Now President Sarkosy has been welcomed – there were even a few French flags in evidence. On Friday morning's English language news programme on Rwandan radio, President Kagame's speech for the occasion was reported in detail and long excerpts played. While Sarkosy stopped short of a full apology, he acknowledged that grave mistakes had been made in the past. He invited Kagame to a France-Africa meeting in Nice next year and Kagame said he would not only attend but also take a full part.

Then he addressed the question of English or French. Apparently there have been rumours flying for a couple of weeks that the decision to change to English was to be reversed. That didn't happen. The president did say, however, that both French and English would continue to be taught and used, to help Rwandans play their full part in the international economy and world affairs. Perhaps they should be learning Chinese as well, he ventured.

What are the schools meant to do now?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Eat the greens

Written Weds 24 Feb

Near the beginning of this visit, I went to look at the sack planted in October at Gasharu Friends Church. It's not it a prime position, as it needed to be tucked out of sight of the many children who pass through. It has a single green pepper growing on the top, and some good sized leeks on the sides. Why has nobody eaten the leeks?

Today I was walking past Mwana Nshuti, a training school for teenagers that is the longest running programme of Friends Peace House. In early and late October I took two photos of one of the sacks, showing how spinach beet planted last February, which was nearly dead at the beginning of the month, had revived when the rains came. I stepped off the lane to get a closer look at the year-old sack: there is copious spinach and three small heads of cabbage.

I took out my camera and four students pulling weeds nearby came to see what was going on. One of them posed next to the sack. Her friends enjoyed seeing the photo.

I had just been asked to advise on how to make best use of the land round the school, farsightedly purchased more than 10 years ago. I declined, offering my usual line that I do gardens, not fields. Debby or David Thomas will be much more use to them.

I tried to talk to the students, but as I expected they had no English of French. What I wanted to communicate was that the spinach needs eating, before it gets tough and dies back again.

Ruth and Krystan, the Canadian couple working with FPH, came to lunch before working for a while with me in David Bucura's productive garden, tryig to establish some demonstration herbs. David was talking about the difficulty of changing African minds, so that new methods and skills once learned can be usefully applied. Local churches and international development agencies are putting a lot of effort into finding ways to empower ordinary people to identify the real improvements that matter and to make them happen.

Malnutrition, affecting both bodies and minds, makes it harder for people to accept new ideas. Projects like mine tackle the problem by showing how nutritious vegetables can be grown simply and economically. Micronutrients could be a real help. Most Rwandans, however, are very conservative in their eating habits. To get the benefit from what you have grown, you have to eat the greens.

I mentioned to David that the leeks at his church need eating too. 'Yes,' he said, 'and the women are busy deciding which sick or old or needy people ought to get them.' I can't fault that.

Development – some vignettes

Written Tues 23 Feb

Starting on time
I am in the District Office for Kirehe, a mile's walk with Dorothy (my British Quaker friend on a VSO posting) from her house in Nyakarambi, which I am visiting again.

Dorothy has been telling all the teachers participating in this morning's session – making progress with getting some local schools signed up for Global Schools Partnership (see by teaching some enthusiasts how to use the school laptop to do email – that we start at 8am. On our walk we pass several teachers going the other way. For example Jean Pierre: 'I have to go and ask my headteacher to let me attend the session.' 'Couldn't you phone?' 'No, it is better for me to go.' He might be only an hour and a half late, if he's prepared to pay a taxi-bus fare on the way back.

One of the skills I am painfully acquiring is waiting patiently for things to happen. Five minutes online time with the computer tied up trying to post a photo for my blog I can now survive fairly comfortably, for example. I have not yet found a way, however, to resolve the conflict between my inability to turn up late – except occasionally by accident - and most groups' seriously different interpretation of the meaning of a starting time.

The worst was in Byumba. As we were leaving on the first afternoon the group organiser came to ask specifically for an early start the next day so the finish could also be early. She suggested 8am. I said that was rather early for me as I needed to get breakfast at the Anglican guesthouse then take a moto from the other side of town. Would 8.30 be early enough? She was adamant. I bolted my breakfast, which was served late, paid the moto driver a premium for keeping him waiting 5 minutes, and arrived at 8 precisely - to an empty room. Eugene arrived from the Kigali bus after a minute or two, having left home at 6. The first student came at 8.30. It was 9.30 before we had half the class – enough to begin the day's work. I entirely understand that these women have to organise house and children before they are ready, but why insist on an unrealistic time that I as teacher have to observe? I've asked once or twice whether I too should come half an hour late. 'Oh no, you are the teacher.' (Classes of schoolchildren are quite often to be seen teacherless, but that apparently is different – or supposedly not happening.)

