Saturday, 12 November 2011

Making links - part two

Written Saturday 12th about Tuesday 8th

I confessed to nervousness at the beginning of my teaching day with three pastors and wives (Augustin and Gaudence, Jean Paul and Immaculee from Kanombe, Brad and Chelsea) plus Verena from Kamembe and Dave Thomas, whose spouses were not able to be there. Once I began, however, after the usual formal opening from Augustin, the atmosphere lightened and we were all at ease. Dave commented during the first break that Friends have this gift for easily helping each other out - on this case with translation of thoelogical or horticultural vocabulary. Brad was my official translator and his Kinyarwanda is said to be good, but I noticed he and Dave were making notes of vocabulary supplied by the others.

Everybody had either attended one of my workshops or seen sacks planted by others, so we were able quickly to start on feedback and analysis - so helpful I wished I'd had it earlier.

Jean Paul had taken responsibility for watering their sack because his wife left early to teach, then was saddened when local children pulled out the plants. I said that at the Fds primary school at Kagarama the sacks were undisturbed, leading to an outburst from Immaculee about the differences in discipline and staffing ratios between children at Fds schools and ordinary state schools. (Now where have I heard that before?) Immaculee added that most women said Elizabeth's sacks were only for rich people because you have to pay for water for them. I'm sure I had said, as I always do, that it was better to use 'grey' water from the kitchen, but it's useful to know that needs stressing more.

Verena, who has probably the most productive sacks of anybody I've seen, said she was only able to use my teaching because her mind had been prepared by D4D. She leapt at the suggestion of using previously unproductive space in her yard - there was still room for the children to play - and now supplied greens to several local restaurants as well as eating variety every day. But when she went round visiting the group of 15 who had my training two years ago, nobody else was persisting. Gradually she was persuading others to try again.

As we discussed the detailed elements of construction, she leaned forward to reach the sack I'd laid out on the coffee table, to illustrate her modification. She was finding that water was not reaching the lowest layers, because soil had got into the column of stones. (Now I know I always model covering the tube of stones while filling the surround with soil, but perhaps I hadn't also said it.) She had experimented with cutting open the bottom of the sack so rain water falling around could be drawn into the dry soil, and also using the plastic tube (bottle) to funnel water directly to the base of the sack. We considered her modification and concluded that in the most arid areas opening the bottom of the sack could do more harm than good, allowing precious water out into the surrounding unplanted soil.

Asked whether a sack could be replanted after the first harvest, I offered the recipe for plant 'tea', made by steeping different kinds of leaves in water - or a mixture of one part urine and two parts water - to boost the fertility of the soil in the sack. I teach this plant tea a lot now (and use it on my allotment at home), and show photos of recommended plants, all taken in Rwanda. Jean Paul and Augustin, who had not heard this lesson before, started to giggle at the mention of urine. I knew Gaudence had been troubled by scorching of some young plants when she'd tried the tea on everything in her garden, so I asked her to tell us what had happened. Was the urine too concentrated, asked Dave, who had learnt a rule of thumb of one part urine to ten of water for direct application. Even though the eventual concentration after dilution is one to six, I agreed it might be too strong for seedlings. Gaudence said everything except the trees had been scorched, though all had recovered.

'Did you use urine?' I asked. 'I won't answer that directly, but I followed your lesson', she replied. 'I didn't know you were doing that', said Augustin. 'Well, you don't know everything!'

In the car the previous day, Dave had said how he was looking forward to groups being ready for him to offer lessons on nutrition, reforestation and the long-term superiority of organic fertilisers - the latter unnecessary in the early days because nobody had money for 'bag' fertiliser, so it would have been pointless to warn of the dangers.

In the afternoon of our day together, I divided the participants into two groups to work through material on nutrition in English and Kinyarwanda. The task was to decide how to make this information accessible through lively teaching. Nobody came up with an opening gambit or a way of dividing the material. Instead, conversation veered onto how it would be better first to make sure one's own children understood the good they were doing themselves by eating a varied diet rich in fruit and vegetables. I realised this modelled the process at the beginning of D4D, when the trainers had first to internalise the teaching and philosophy before taking it out to others.

By the end of the two days, many links - personal and theoretical - had been strengthened. Nervousness on both sides had been dispelled, I think. This group of pastors didn't seem to be having any difficuly engaging with ideas for living better in this world. Heaven was never mentioned. Our theological frameworks will continue to differ. And that's OK.

Sorry there are no photos to enliven this posting. I'm hoping to give you some stunning scenery before the end of the day, when I leave Rwanda until next February.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Making links - part one

Last year Augustin started suggesting that Growing Together and Discipling for Development (D4D) should co-operate. I was interested but unsure. I had been hearing good reports of D4D but I didn't want to be co-opted into a missionary project. When it was time to make suggestions for my work on this visit, I tentatively put on my list a meeting with D4D. It appeared on my schedule. I was much relieved to hear that 'discipling' is taken to mean much the same as mentoring, and not scolding or forcing into line.

Proposals for our time together went through several revisions. First I was to work with a new church group of 20 plus 10 D4D trainers for two days. I said that would make for a difficult group - too large and too varied in experience. So the plan was modified: two days with around 16 trainers. Then, as I mentioned to Augustin that I needed to start my detailed preparation well ahead of delivery time because I would be too busy in between, he said the re-revised plan was for one day training 10 or 12 trainers and spouses and one day visiting a church where D4D is operating. I asked to have the visit before the training day, so I could learn more about the group and its aims.

Monday was the day for the visit. Four of us went: Augustin, Dave Thomas (Evangelical Friends Church missionary from Oregon, here with his wife Debby and 4 children since about 1998) and Brad Carpenter (younger and more recent Fds Ch missionary, married to Chelsea for about 3 years). Brad drove and I rode in the front with him. This was the best opportunity I'd had to talk with Brad and Dave. I was encouraged by their openness and somewhat intimidated by the remarkable success of D4D, brought from Uganda by Debby Thomas, Augustin and 2 more pastors in 2008.

I hadn't realised how recent in this part of the world is the movement towards holistic church life, as opposed to winning and caring for souls and letting bodies fend for themselves. David Bucura tells how when he started cultivating the land behind his house he was chastised as a pastor for wasting God's precious time. There seems to have been a significant shift, both on the ground and among funding and mentoring agencies in the evangelical churches in the USA, just in the last few years.

I met an enthusiastic youngish church leader, Jean de Dieu, - not yet a full pastor - and several members. I found the stories remarkable.