Not only planes but also buses do leave pretty close to the stated time and one can't afford to be late. My bus ticket for this afternoon carries a warning that there will be no refund if I arrive after the bus has gone. Most of the Rwandese with whom I interact personally keep appointments - with me at any rate – within ten minutes of the agreed time. Familiarising the whole population with the practice of the modern world will be a long job, however. Dorothy tells me that 7am is 'hour 1' in Kinyarwanda – an hour after first light. (The hours through the night are not even numbered.) In conversations in Kinyarwanda I sometimes hear appointment times being named in French on the 24 hour clock. It can be just too confusing, when the only meaningful distinction for many people is between now and not now (which may be never). This may explain why mobile phones are switched off with great reluctance and almost always answered, even in church: if not now, will there ever be a right time later?

Electrogaz, generators and solar power
By 9am four or five participants in Dorothy's session are here. But there is no current, so no internet connection – on which the whole morning's work depends. (I am running down my netbook battery as I write now in the expectation of being able to recharge it this evening in Kigali.)

Power for this complex of local government buildings is provided by a diesel generator. The generator needs attention. Motivation to keep generators serviced has diminished as pylons for power supply from Electrogaz, the national electricity supply company, have just been erected locally. So far they bear no cables, Help is on the way, it seems. Generation is from oil, imported by road from Dar es Salaam or Mombasa, vulnerable to congestion at borders, surcharges during political unrest, and Somali pirates. Rising international fuel prices are not yet perceived as a problem.

I see some small solar panels on homes and shops, and several of the new houses being built near here have one or two rising above a roof. (Were they planned before the pylons arrived, I wonder.) They are not cheap to buy or maintain, however, need a clunky battery, and are mostly perceived as a temporary solution to bridge the gap before Electrogaz arrives. I am told (by an Englishwoman living here) that the government is promoting solar power, that an intenet search will reveal plenty of information, and that there is a sizeable installation of panels on one of the hills above Kigali. But few people seem to think any development will be significant – 'It's just one of those government schemes.'
Caption: solar panels on some small shops at theborder. Over the River Akagera on the Tnazanian side, a traditional brickworks.

Fresh milk?
There are quite a lot of cattle in Rwanda. Indeed the number is presumably increasing as the government, despite a recent corruption scandal, promotes its policy of 'a cow for every poor family'. I see many small shops with a picture of a black and white cow – not so many with a traditional brown African longhorn. Fresh milk from such a shop can be taken home - and pasteurised to be safe. Many better off people outside town have a cow or several, and use the milk from their own source.
Caption: a splendid example of an African longhorn.

A hot drink bought in a cafe often comes from a vacuum flask containing a mixture of boiled milk and water, with or without a litle tea and ginger. But buying safe fresh milk is not straightforward. Refridgeration requires electricity. In one of my groups recently I asked how many used milk and not a single hand went up: it's too expensive.

The commonest brand of UHT comes from Uganda. I'm told some is produced in Rwanda but I haven't seen it. On a drive with David Bucura we passed an industrial ruin which he said had been a milk factory before 1994 (the year of the genocide). Can that be a complete explanation for the lack of significant progress towards this aspect of self-sufficiency?

In restaurants and the homes I visit, the milk served with tea or coffee is usually dried. Called Nido, it is made by Nestle. It's expensive. It comes from Holland.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Friends in Cyete

Written Fri-Sat, 19-20 Feb

We were half a hour into day one of my introductory workshop – the one where we make a bag garden and talk about the forest ecosystem and human population pressure, composting and rubbish. The group of 12 women included the pastor – one of very few such women in the Friends Church of Rwanda. She left the group for a few minutes and came back with an urgent request. Would I mind if they prayed for a sick child? Of course not. (The picture shows some of the participants in a quiet moment.)