Jean de Dieu used to be always at the main Friends church at Kagarama, begging for handouts for his family and lamenting the poverty of people in his little church. Then he heard about D4D and pleaded for his community to be one of the first trial groups. Soon after starting to think differently about his life, he picked up handfuls of small cassava plants discarded by the local population, who had been forced to take them but wouldn't plant a new variety; soon he was selling to his neighbours. Next he dried and saved seed from an unusual variety of tomato and raised a fine crop. Now he can afford to build a greenhouse to extend the fruiting season next year.

Next we visited Claude, in his newly extended and plastered house. Brad, who is the most frequent visitor, was surprised by the glazed window and door - done in the last couple of weeks. Asked to tell us the main changes in his life since D4D, he had plenty to say. He started reading the New Testament - I didn't understand how it arrived on his table but it did - was befriended by the pastor of the bigger Fds Church nearby, and became a church member. His first change was to start being open to advice and making plans. Then he began co-operating with his wife and making joint decisions instead of leading largely separate lives. (We later heard from a man who said he used not to see any poinjt in talking with his wife: she always thought differently from him and nobody would pay him for time spent talking things over. Now they listen to each other's views and make better decisions.) Claude's experience was that if he worked with God to accomplish whatever was before him, then the next vision would be granted. In the photo he is standing with his wife and three children - no baby on the way despite much teasing! - next to the water tap recently installed outside his back door. He used to sell water in the market place (presumably as an employee of the water company) but never dreamed of having the money to get his own tap. Claude with his family, with outbuildings behind - the house is much smarter

Others were also eager to tell their stories. Agnes had her sewing machine stolen by a thief who dug through the house wall, but instead of despairing she borrowed money for a replacement and has easily paid back the loan by taking her machine to the village centre on market days and getting commissions. Another Jean de Dieu said he used to work really hard but with very little result. Now he worked smarter and planned step by step his banana yield had more than trebled. Bosco, who described his former self as number one on the list of village paupers, was proudly wearing a World Vision shirt, and is employed by this larger charity for a year teaching the making of kitchen gardens.

Then we went to the church where others were gathered. Augustin asked them to confine their testimonies to one item each, and not to repeat what another had focussed on. For the most part they managed to be brief. (As it was, we didn't get lunch till 3.30 on the way back to town.) Ezira learnt through D4D that what she already had in knowledge and skills was important and now she values and uses it. Madeline has learnt better farming techniques and can now pay health insurance for all her family when previously she'd assumed the only way they would get it would be if somebody else paid. Jacqueline now has a kitchen garden, well fertilised and mulched, instead of running from one place to another to get ingredients for meals. Epiphanie had two points she had to make - that she'd learnt the importance of having loving relationships and that keeping bees had much increased the yields of her crops. Josiane had learnt about oral rehydration after diarrhoea for her children, and the importance of going promptly to the doctor if they didn't get bettter quickly. Theogene, who used to merely stay alive without getting anywhere, had learnt the benefit of planning. Esterie had learned the importance of sanitation and cleanliness.

Lively teaching techniques, an enthusiastic core of participants, mentoring at every level, always consulting the group on what they think they need to learn next... these seem to be crucial. If you want to know more, watch the video clip on the D4D website.

Part 2 will be about my day with the trainers.

Sunday, 6 November 2011


For the third village visit, on Saturday, we met our guides at the same point as two days earlier, and walked a few hundred yards up on the opposite side of the road. The scene surprised me. Last year's small, scattered huts had all been swept away, replaced by rows of houses, identical in area and spacing, though varying considerably in style and degree of finish. Looking down between two rows of houses towards Ruhengeri at the foot of the hills
The government is implementing its national policy of every dwelling being roofed with tin or tiles by donating sheet metal then demolishing the old homes. Only roofing is supplied. Despite the presence of a friendly, helpful local official answering my questions, I didn't manage to work out what happens to a household's clothes and other belongings before the new roof is raised. He said that finding materials and the means to pay for them caused a lot of problems.
This house, like many, had a small internal area screened with plastic sheeting, presumably for sleeping.

House plots are allocated without consultation. Mixing Batwa and others is seen to be a good thing, though I suspect they inhabit separate social space.

Each plot has a small amount of cultivable land – 25 square metres plus a narrow border round the house. Composting toilets are being constructed, to be shared between neighbours. Both these features improve on what has been replaced.

Three people had volunteered to show me what they were growing. Two had small circular 'kitchen gardens' and one in addition had mushrooms in one section of her unfinished house. The third, Agnes, was the star. Using only seeds saved from my donation last year or collected from her own plantings before the removal, she had squashes and gourds climbing over a framework to shade her compost heap, beans for drying and beans for eating green, five car tyre beds of African greens, a patch of spinach beet and some raised beds of potatoes and maize. There was even a tomato growing against the side of the house.

We sat on a low bench, facing the assembled class. When the official (above, left) arrived and the formal greetings and introductions were over, Solange asked the group how they were finding their new homes. Some complained that the local soil wouldn't stick between the wooden uprights but just crumbled away. She challenged mutters about the rich people who could afford doors and windows. People get money for those things from working, she said. The official pointed out that they were sitting on a nicely regular edging of rocks, collected and mortared into place by the labour of Agnes and her family with some paid help. If you want a door, he said, find out how much it costs then save the money.

Encouraging saving is seen as a priority. Associations - of work colleagues, neighbours or church members, for example -are formed to save jointly and award a grant or loan to each member in turn. The Twa have no recent experience of working co-operatively; cooking together was a novelty. We suggested that if four or five worked on preparing one person's land for planting, and perhaps constructed a new sack garden, then the group could move on until each had been helped. They would need to keep remembering the lesson of the tree of trust. It would be hard to get in the habit of working regularly and forgiving each other's failings, but it would get easier. Would they give it a try for two weeks, perhaps?

Over cold drinks in a little bar, waiting for the bus back to town, Solange, Rachel and I plotted where the work could go next, without further input from me. Solange, who has the most experience with Batwa, said that regular visits for encouragement and reminders were essential. This particular village was well served by its local official and he could be an ally. It would be important not to take too long deciding on the next steps – already some recently resettled Batwa, with no tradition of growing food, had sold their small plots to neighbours, repeating the behaviour of their grandparents in the 1970s and 80s, when living in the forests was first prohibited.

Solange would be keen to take this work forward. Rachel said she'd like to be involved as well. Although she is trying to develop a career in counselling it's almost impossible to find ways of paying for the most needy to get the help that would benefit them and society as a whole.

We discussed putting together a project proposal. The main cost would be the transport and accommodation for the trainers. I said that Growing Together would be sympathetic to such a project and that for the moment I am entrusted with the decision making. I have been close to tears, saying goodbye to these damaged and beautiful people. I hope the little I have been able to do will sow seeds for more purposeful and satisfying lives.

Friday, 4 November 2011


Written Thursday evening Posted Friday morning now there is enough internet signal.