Into the church was led a teenage boy, looking completely shut down, as though tranquilised. An older man, presumably his father, had him firmly by the back of the hand, whether for reassurance or restraint I couldn't tell. A bench was brought into the middle of our working space and the boy encouraged to sit. The women surrounded him. Several, including the pastor, began tapping his back, his shoulders, his chest, then increasing the intensity till they were pressing pretty hard. All were praying aloud. One, alternately shouting a single word and making a harsh sound like a dog's bark, had her face within an inch or two of the boy's, rubbed her hands over his head and and pulled his ears from time to time. Then he was roughly shaken, though not toppled. After about 5 minutes the voices became calmer then ceased. The pastor spoke softly to the boy. I think she asked a question but he didn't reply. He was led away

We had about 10 minutes remaining before the scheduled morning break. I felt unable to return to my topic as though nothing had happened. I said to the group that in my worshipping community of Friends we didn't do what they had just done. I asked them to explain to me what had been happening. The boy had not been sick previously, they said. He was possessed by a devil. He had been working with his mother in their field and had suddenly fallen to the ground. Later – I don't know how much later – he had run to the lake and tried to drown himself. They were doing as Jesus had instructed his disciples, casting out devils in Jesus' name.

I lead a sheltered life in England, socially and religiously. For all I know the same practice may occur within walking distance of my home.

I don't have a better explanation for the boy's condition or a better remedy. The next day I asked after him. The tone of the reply was matter-of-fact: 'Il est gueri.' He is better? He is cured? He is healed? Does it matter which?

The church at Cyete has an area of floor where bricks give way to boarding. (When I was here dancing 2 years ago we skirted the area nervously.) I now know why: last weekend, visiting Antoine's family, I was surprised to be shown photos of the total immersion baptism of the three teenage children and checked that it was indeed in the Friends Church at Kagarama. We don't do that in Quaker Meetings in England either.

It hasn't seemed right to make an issue of the theology, and so far I haven't even asked what distinguishes Friends (Quakers) from other protestant Christians here. (I see from the emailed minutes of our recent business meeting that Ealing Meeting has declined the opportunity to contribute to a leaflet from local churches to be handed out at the Good Friday procession of witness to a church in the town centre, which a few Friends support with their presence.) My translator the other day was Silas, a teacher at the Kamembe Friends School and a theology graduate. He was eager to talk about George Fox, about his emphasis on personal spiritual experience, and about how Friends emphasise the gospel of love above strict adherence to rules.

In Britain our weekly Quaker magazine, The Friend, has frequent spates of letters on the question of whether Quakers are Christians. Am I doing what I do here as Christian mission? No, I don't think so – and the denial is not entirely because of my negative perception of the cultural baggage brought by well-meaning Christian missionaries in Africa. Would I be here if I were not involved in the spiritual community of Ealing Quaker Meeting? Probably not.

Collecting soil to go in the sack.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Two gallants

It's 6pm on Tuesday and we've been in Cyangugu – or rather in its hilltop extension of Kamembe – for 24 hours. This time yesterday three of us got off the bus: Antoine and I and Emmanuel, a geography teacher from CGFK, with whom I have worked twice now, on his way to promotion as a head of department at the Kamembe Friends school.

I hardly recognised my backpack as it emerged from the luggage store at the back of the bus – it was covered in fine red dust. As we wait at the side of the road for Antoine to make phone contact with our hosts, Emmanuel dusts off the rucksack, ensuring that the dust blows away from me, not onto my navy skirt. When I hear that we're to travel by moto to the rendezvous, I take out my hoodie and put it on for warmth, only to discover to my embarrassment a series of stains down the front and round one pocket. 'Oh my mother,' says Emmanuel, 'That is very sticky.' And he scrapes at one of the marks with his keyring. 'My mother'... I am honoured.

The three motos are selected. My fully stuffed rucksack is on my back and my handbag across my chest. I also have a cloth bag full of teaching materials. (Next time I'll bring a cabin-sized suitcase, but that may turn out to be the wrong choice then.) Antoine has a soft bag of clothing and a computer case; Emmanuel a medium sized suitcase. How the motos will carry us and the luggage I don't know. Can I hold my teaching bag and not fall off? My last moto ride took me down an exceedingly bumpy back lane when I had reckoned on a smoother route. Dorothy, my VSO friend, says she's heard that moto riding is good for the core muscles – I can well believe it, because the only hand hold is low behind one's saddle, leaving much of the work of gripping to the seat of the pants, as it were. I put on the inadequately fastened passenger helmet, mount, and hope for the best. Just as we are about to take off Emmanuel, whose driver has loaded the suitcase up front, extends a hand. 'Grandmother,' he says, 'Give me that bag.'