By 2.30 today we have finished our day's work and had lunch.

It's not that we've been slacking – just that there weren't many sack gardens remaining for us to look at when we went up to the Twa village this morning. As the government resettles people out of round huts with grass roofs into small rectangular houses with tin ones, they leave their sacks behind. The essential concept of getting a new sack ready for successional planting has not yet been grasped.

The three of us can do only a little teaching each, before concentration wanes and group members wander off. Solange focuses on how there is some government help available for such necessities as a grant for school uniform, but you have to apply. Rachel emphasises the value of joining a cooperative, as a few have already done; this provides an opportunity to work with other Rwandans, countering the stereotype of laziness and dishonesty, and gives access to savings schemes where even tiny amounts accumulate. I revise the teaching on the benefits of a sack garden, so these group members can teach others, Twa and non-Twa, possibly getting paid and certainly developing the trust that might result in renting a little land for joint cultivation.

Two members of this group have already earned money by teaching. Joseph, who took part in advanced HROC training earlier this year, has been employed to teach about trauma healing. Beatrice, who also went on the HROC training, can read and write and gets paid to teach others. Beatrice and baby sitting 'in class' in dappled shade
(I notice she is wearing a new dress, and her baby boy has a top made out of the remaining fabric. When I asked Solange yesterday what changes she has noticed since starting to work with Batwa, she said the first thing is that they wash themselves and their clothes.)

Finally I give out the seeds I have bought in Ruhengeri, less than 10 miles away. This is my last visit, I repeat. There will be no more seeds from me. I suggest planting a few of each variety specifically for seed production in a protected patch of ground. Also they could club together to send one person into town by bus to buy for others. (A few varieties can be bought more locally, but at double the town price. Walking into town and back is also something they do occasionally.) Cooperation is one of our constant themes and we have been told how when somebody's crop is stolen others rally round to help heal the trauma with listening and food sharing. Joseph takes charge of the seeds and gives me the list of participants
Solange has been repeating the lesson that their grievances won't be resolved by sitting around waiting for handouts. I finish by suggesting that if they can agree on a particular project – such as renting a little land and planting enough to sell as well as eat – Solange and others can help them write a project proposal. I think, but don't say, that this is the kind of work Growing Together might support when I finish. As we wait for the moto drivers to collect us, Sabyinyo (the sabre-toothed extinct volcano) is too lovely to leave unphotographed

Over a nice lunch in Ruhengeri, affordable within the budget because we haven't been needing evening meals, only tea and fruit, Rachel comments that all the funders keep changing priorities and criteria. Peace and reconciliation are out of fashion, she says, though they're needed as much as ever. Development is the new focus. Everything is a project now. The countryside is littered with thousands of buildings labelled as projects with nothing going on inside. It would be better to use them as houses.

Back at our lodging, I joke that perhaps we could go to the cinema or something, to fill the rest of the day. Rachel proposes a visit.

A few hundred yards up the road is a project supporting women with HIV/Aids. Two of the four workers are there, though the little factory is silent. It's a mill for maize, where farmers can pay to have their own crop ground, or customers can buy flour or husks to feed to goats and chickens. Grain is washed in a shallow trough then dried and husked in the hopper
The manager has gone to Kigali for a meeting. It's a modest project. From the descriptive board,locked in the store room instead of out by the roadside, I deduce that it has twin aims of providing a little employment and raising funds for the other aspects of the work. I comment on the tip tap outside the toilet; I've been seeing very little hand washing recently. It is apparently a government requirement for certification. Remember, Rachel says, how particular they are. Think of the church's problems with the moringa project. Ah, yes.

Behind the walled compound is a small plot, with a splendid circular cistern. They plan a greenhouse here, Rachel says. One will last for five years. I ask what you would grow in a greenhouse. The soil and the climate are so good here - potatoes and bananas, maize and pineapples, carrots and cabbages and much else grow all year. Tomatoes, she says. it's true that the tomatoes here are disappointing in taste and texture. Peotecting them from the torrential rain would be a good project.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Cooking with the Twa

Written on Tuesday 1 Nov about Monday 31 Oct

This wasn't my idea, but Rachel's. They can learn lots of new things, she said. And they did. On day two we could focus more directly on skills for growing and selling vegetables.

Having arranged with the pastor's wife at Musanze Friends Church, where I worked with these students a year ago, that we could use her kitchen facilities, we also consulted her on shopping for the venture. First she came out to meet us by the roadside between our lodging and the road up to the church. After a lot of inspecting and rejecting, we ended with several bunches of carrots, two large white cabbages, plenty of dodo, 15 kilos of potatoes (carried by the vendor to the church), a bundle of firewood (ditto) and a sack of charcoal (ditto).

Here she has chosen a cabbage, accompanied by Solange, HROC facilitator, on her left

I had brought my usual collection of knives, graters, peelers, scrubbing brushes (for potatoes to be boiled in the skin) and stirring implements. But much was still to be got. The group of 20 Batwa arrived, organised by Solange. After smiles all round and re-introductions, Rachel and I headed off to the food market in town, 5 minutes away by moto. We bought more vegetables and fruit, oil, rice, macaroni, flour, salt, peanut flour for sauce, cheese, milk, and liver. Finally we needed two additional charcoal cookers and five boxes of juice. We hired a boy for around 20p to get us to the taxi rank with more than we could carry ourselves. On the way back to the church the taxi driver ran out of petrol and had to set out on foot with a can. However, that gave us time to waylay a pineapple seller and buy enough for three sessions.

Meanwhile, after revising earlier teaching, Solange had got the group started, beginning with the novelty of using hand sanitiser. Carrots were chopped and grated, potatoes scrubbed, one cabbage expanded into a heap of shreddings, dodo cut up finely. Everybody gathered round and Rachel assigned tasks - fires, salads, fruit, stir-fry preparation etc.

The salad makers worked bravely on strange tasks like grating beetroot. The woman in this team was horrified at the idea of eating even a sliver of raw onion or garlic, and didn't try any salads. Others were delighted with the new foods.

The fire team preparing the charcoal for cooking

Rachel and I performed our double act making a white sauce and adding grated cheese for the macaroni. Rachel and Solange made the peanut sauce with cauliflower and other vegetables. I fried strips of liver dredged in seasoned flour. That is an unusual amount of protein, but this was understood to be a feast.

There was some disorder in the self-service queue, with those at the front tempted to take too much. But by the end everybody was full and satisfied. The salads and the cheese sauce were praised, and the thin slices of liver in place of chunks cooked until they are tough. Of course much that we made here couldn't be replicated - I was warned not to give away graters because there wouldn't be enough to go round and conflict would ensue.