The walk to the church and school this morning after last night's heavy rain is torture. I have my respectable teacher's shoes on my feet and my sandals in my backpack ready for gardening. Antoine leads the way, along first a tarmacked road, then well beaten dirt, then by degrees increasingly slithery and sticky mud. If I had known I would have changed my footwear at the beginning, but now it is too late: there is no way I can open my rucksack without putting it down, extract my sandals, change my shoes, and put the muddy ones back in a plastic bag in the rucksack. I am lagging further and further behind Antoine, the mud sucking at my shoes and frequently pulling them off my heels. Tiny steps feel safest but the hummocks of solid mud between the puddles of slop are not closely spaced.

Ten minutes or so later, we arrive at the school gate, beside the church. There are two shoe scrapers, both clogged with mud right up to the top. (When we were here two years ago Mark or Demi would have commandeered a spade and restored function.) The mud protrudes from the front and sides of my shoes; clinging under one heel is a large clump of vegetation. I try to scrape one foot at a time along the side of the drain in front of the headmaster's office, but my rucksack is quite heavy and I fear losing my balance together with what remains of my dignity.

Emmanuel is among the small clump of onlookers. We all greet each other – no degree of discomfort precludes that. I am told to come inside, muddy as I am. I change into my sturdy if inelegant sandals and my shoes are taken away to be cleaned. Five minutes later the morning's formalities are over and I leave with Tertullian for the short walk to the teaching room for the women's group. As I emerge Emmanuel considers my feet. 'Grandmother,' he says in what might be a teasing tone, 'Those are not the shoes for a teacher.'

Caption: On Weds the lane still loads my sandals with mud. A kind workshop participant washes them with soap and water.

At the end of the morning's teaching the women and I walk to Tertullian the pastor's house. The lunch arrangement has been changed again, I note. Thunder is rolling but only a light drizzle has fallen. By the time my class of teachers for the afternoon session arrives to join the group for lunch, a burst of heavy rain has been replaced by something lighter but steady. I am sitting next to James, a young teacher of accounting, brought in to make up the numbers because not enough science teachers want to take part in my two classes. We chat. At the end of the meal there are introductions again – the teachers and the women don't all know each other – then a few words from me. James is asked to translate and does it pretty well. Tertullian invites us to wait for the rain to let up before the 5 minute walk back to school, but after half an hour it is decided that the rain has set in so we'll just have to get a bit wet. I produce my umbrella and get a round of applause.

Walking back to school is not bad in my stout sandals. The one woman among the group of teachers slithers in her light sandals before changing into something plastic and more serviceable. Two of the men tuck their trouser bottoms into their socks.

At the end of the discussion class an hour later the rain is still persistent. It is time to make my way back to the lodging. Antoine and I have agreed to meet there instead of waiting for each other at school. I have noted the name of the place, and I ask the departing group if somebody can point me in the direction of the short cut Antoine mentioned in the morning. James volunteers to set me on my way. I observe that both he and Tertullian have wellington boots. We retrace the morning's steps, from the worst mud to the less threatening. At least my sandals stay on my feet.

We turn to take the short cut. At first it seems no worse than anything else, until round a bend there is a steep descent. James firmly seizes my wrist. I slither and he checks me. Back on level ground he points out the roof of Umucyo Lodge and Bar, our destination. But the lane has become a path, and so steeply descending I don't know if I can manage at all. Again he holds me in a firm grip. At one point we edge sideways along a domed ridge around the top of an enormous puddle. Young women coming in the other direction laugh at the sight of the poor bedraggled muzungu. Going up wouldn't be so bad, I think.

After a few more slithery yards we come to the relative security of a flight of uneven steps, running with water which at least washes off the worst of the mud. We turn onto the road and James delivers me to the gate. I offer to buy him a drink but he has to go. Perhaps tomorrow?

Thank you, James. Thank you for your youth and strength, your local knowledge, and your thick-soled wellington boots. I hope it won't be quite as wet tomorrow.

In Kamembe

Written on Monday evening 15 Feb

A new bedroom, a new set of plusses and minuses.

The plusses: an electric socket in the bedroom and another in the bathroom, both working (except during power cuts), so I can charge both laptop and camera batteries; a light strong enough to read by (and they moved me from the room down the corridor where the light only stayed on if you kept pulling the switch cord); two pillows (I brought the second one from the abandoned room); a couple of hours to myself before it's time to sleep. The big minus: the water tub is empty, the tap is dry and it's raining far too heavily to negotiate the steps and courtyards btween here and reception. I have drinking water so I can clean my teeth – washing and flushing must wait.

Most of today has been spent on the bus between Kigali and Cyangugu, in the south west corner of the country, with DRC on the other side of the river outlet from Lake Kivu. Antoine, who is now superintendent of the 4 Friends Schools, has brought me and made the introductions. We shall breakfast and sup together but otherwise go our separate ways. I have met my two organisers – one from the church to accompany me and translate for the two women's groups in the mornings – Tues-Weds and Thurs-Fri – and the head from the school who is drafting 8 teachers – preferably of science subjects – for afternoon sessions on Tues and Weds. Photocopies have been made of Anne's sheet on childhood diarrhoea, which was very well reeived last time at CGFK. Tertullian, my translator, has taken the bag garden diagramme overnight to make sure he can assemble all the materials I shall need.

And we've done the budget – quite an achievement. Josephine, the Freinds Peace House accountant, has given Antoine a bundle of cash but it turns out to be less than we need. It will be the middle of next week before I can see J to sort out the discrepancy. Meanwhile we make the best of what we have. Arrangements for mid morning snacks and lunches have not been made. We consider using the services of the restaurant at the hotel but by the time we've added in extra for transporting the food and considered the mediocre quality of our supper it's decided to use the school kitchen, with the added benefit that there will be fruit with lunch. That's all for Tues and Weds; on Thurs and Friday the women's group is at an outlying church and they will provide the lunch themselves (so the cash will have to be got to them to buy ingredients).

I have fetched pen and paper. Writing and counting in a mixture of French and English, handling input from 5 voluble men, and still getting confused over the number of zeros on everything (1,000 Rwandan francs is just over £1), I do a less than perfect job, though the discrepancy that needs sorting out is under £5. Antoine's bundle contributes 145,000 rwf; I add 23,000 from my personal money, to be squared with Josephine later. My hotel room is ridiculously cheap by Kigali standards, at 5,000 rwf per night. The programme budget is not going to be over-stretched.

It's still raining. I shall clean my teeth, spread the mosquito net, and relax with a book of short stories by Uwem Akpan, a Nigerian Jesuit priest the blurb tells me, borrowed from Ruth and Krystan, the Canadians to whom I bequeath my spare books.

The view over Lake Kivu to DRC from outside our lodging

Sunday, 14 February 2010

After my own heart

Written and posted on Sunday 14th

The wife of the newly appointed pastor in Byumba, Yvette Marcelline, is the star of the class from October. It is to their garden that we repaired on Thursday and Friday to construct a keyhole garden. When I asked for compost it came – and nearly free of rubish. As we heaped the soil round the central basket Francois-Xavier, the pastor (and HROC facilitator) suggested cow manure, and that too arrived by the bagful. 'That could be enough', I suggested after 4 or 5 bags had been emptied. 'We have plenty,' he said.

Would they show me where the manure was coming from? They led me round the back of the outhouse, through a low gateway where we had to duck, and onto a small area of compost heaps - turned and new; manure heaps and a pool of black liquid; 3 storey planting of beans, cassava and fruit trees; senna branches with pods, to keep the cows healthy; a glorious view of the hills beyond. Then to the cowshed. Was that a native breed? No, she's a jersey, and we have 3 more out at pasture. (It was her slim build that misled me.) As we completed the circuit F-X showed me the wood stove with a chimney vent to protect the cook from smoke inhalation, and then his newest pride and joy – an avocado plant about a foot high, twice grafted, from which he hopes to get 3 varieties.

When I was doing VSO in Singapore in the mid 60s, travelling between school terms to Borneo, Thailand and Cambodia, I found myself frequently taking pictures of plants and cultivation to send home for my father. (The slides have faded badly: how will today's digital records fare?) In his childhood in Edwardian London he knew hunger. It was from him that I learnt about grafting fruit trees – not something I've yet tried for myself. Is it from his influence that I am doing this work now, encouraging sustainable cultivation and better nutrition? I'm certainly no expert. I wish I could find the way to recruit some volunteers withbettr knowledge and training. Meanwhile I offer what I can; I genuinely protest that there is much my Rwandan students understand far bettter than I do about their soil, their climate, their plant varieties. It was not a reasoned decision that brought me here: I am following a path with heart.

[pics to follow]

After the break

After the break, back to work with a vengeance.

It's now Thursday evening, 11 Feb, and I'm in the Anglican guest house in Byumba, chosen in preference to going back to Kigali by bus this evening and out again tomorrow morning, an hour and a half's ride each time. The evening meal is billed to start at 7.30 but it's now 7.55 and the dishes are not yet being lined up for the buffet service. Fortunately I can see from my room so I don't have to keep going to look.