We emphasised again the importance of eating as many different foods as possible, even occasionally and in small amounts. We planned the next day's activities in the home village.

And then the 'guests' set off on their two hour walk up the mountainside and the home team tackled the washing up.

Monday, 31 October 2011

A sorrow and a joy: small, domestic

At home I am a devoted listener to BBC Radio 4: 'intelligent speech radio' I think they call it, and it is. On my first Growing Together stay, in February 09, I discovered Deutsche Welle, broadcasting from Kigali, often in English, with much more than African or world news. The first feature that surprised and delighted me was about the opening up of the solicitors' closed shop in England and Wales. Since then I have heard about childhood obesity in Latvia, a Bulgarian school with chess on the curriculum to teach thinking skills, problems in Sicily with implementing plans to protect Roman mosaics from the feet of tourists... Then on Saturday morning at the end of 'Inside Europe' the news that the programme has come to an end. As at the BBC, increasing TV and internet availability has led to cuts in funding for radio. The little logement we use in Musanze/Ruhengeri now has a bulky TV on the one small table in each room but reception is unreliable, and of course very many Rwandese and other Africans have no TV – nor the electricity to power it – and have never seen a computer.

The joy was on Saturday morning. For the family where I am staying, Saturday is the morning for relaxation, between the working week and obligatory church attendance on Sundays. Easy chairs from the living room are set on the verandah. On the last Saturday of the month, everything is compulsorily closed for umuganda, community work: no buses, no shops, no market, even no walking along the roads. Each household is supposed to supply at least one worker, but it's possible occasionally to miss the 7am start through 'oversleeping' without getting into trouble. There is a sabbath feel.

Soon after my arrival I bought a bag of Rwandan coffee – some of the best in the world. Up till now, I had failed to make coffee as I like it, boiling the water but not the coffee grounds, serving a choice of hot or cold milk and sugar or honey, to suit all tastes. This Saturday I achieved my goal. Bethany, a US Mennonite on a year-long homestay program, doesn't like coffee but used the remaining hot water for her packet of hot chocolate powder. She posed for my picture. Vestine on the verandah rail, and Gaudence and Augustin in the easy chairs (where Augustin has a power cable for his laptop) declined, but let me go ahead.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Two economies

On the way to view the kitchen garden in Gahanga, I remarked on the new market (above) being built on the site of the old informal one. There are many such projects. Rachel commented that now people would find it difficult to make any money by selling their produce because the government charges such a high daily rent for a place in a new covered market. I asked what the money went towards. We'd love to know, she replied. We pay taxes for our land, for rental income, we pay school fees, we pay for rubbish collection whether we use it or not...

[Added on Sunday: What I failed to make explicit yesterday is the lack of opportunities to earn the money that could then be used to pay taxes! I had a good example this morning. On my walk to church I was joined by Marthe, a dynamic young woman who led the service a couple of weeks ago. She has recently completed a four year degree course in public administration. She is multi-lingual, personable and extremely keen to find work. She gets as far as an interview a couple of times a month but hasn't quite landed a job yet. She has an older sister who is sick and several younger siblings who keep asking for money for school equipment etc, failing to grasp that despite her years away studying she still isn't earning. (Yes, the first nine years of school now are free of fees, but it still costs money to send children to school.)]

Selling by the roadside is not a safe option - I heard the other day of an American here who went to get his house worker out of prison after an indiscriminate round up following a car break in. Waiting for the formalities to be completed, he observed a line of poor women who'd been selling fruit in town from trays on their heads, lying on the ground being beaten on the soles of their feet.

The kitchen garden is a fine construction at the side of the church. Local pastors' wives have formed a committee and organised the work, bringing in local women to join them and paying an ex-prisoner for the ehavy work. (Gaudence has used the same man for her raised garden at home. He has left prison with a marketable skill.)

Constructed two months ago, in readiness for the rainy season, the raised bed and the surrounding field have been planted with lettuce, carrots, beetroot, basil and rocket. Of these, only carrots are easily available locally. Lettuce, rocket and basil have all grown abundantly from seed I brought from England, and seed saved from the first crop is now growing well. The lettuce will be ready in a couple of weeks and sweet potatoes have already been interplanted for succession.

What of the economics? The local women who come regularly to weed and water will be paid in seeds bought in town, to encourage them to plant at home. Produce will be sold to church members and neighbours, and possibly in the market if there is surplus. When funds allow, the plan is to build rabbit hutches round the edge of the land, to provide droppings for enriching compost as well as meat to be sold. At that point a night guard will need to be employed.

A local official has already been to admire and commend the work. He hoped the group responsible would teach others.

I asked if they'd be paid for teaching. Probably not, because they are only a small organisation. But bigger bodies can charge, and Rachel was surprised recently when, invited to teach gardening skills to a large organisation a little way out of town, she had her transport paid as well as a small fee. Reluctance to pay to attend a training is a legacy from the post-war days, when the international community was so ashamed of having allowed the genocide that organisations poured in to Rwanda, paying people to attend seminars with expensive food in the best hotels.

When my sister and I had young families we experienced the two economies. I, living in suburban London, had an income from part time work and paid for the children's various out-of-school activites. My sister, in a village in a part of Scotland thriving on wealth from North Sea oil, volunteered as a teacher at the Saturday morning music club. I don't want to judge either superior.

On the coffee table in Gaudence and Augustin's living room is a fascinating book, written by a Westerner, describing African attitudes to money. I have much to learn.

More about goats

First, here's the sign board for Kageyo, the village where 3 communities of Batwa, Rwandan exiles from Tanzania (which threw out all with Rwandan background, even Tanzanian citizens, a few year ago, causing great and continuing distress as groups afraid of each other were lumped together)and released prisoners all try to make a decent life in an isolated arid place. My chatty boy lives here.

I was in Kageyo on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday I went to see the developments in the church field at Gahanga and receive the statement of how the donation from Growing Together is being used. More on that anon. Yesterday, Friday, was for a day workshop with the Gahanga church women - my third visit to this group.

We began by walking round the village to look at the garden projects of three members of the group. Others would also have enjoyed a visit, but were too far afield - the three visits took an hour. This woman has two sacks, which she has planted three times. She evidently still cooks on an old-fashioned fuel-hungry three-stone fire.
I saw sacks, new style kitchen gardens, fields and livestock. Two had a cow, one had a pig, all had chickens and all had goats. As we admired a goat with two day old twin kids, I asked my usual question: 'Do you milk the goats?' There were several reasons for not doing so. This kind are too small - we'd need the bigger ones from Kenya. Nobody wants to buy the milk and we don't want to drink it. It's not proper food for adults, only for children with kwashiorkor. However, they had heard it was helpful for people on antiretroviral medication for HIV. And yes, maybe in a crisis they'd try...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

A little something

I'm not inspired today but it's time for a little something.

I am sitting after lunch in a sliver of shade at the side of the training room in the resettlement village of Kageyo, near Kayonza, where I'm spending two days with groups of Batwa I trained in sack gardening last year. A boy of about 10 comes over, and Rachel, resting beside me, is able to translate. He is full of questions.

'How many children do you have?' 'Only two! Most people here have ten.' ('What's wrong with you?' was politely unspoken. He later said he would have three.)

'Do you have elephants in your country?' (They sometimes eat the crops here.) 'Or giraffe? Zebra?' I say our largest animal is a kind of antelope.

'Do you have cows?'
'Yes, and a lot of sheep.' (He won't have seen sheep but he may know they are kept in the cooler north of Rwanda.)

'Do you have goats? Do you have goats you can milk?'

We are less than 50 miles from the village where women laughed a few months ago at the suggestion that goats could be milked. Even last week the sophisticated group of church women in Kigali admitted that they too were close to laughing. This boy has a little something. I'm sorry I can't show you his picture, but my camera battery was dead.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Three purchases

It has become my custom to buy seeds in Kigali for all my groups. I tell them I bought these seeds in Rwanda, but for those in the other provinces Kigali is a long way off. I had previously noticed a small 'Agrotec' on the outskirts of Ruhengeri, but everybody said it had very little stock and I had never checked. This time I noticed permanent new premises on the main road in the centre of town. Yesterday's group were very keen to have more seeds than I had with me, and I told them I would send some. Then it occurred to me that if I bought locally they would find it easier to buy for themselves in future.

So first stop on the way to Burera on Saturday morning, driven by Antoine (who would also be my translator, in general converting English to Kinyarwanda and Kinyarwanda to French), was the new Agrotec. The sole assistant declared himself to be 'bi-langue' but I continued my usual practice of dealing mostly in French when it's a matter of plant names: that works because many names in Kinyarwanda are derived from French. As I do in Kigali, I asked permission to go behind the counter and look in the boxes of packets. I found almost everything I wanted, all priced at 10rf (about 1p) more than in Kigali because of transport costs. The only thing they didn't have was beetroot – a pity because I'd been extolling its virtues yesterday and everybody wanted some. I stocked up, and we set off.

As we left Agrotec, I checked that there would be somewhere to buy a sack for planting. I was carrying scissors and an empty plastic bottle, so I had everything else I would need. We'll get it along the way, Antoine said. At a place where the road runs through the middle of a village, he stopped and spoke to a young man at the side of the road. Sometimes – indeed, often – he is greeting somebody he knows, especially here, so close to his childhood home. But no, he was enquiring after a sack. I handed over 500rf, the smallest note. After a couple of minutes the young man returned with two sacks. But they were for 100kg, and would take too long to fill in the workshop. We set off again.

At the next village another young man was beckoned over. This one shouted our request. Several people on both sides of the road made suggestions. He set off up a side alley and came back with one used 50kg sack and one new 100kg one. That would do.
Taken from my seat in the car, with a little solar lamp for Antoine charging inside the windscreen. This is the main road to Uganda.

We continued to Rugarama, where I have now done one workshop for the teachers in the friends school and two for the women of the church. I felt a twinge of disappointment when Antoine pulled into the friends compound. The women from the lakeside village would come up to here, he said.

But he was wrong. The women were waiting in their own church. We picked up a passenger, turned off the tarmacked road and drove through the market of covered stalls surrounded with open air traders. A rectangle of basket chairs woven of reeds caught my eye. We'd spent the previous night in a little house newly rented by Antoine's wife, who is working in Ruhengeri again after a period of illness, and although all was newly painted there was little furniture. How much do those chairs cost, I asked, as we drove past. Around 1000rf (about £1.10 or $1.90). I'd like to buy one for your wife.

If you go yourself the price will be inflated, said Antoine. Our passenger (whose name and occupation I didn't learn) went to enquire while Antoine turned the car. He came back with a price of 1,500. OK, I said. I went to pay. 2,000 was asked. To me that's still ridiculously cheap, but on the whole I am advised not to pay a white person's premium. 1,500 was accepted and the chair loaded into the car. I hope Annunciate enjoys sitting in it as much as I enjoyed its sight and smell. I do wonder what might be living in it.

Sometimes I can hardly believe the beauty of the vistas that unfold as we bump along

Here is the church that was our destination, with the pastor's office at the back. We were told the power was solar, but I had no opportunity to investigate becasue we left in a hurry ahead of threatened rain that would make the road impassable for several hours.

Friday, 21 October 2011

New schedule

(Written and posted on Friday 21st)

Up till now, my programme has been almost as posted before I left England. From Sunday onwards it changes.

I said that working two 6-day weeks with only a single day in between was too much. The logic in the proposed arrangement was that I could stay in or near Ruhengeri (now renamed Musanze), where I am now, to do all the work here on one visit.

When the first meeting to discuss my programme was held, David Bucura had suggested that I could propose dropping one 2-day workshop, in a remote location, to make some space for rearrangement. The proposal was accepted.

So now I am to go back to Kigali on Saturday evening. Sunday will be free there, as usual, apart from the moral obligation to go to church. On Monday I have a planning meeting with the Discipling for Development (D4D) trainers, and time to go down town to stock up on seeds and cash. The latter has become much easier since the installation of cash dispensing machines at branches of two banks – yesterday I could draw cash here in Ruhengeri, relieving me of the embarrassment of having brought too little for this week's work.

Tuesday and Wednesday next week will be with the Batwa at Kageyo, near Kayonza, leaving on Monday afternoon. On Thursday I go to Gahanga to see what Gaudence has done with £100 I sent for a pilot vegetable garden project; on Friday I work with the women there – probably on new/old technologies for cooking and storing food. Saturday is free, and on Sunday afternoon 3 of us come back to this Logement Karisimbi, where I have stayed overnight, for the remaining 6 days' work with the Batwa.

That leaves my final week. Monday and Tuesday (or perhaps Tues and Weds) with D4D – another mixed group, with experienced regional trainers and local church members new to the work and the concept. On Thursday the postponed visit to Cally Alles, a tea grower interested in better methods of cooking. On Friday, planting the garden at the Friends Church at Gasharu – I have commissioned 100 moringa seedlings for a hedge, but so far the boundary fence is not up so everything is liable to get eaten by passing goats, as has happened to the hard-won macadamia tree. If the fence is up in time, I will also buy some fruit trees.

I'm told that pictures of people with mountains in the background are nice, so here's one from Thursday morning, as we waited for the participants to gather. The women laughed at my vitamin D therapy.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

On waking...