This morning was the start of my fourth group in as many days. On Monday and Tuesday mornings I constructed a keyhole garden with the workers (ground staff) from CGFK, working in French with Antoine as my translator; in the afternoons I worked with a group of 8 CGFK teachers in English, discussing nutrition and development; yesterday I had a day with 15 women from Kagarama who had worked with me before but not all in the same group, with good English translation from Joyce, whom I first met two years ago; today it was pretty much the same group of 15 at Byumba as in October, but working in French not English. (Bonheur is in South Africa. My translator here is Eugene, who was the pastor here in October but has now gone to take charge of all the training work at Friends Peace House in Kigali: he is stopped every few yards in the street by people wanting to greet him.)

Keyhole gardens - so called because the footprint is like an old-fashioned keyhole, with a pathway to a circular compost basket in the centre - are fairly common here. I've seen some very productive ones, and some that look OK from a distance but are missing either the enriched soil or the essential central compost basket. I'm told the government is promoting their construction and that people avoid possible trouble by constructing something that looks right even if the principles have not been grasped.

At CGFK you might say we were denying the essential principle by putting our construction in an already productive vegetable patch, but I told the group they were learning the technique so they could apply it elsewhere. Similarly today in Byumba we worked in an already well-tended garden, with a good collection of sacks established since October. But I don't have time to coax a group to assemble materials and make progress in a difficult location, and people are constantly assuring me that what I teach is passed on. All I can do is trust.

Caption 1: the CGFK workers begin to heap soil round the compost basket.

At 8.25 the young man from reception knocks on my door. 'The meal is ready now.' 'Thank you but I've decided not to eat this evening.' (Fortunately I was not able to pay in advance because there was no change.) Really I don't need another meal and I could do with the sleep. I do hope breakfast is ready in the morning early enough for me to get some before leaving for an 8 am start.

Caption 2: I demonstrate how to strengthen the basket with string. Behind us is the productive garden, with local greens I have yet to identify.

[CGFK is the College George Fox a Kagarama, one of 4 Friends Schools in Rwanda. Sorry, but I can't do accents. Kagarama is a suburb of Kigali, the base for the Friends Church.]

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Kigali genocide memorial

Two British brothers who were profoundly moved by Yad Vashem, the genocide memorial in Jerusalem, as I had been in 1964, founded the Aegis Trust, to enable the creation of this memorial on the edge of Kigali. I knew I had to visit. The information is no longer new to me – how the Belgian colonisers fixed the previously fluid categories of Hutu and Tutsi; how having ruled through the Tutsi minority they started promoting Hutu in the last years before independence; how violence kept breaking out; how the genocide flared in April 1994 and the international community did nothing to stop it, even withdrawing UN forces after evacuating the white people...

Beginning with the outside part of the memorial, as recommended, after walking around and between the mass graves where new bodies are still being interred, I visited a series of gardens. At first I thought them simplistic but now in retrospect their simplicity creates thoughtfulness without analysis.

Inside I read every word in English, watched every video clip, looked at every photo. I wasn't hassled out into the rain at closing time but given a few extra minutes. The final section presents other genocides throughout the twentieth century in Namibia (the Herero people), Armenia, Germany, Bosnia... What is there to say? 'Never again'? If only!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Business and pleasure

Writen on Friday evening, 5 Feb

Friday morning
I spend a couple of hours at Friends Peace House. My first task is explaining what will be needed for follow-on workshops where I'm hoping the groups will construct a keyhole garden. I was delighted yesterday to see some very healthy bag gardens. (To the left: onions and kale; above: tomatoes, parsley and Rwandan spinach, all in the school and church grounds.) I am reasonably confident that what I start will be continued – a necessary condition for even short-lived success since the planting can't be done till the soil has settled for a week or two, by which time I will have moved on.

Then there is the budget negotiation. For the first time I am an active participant. In October I was present but the 'owners' of the various groups, working in Kinyarwanda which I couldn't follow, shared out the total I had brought, and when I later saw the accounts each event had cost exactly 100,000 or 150,000 Rwandan francs as budgeted, though some involved travelling and/or translation and others didn't. David has suggested using exact figures for costings this time, as is done for HROC events, which are also funded by AGLI.

This time the programme money, from UK and US donors, has already been sent by AGLI to Josephine, the Friends Peace House accountant. It is almost exactly the same amount as I brought last time. I am prepared to top it up if necessary, rather than trim my schedule, but I'd like to see the figures first.