...I realise that last night's rather hasty post may have invited a wrong conclusion. I was not saying - and I don't think - that local officials or anybody else should be influenced by my priorities. My point was that the man didn't appear to listen at all, only to deliver his on-message message. Not only a Rwandan failing, of course, but one that is consistent with the whole tone of this and many other governments.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

An official visit

(Written Weds 19 Oct)

On Tuesday morning, at the far end of a 20 minute moto ride up and along a rocky road, three of us dismounted and were dusted down by our drivers.
Despite low cloud, the views along the way were spectacular

I was to spend two and a half days working with a church group; Jean Baptiste was my translator; David Bucura had driven us from Kigali on Monday afternoon and had business nearby with an inter-church pastors' forum – I think he said they were to receive a gift of two cows. He had come to greet the pastor and introduce me. Bucura with some early arrivals outside the Friends Church (Eglise Evangelique des Amis au Rwanda) at Mutura

For both men, as for Augustin (whose brother-in-law was one of the pastors who welcomed us at the guest house), this is their home patch, and the welcomes have extra warmth. (Baptiste told me during lunch that some of the women remembered him as a little boy and had been reminiscing about his parents' wedding, just 30 years ago, notable for the bride and groom riding in a car, lent by the bride's White employers.)

20 participants had been invited. Then two had been sent by a neighbouring church with a congregation of Batwa. The two were sitting apart and Bucura invited them for a photo with the others.

The pastor's crop of potatoes in flower

We went through the pastor's garden to his office and he said there were now to be 26, not including the local official. I paid cash – quite a lot of cash – for lunch and a tea break for 26 for two days. On this, my sixth visit, I still begrudge spending more than half my budget on food for participants. But that's how it is: if I'm not paying an attendance allowance, which AGLI* forbids, at least they'll get food and drink for their pains.

So it seemed the official was not expected to stay for lunch. We assembled in the church and after a song and a prayer the pastor opened proceedings, remarking among other things that the official was expected any minute. He introduced Jean Baptiste 'who was born here, and his father before him'. So I introduced myself by saying my father was born in England in 1903 and I in 1942. Invited to introduce themselves, all the participants gave their year of birth: the oldest was in 1942, the youngest in 1988.

I described a sack garden, using my faithful visual aid (thank you, again, Ann R), then showed a set of photos of the stages of construction and an array of successful crops, taken on previous visits. We discussed criteria for a good location. Then we trooped out to the pastor's garden, selected a spot to suit him, and filled the sack. By now it was nearly noon.
The sack is half filled. It's woolly hat weather. Jean Baptiste is to the right. Note the rabbit hutch behind the house.

Studying the visual aid

A tall man approached, in early middle age, and greeted the pastor. He was introduced as the local official. Baptiste and I were briefly introduced. With barely a glance at the sack or the assembled students, he launched into a speech. This was the week of unity and reconciliation. (Last week had been for the struggle against gender-based violence. I don't know yet whether next week also has a designation.) He hoped this church would make its contribution by funding a poor widow or donating a cow. I asked if I could speak for a moment. He was visibly impatient, but tolerated a quick demonstration of the surface area available with a small footprint for those with no land to grow food for themselves. Then he left, with the briefest words possible, for something presumably more important.

Having decided to write this piece, I asked Baptiste at breakfast this morning for his take on the encounter. He said the man was clearly in a great hurry, running very late and only interested in saying his piece. I asked whether local officials ever take representations or suggestions from their constituents to higher levels. Yes it does happen occasionally, he said, but you have to wait a very long time for results.

*AGLI is the African Great Lakes Initiative, the US based charity for which I am a volunteer.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

A photo after all

Well, there's no cooking going on, because the battle between sun and rain has been won by rain again, but in a few minutes of promise I assembeld Anne's panels, taped the wire supports to the back, put some water in a small black cooking pot and covered it with a glass mixing bowl, bought this morning.

The angles will need adjusting but that's easily done. A series of smaller panels would allow more concentration of rays. I read, on the internet again, that one cardboard box can be converted into a cooker with the addition of aluminium foil in less than one hour, and the design allows adjustment othe height of the sun.

Working with the Tabitha Group

(Composed on Friday 14th, posted on Saturday 15th)

Yesterday, Thursday, was the second of two days with a group of women from the Friends Church in Kagarama. This is where the friendly FolkDancers stayed in Feb 08. It's the place I've worked most often, with church or school personnel.

Their name is the Tabitha group. I suppose I should have looked up the New Testament reference but I won't spend time doing that now. (With my wonderful unlimited internet access this time, I could.) Their purpose is to support other women in the church with friendship and good advice.

When I saw the list of participants' names, and then the much revised list of names two days later after the workshop had almost folded, I was faced with a teaching challenge. A couple have worked with me 4 times, several twice, and 4 never. So instead of trying to find enough material that would be new to everybody but comprehensible to 'beginners', I had to find a different approach.

I asked them to discuss among themselves what they hoped to achieve in two days together, using me as a resource person. I suggested they begin by brainstorming their vision for 5 years from now. Not altogether successful, as the concept of throwing out crazy hopes without immediately smothering them in ifs and buts was hard for my translator to convey or the group to understand. (My translator was doing the job for the first time. I found I needed simple syntax and vocabulary. Sometimes either a group member or I would use French for a bit, quite comfortably.) However we generated 4 goals – all church women to have kitchen gardens, all church women to understand nutrition and feed their families accordingly, all women outside the church to get to that same point, and all cooking to be by other means than wood and charcoal by 2015 – this last being a government target.

We talked through the reason for sacks and other intensively cultivated small spaces, and those who were new to the idea could see photos of the projects of other group member and other people from my workshops. Challenged to plan some first steps towards their goal, they appointed the two most experienced members (and the ones with most church responsibilities already) to be the leaders. Having a group without a responsable is unheard of. With some diversions into compost and manure, that took the whole morning session. Goal one was addressed.

Lunch was takeaway in foil boxes, since the woman who would have cooked was in the group. It was the worst kind of Rwandan meal: rice with a little gravy, two vegetable bananas, a lot of potato, some spaghetti, two nuggets of beef and a teaspoonful of warm coleslaw.

That set us up for the afternoon. My chief new material for this visit is Rachel's translation of my notes on vitamins and minerals for Rwandans, with examples of available foods including African vegetables. We worked through the notes, with lots of time for them to discuss in Kinyarwanda. I have brought with me this time an excellent textbook written 20 years ago for health workers in developing countries, and could look up answers to questions such as how long you need to spend in the sun to make enough vitamin D. We laughed at the timely example in our lunch boxes of the adequate quantity but deficient quality which is the norm here even for people who are not poor.

It was time to stop, before any planning on how to approach this goal had been done. So we would start there on day two, and then go on to cooking devices.

Thursday 13th
In the event, the planning was postponed to the regular group meeting on Monday. I'm very happy to be surplus to requirements as people take what they want from my teaching and make it their own. The second goal was to be addressed. The third may follow from the first two.

So we were quickly on to cooking methods. (I say quickly, glossing over the usual delayed start as people turn up mostly between 20 and 40 minutes after the agreed time. I continue to find this frustrating. Perhaps I should start delaying the end of the day's work by an equal amount of time.)

I asked the group what they knew of the proposal to stop cooking with wood and charcoal. The plan, it seems, is to give a cow to every family outside town centres, then to install the necessary gadgetry for the manure to yield enough biogas for the family's needs. I didn't dwell on the possibility that the scheme may not reach every household, or that some will be unwilling or incapable of taking responsibility for a cow. In town centres electricity will be the only option. I didn't get the sense that they think this is a realistic goal, though it isn't done to criticise government plans in such a setting.

My friend Anne during the summer in suburban London had constructed a simple solar panel cooker, with foil stuck on cardboard, supported by straightened wire coathangers and focussing heat on a black cooking pot. But I can't erect it for a photo now (Friday), and we couldn't try heating water in it yesterday, because there has been little but rain for two days. I did unfold it and show how it could be turned to the sun. We also had the two pieces of kit constructed by the small group of women in March: the tire/tyre cooker made from an inflated inner tube and a sheet of glass, and the insulating basket – also known as a haybox or a peacemaker – for heat retention cooking. Now with internet access I can look things up in class. So I showed the best site I have yet found for such a device, at

With no sun, there was little enthusiasm in the group for solar cooking as a concept. Evidently Rwanda can't depend on solar devices. The women do know, however, that solar generation contributes to the national grid. Anne had also given me two types of solar lamp, which were passed round and admired. Nobody had seen such a thing. I mentioned that there would be a business opportunity for an importer or distributor on the off chance that somebody might respond, but no.

We also looked at a leaflet about the evaporative cooler made from two concentric pots with wet sand between, and at a schematic design for using a variety of materials following the same principle. One woman had used such a cooler, but she didn't know how to get hold of the pots now marriage had brought her to the city.

Was I wasting their time on such oddities? I hope not. There were good questions as well as some lively conversation I couldn't follow. The heat retention cooking seemed to me to be the likeliest idea to be acted upon. We had at least begun conversation on their fourth goal.

Lunch arrived, from the same outlet as yesterday and at the same price, but as good as could be, with a generous portion of beans and some cooked carrot and dodo (amaranth) supplementing the rice, fried potato and one vegetable banana, with goat meat.

As usual, I ended by giving some seeds from my garden, from English shops, and from a Kigali seed merchant. As usual, they tore eagerly into the packets, separating seeds from printed information. In a few months I shall be back to hear how their plans have been put into action and to see some gardens. I wonder what they will be harvesting.

PS: This morning I bought a glass bowl to make the solar cooker more effective. By the time I got it home it was raining again. But I'll assemble and test the cooker as soon as I can.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Food and water again

Most summers I spend 12 days in a field in Wales, cooking on an open fire, using water drawn from a tap some 50 metres away and carried in containers of various sizes. There is a charming photo (at of our circles of tents, yurts and lodges (teepees). But off to one side is a field full of our parked cars: we play at the simple life.

Here in Rwanda I have now had three opportunities to cook with a group of women, making some salads and English dishes such as macaroni cheese while they prepare rice and vegetables in their usual manner. (Well, most are unused to scrubbing potatoes instead of peeling, but nobody has complained yet.) On Tuesday my workshop budget included the use of a minibus belonging to a church member to take us to the big market at Kimirongo and carry us back with our purchases. Possibly in consequence, we bought rather too much food. The day was particularly hot. Several group members had bad backs or bad knees or were dozing with their new babies. The rest of us worked hard for three and a half hours before 'lunch' was ready at 3.30.

There was time for a short conversation after the meal. Most of the Rwandans, including a couple of passing pastors, had tried every dish, though some drew the line at putting fresh yoghurt (substituting for sour cream) in their beetroot soup. They said they would have no difficulty finding hungry, poor people to eat our leftovers. I hope the recipients didn't mind having 4 or 5 kinds of salad, which most Rwandans never eat. I said how difficult I find it to cook without easy access to water. (It emerged that the supply was off for a couple of hours.)

Rinsing vegetables, utensils or hands are actions I don't even think about in my kitchen at home with water on tap. Here we had not enough water, not enough plates or bowls, no such thing as a chopping board (people cut towards their hand and the knives are mostly blunt – perhaps fortunately), not enough table top for everybody to have a work space other than their lap, and not enough charcoal cookers for all the dishes to be ready even within an hour and a half of the first being cooked.

Tired, hungry and impatient, I tried to feel the thankfulness invited by the grace before we ate. There was plenty of food; we could even afford juice to drink, as well as bottled water for washing the salad. And next month I shall go home.

Monday, 10 October 2011


(Posted Monday evening)

On Saturday morning at breakfast I asked Augustin where I could get some photocopying done. There is a copier in the yearly meeting office, but he confirmed that it would probably not be staffed. I was happy to go to a shop, though preferably not the one I know in the centre of Kigali, several miles away.

'There is one at Sonatubes', he said. This is a large plumbing factory which gives its name to a junction and several small parades of shops and businesses on the approach roads. We discussed the exact location. I said I'd go on the bus. I checked that there still would be buses, because the standard route into town is now on a newly resurfaced stretch cutting the Sonatubes corner. 'Well, yes, there are buses, but why don't I send the yearly meeting car and driver to run the errand for you?'

I explained that Britain Yearly Meeting had recently committed to becoming a low carbon community and that part of my personal commitment was not to use a car unnecessarily. I didn’t want acting on my principles to cause anybody any difficulty, but this was not the case here. I would be happy to go myself by public transport.

Augustin then said there was actually a copy shop at Kicukiro, our nearest market district. I was in any case going to the market to buy ingredients for the beetroot soup I was to make on Sunday. When I got there I found Augustin and Gaudence's son, Justin, working to support his wife and new baby, having dropped out of university. He took the considerable task off my hands and went to a better quality copy shop, bringing the 700 copies to the house in the evening. Good. (Yes, 700 is a lot of paper. However, the material is excellent - Rachel has translated my compilation of vitamin and mineral notes into Kinyarwanda and set it out with lot of space for individual notes. The copies should last me the whole of this visit and perhaps beyond.)