To work, then. Yesterday David asked how many participants I thought there should be at each event. Already the phoning round has begun, alerting local organisers to how many to recruit. We establish a daily price for meals and 'tea breaks' at each location (dearer in Kigali) and arrive at an exact sum for participants' food – a major item at each event. We add my food, travel and out-of-town accommodation; communication (by phone); translators' fees, food etc; seeds. I say we don't need to provide notebooks and pens for the small amount of optional note taking. I am surprised and relieved to see the interim total is comfortably within budget, though some of the travel and accommodation costs for later weeks are not yet known. If necessary the budget will stretch to buying sacks or other materials, and paying for some photocopying. It might cover a private taxi into town for an early bus a couple of times. There is even a small contingency fund, in dollars not yet converted.

At the evaluation meeting at the end of my last visit, I asked to be more of a participant in decisions being made concerning my work. I feel pleased that has happened over the budget as well as over my schedule. Good.

We finish at noon. Regular readers will remember how much of my time and energy has been taken up on previous visits by struggles to get enough internet time. There is a new phone and internet provider in Rwanda whose prices are said to be very reasonable; I decide to buy a modem/dongle for my netbook, and put an end to using other people's computers and office space.

Jean Baptiste, a young yearly meeting employee, whom I also know as choir leader at Gasharu Church, is released from other duties for an hour or two to accompany me to the shop where I shall get set up. He is happily using Tigo, the new provider, and his office netbook is almost identical to mine.

I buy the modem, which plugs neatly into a USB port. Baptiste almost doesn't want to wait to load it but I say I shall be happier doing it where help is available if needed. Connection should happen automatically and in seconds. But it doesn't. The first assistant has no success trouble-shooting and turns to a colleague who has no success either and phones a boss who will be there in 20 minutes. Baptiste gives his phone number to the assistant and we go to look for something to drink, at least. It is now 1.30. We try to order a quick lunch, but anything will take at least 40 minutes so we make do with a cold drink.

The boss arrives on time, and goes ever deeper into the Linux operating system. Meanwhile I read the user guide, which mentions Mac and otherwise assumes Windows. I am advised to install some Linux updates, which I can't do here because I'm not connected! The two big supermarkets in town have free internet access. The deal is that I'll take the modem and go and try to do what has been suggested. If it doesn't work they'll give me my money back. The netbook battery is down to 40%.

Jean Baptiste phones David Bucura, his boss, and gets permission to accompany me. This is nice, though not strictly necessary as I am confident of every bit of the process apart from finding the bus boarding point to get back to Tigo if I have to. We get to Simba Supermarket at 3.30. I offer to buy us both lunch. Baptiste has been here before several times, and has been introduced to the beefburger. I learn that he is a theology graduate from Kampala, which explains his good English.

I am given the internet password, and google as instructed. Now what? There are discussions of named updates, descriptions of updates to come, theoretical articles about updating... But where is the item that says 'Click here to update your Linux'? I hunt, Baptiste hunts. My battery is getting lower. Food comes. Enough!

Baptiste's phone rings: it's his father, who is not often in Kigali and is hoping to see him, having sought him in vain at the church office. We've done all the work we can, so we invite him to join us. He turns out to be a long-time colleague of David B, from when Friends first came to Rwanda 20 years ago and the yearly meeting was established. I buy him a drink. Baptiste gently mentions that his father has had no lunch; I invite him to eat and Baptise encourages him to try a beefburger. While we wait for the food, he asks about my work. Fortunately I thinned the images on my camera card last night, so I am able to show a brief selection from Burundi, including some bag garden classics of hands around sacks. Father and son are delighted to see pictures of the new church construction as well. Friends here admire the pioneering work of Burundi Friends, the first church to move into war-torn Kamenge. They are pleased to hear that David Nyonzima is still pastor there.

At 4.30 Jean Baptiste's father has eaten his beefburger and chips and smilingly shows off his empty plate – he has passed the test! With distinction, I add. He sets off across the road for his bus home to Ruhengeri. I shall go back to Tigo. Baptiste has choir practice at 5 but he does have time to help me find the right bus – not where he had expected. I get my refund and directions for the 10 minute walk to Remera bus garage, where I learnt from Rachel two days ago how to get home.

I pick my way down the rutted lane, now nearly dry. I walk into the house just after 6pm. No modem, but a thoroughly pleasant 6 hours nonetheless.

Rain and roads

Written on Friday morning, 5 Feb

The heatwave is over. Yesterday at the end of the afternoon it poured with rain as David and I were in his car. The window on the passenger side is stuck half open and he hasn't got round to having it fixed. (The practical priority at the moment is getting a couple of doors re-hung in the house. Yesterday morning he fetched the workman and took him to the house, but the electricity was out and the man now depends on power tools.) For most of the journey it wasn't too bad, then we changed direction. My waterproof jacket was at home but I had an umbrella. Opened inside the window it didn't d0 a bad job.

David and his nine-year-old daughter Dina were about to set off for a keep fit class at his church, offered on Thursday evenings at present by one of the church members who is a PE teacher. But the rain cam back even heavier. Going was pointless, as nobody would be able to get there. It rained for several hours.

This morning it's overcast and damp but not actively raining. The temperature has dropped by about 15 degrees C I would think. After last night's scouring the lane from D's house up to the metalled road is patterned with deep gulleys. I comment that I wouldn't like to be driving here. 'Oh', says David.'Is it the roads?'

I take the opportunity to fill in my background understanding of how things work here. Who is responsible for the lane, I ask. We are, says D. 'We' is a group of around 30 neighbouring households, the smallest unit of lcal government. The leader is elected but not paid (and that can lead to petty corruption). No, there are not a lot of candidates – as at home, I say. There are monthly meetings to which D usually sends his house worker, Jean de Dieu; he thinks that the last time he went himself was 4 or 5 months ago.

I know that the last Saturday of every month has a few morning hours designated for community work. (In Bujumbura, with a similar system, I could get a cup of coffee at breakfast time only because the cafe staff knew me and took pity on my ignorance.) Would the neighbours get together to patch the lane? Yes, eventually: it's already nearly too bad to ignore. How often does it get patched? About twice a year.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Back in Kigali

Weds evening, 3 Feb

Leaving Bujumbura on a hideously expensive 30 minute flight yesterday, I was looking forward to a more comfortable temperature in Kigali. Not for long: the pilot cheerfully told us it was 32C at 5.30 in the evening. It's not just that I have left Britain in winter: everybody is remarking on the heat and here they are saying it must be climate change. I tried the term 'climate chaos', which I now prefer, on Rachel, my hostess (David Bucura's wife) and she didn't demur.

I slept for more than 10 hours in a quiet house where even the dog barked quietly when something moved in the night. Then after breakfast David presented an outline programme, to be firmed up tomorrow. He is responsible for the work with the women's and church groups, Antoine for the school contacts. (Antoine is no longer the head of the Friends School here in Kigali at Kagarama but has been promoted to superintendent of all 4 Friends schools in the country. I expect to be visiting 3 of them.)

Rachel leaves tomorrow for Nairobi, where she has 4 more months to complete her masters in counselling. We went into town together. The bus journey requires one big bus or two little ones. Fortunately for me we got on a little one, so I could learn how to change over in Remera bus station. I wrote down the name of our stop: Chapere, and the name of the district to check with the driver: Samuduha. I have no memory for meaningless words. On our return we get off the bus beside a little church, whose board says 'chapelle'.

We both changed money; I went seed shopping, while Rachel bought her bus ticket for tomorrow. (The journey takes 24 hours but flights are just too expensive.) The local seed company, Agrotech, had a much better selection than previously, including several herbs, which had seemed almost unknown. (It's om my schedule to se about making a demonstration herb garden.) Another innovation was a computerised system which gave me a printed list of all 18 kinds of seed instead of a hand-written scrap with a bare total. The Kenya Seed Company, a few shops further down, had some of the same staples and a few additions: a second variety of tomato, chard, kale (known here as sukumawiki – the Swahili name usually translated as collards), and spinach – especially useful for the sides of the planted sack which is my first project with every group. I have packed up samples for Burundi, where the choice was very limited, and will ask the church office to find somebody to take them to Alex – contact between the two yearly meetings is frequent.

I see more multi-storey buildings going up each time I come here, though many remain unfinished. Very pleasing to me is the increase in size and number of street trees, though most don't yet cast deep shade. Town was very crowded, and Rachel said the extra people were students preparing to return to school. All the schools have been closed for an extra month at the end of the long holiday while the teachers have training for teaching in English. A month is certainly better than nothing.

I didn't take my camera into town, and I didn't see anything I would have liked to capture. I was sorry, however, not to have had it when I went for supper with Alex on my last evening in Bujumbura. Hearing that I had not seen the lake other than from the aeroplane, she took me a few hundred yards from the house she shares with the two QPSW workers to a place called the Sunset Bar but nicknamed the hippo hole. There we sat sharing a drink, counting three solid dark shapes in the water as the light faded and glad of the protective netting even if it did mar the view.