Today, Monday, was the first of two days with a women's group on the other side of town. Gaudence was going with me. We had discussed timing, from which I had deduced we would travel by car. That's fine if it's arranged to suit other people. My back pack was moderately heavy, with handouts and demonstration materials and my netbook for showing photos. My bulky nutrition text book was on the table. Augustin asked if I wanted to take it. I thought not because it would add extra weight for carrying on the jpourney home. 'You can come home in the car', he said. OK. I added it and a couple more I might possibly want.

At the end of the working day, at 3.15 with the sun still very hot, we set off home. I was surprised to get on the bus, but didn't ask Gaudence whether there had been a change of plan. I thought perhaps we were to be met half way. When we walked the 200 yards to the second bus (at Sonatubes, as it happens) it was clear there was to be no car. The second bus finishes outside the market at Kicukiro. I was steeled to carry my over-heavy pack for the 20 minute walk back to the house, and at Gaudence's slowish pace. Serve me right for being self-righteous on Saturday, I thought.

Yet worse was to come. Gaudence wanted to do some shopping in the market. I said I'd wait in the shade, which I did for at least 15 minutes, eventually resting first my pack then myself on an empty barrow. Could I suggest riding home on moto-taxis? Gaudence's skirt was long and straight. No, I'd manage to walk.

What was on my face? I hate to think. Gaudence glanced at me as we set off again, and asked if I was OK. I had decided to say nothing about the expected lift, but she caught me at my weakest. I said that my pack was too heavy and that Augustin had said the car would pick us up. She knew nothing of the arrangement. She phoned, and Edouard came to our rescue.

I wonder what Augustin is thinking of my principles.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Food and water

It's a year since I stayed with Gaudence and her husband Augustin. Like Rachel, my host in February, she is a keen grower of vegetables. It was her bumper crop of basil cooked communally with the N American women last time. She and Rachel together are taking the initiative in continuing Growing Together when I finish.

So I wasn't altogether surprised this morning to see at the back of her house a new-style tiered kitchen garden, with new season's green pepper and aubergine plants peeping through the moist half-rotted mulch. The rain came late last month but it is here now. (Twenty minutes was added to the delay in getting into the air terminal in Kigali yesterday while a bus was sent for to protect disembarking passengers from a downpour. Those going on to Entebbe were not well pleased.)

Conversation is sparse between us without a translator, though her English is better than my Kinyarwanda. With a broad smile she led me round the side of the house, past the polythene sided rainwater store, to a neat row of four sacks, generously planted with isogi (an African leaf vegetable), leaf celery, spinach beet, piri-piri (hot pepper), basil and probably more. It really does seem to be true that even people with enough land like planting in sacks. We walk round to the front, where newly pruned bushes of moringa and another edible shrubs are interspersed with maize, fronted by a row of young papaya. I'd like to get a close look at the macadamia sapling, but the ground is too muddy.

My first appointment is with Bucura David, in charge of the AGLI work in Rwanda, to talk timetable and money.

As I cross the yard of the primary school opposite the Friends compound at Kagarama, I notice a mound about the size of Gaudence's new structure, surrounded with freshly dug earth. I greet the group standing round it, including a young white man. I ask if I may take a photo. 'Would you like to look inside?' he asks. I didn't know there would be an inside. However, the structure is not beaten earth but mud-stained concrete. The hole in the centre gives onto a deep chamber, hollowed to a width of about 3 metres. A rainwater cistern! When asked what would help Rwanda most, I often propose water retention. Here it is in action, directed by a young man from Bristol called Toby, a garden construction engineer, working with Water for Life. 'Are you working for Christ?' he asks. 'Well, sort of,' I mumble, Quaker fashion. 'There is the church I work with, over the road.' My credentials are enhanced when Josine, the deputy head here and participant in several of my workshops, comes to greet me in lively French.

Over the road, David proposes postponing a two-day workshop in a remote location till my next visit; I suggest a re-arrangement that would avoid my working two 6-day weeks consecutively; he tells me to bring the proposal to the planning meeting this afternoon. He fails to bring up the budget on his laptop and emails me later that there's a 25% discrepancy between my expected budget for the QPSW funded Batwa project and the money wired from AGLI in the USA. Fortunately I have cash for such contingencies.

By 5pm I've re-established my dongle for internet connection, failed to get a US phone to accept an African SIM card, arrived late for the 3pm planning meeting, which I hate, after one of those public transport stories you don't need to hear, and returned to Gaudence's garden on my way into the house. She is at the door. I ask if I may thin the forest of tiny lettuces. We could eat them for supper, I say.

I pull out several handfuls. Already some of the outer leaves have rotted from lack of air; the roots are coated with mud. Clearly, I need water to prepare them. Gaudence goes inside to get a key, brings a jug and a bowl, and makes her way round the side of the house, presumably to the stopcock. Water pours out of the tap above the sink on the outside wall. I fill bowl and jug, but can't turn off the tap. The flow can be slowed, but only by pushing down on the tap as well as turning it. Gaudence goes back round the side and eventually the flow subsides. I don't want to embarrass her by offering to pay for a repair, though it's tempting.

How long would it take me to get used to such as routine? And how much more inhibiting would it be if there were no stopcock in the garden but only a communal tap several hundred yards away? Or a muddy pond, as I have seen in some places being used to draw water and wash motor bikes. Would I want to eat salad and encourage others to do so then?

Ready for supper time is a small but perfectly formed salad of baby lettuce leaves, rocket, basil, leek green, parsley and celery top, all from the garden, with an onion and a tomato added and a little salt. Also enough water to drink and later to wash in. We are blessed.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Link to my programme for Oct-Nov

I hoped this would be a link to my programme for Oct-Nov 2011 on the Rwanda page of Ealing Quaker website. The link doesn't seem to be working, but here's the address.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Busy (Now with photos and video)

Let me tell you why I'm too tired to write anything more inspired than a bare account of my week.

Last weekend was quiet. Since then it's been all go. On Monday and Tuesday I worked for the first time with a group of women at Kanombe, one of the Kigali Friends churches. Everything went smoothly, but it was very hot and dusty.

On Monday evening I went to supper with Brad and Chelsea, a young American Evangelical Friends Mission couple. They are working on a new programme, brought from Uganda by Debby Thomas, who was struck by the differences between neighbouring villages using the programme and not using it. Called Discipling for Development (D for D), it aims to build on participants' felt needs rather than delivering ideas and training devised elsewhere. Perhaps there is scope for cooperation between Growing Together and D for D. We exchanged blog and email addresses. I was delighted to receive a copy of a short book self-published by Meg Guillebaud, an episcopalian pastor in Byumba whom I met last year. Entitled The Bible and the environment, it's also available in Kinyarwanda, has a wide range of up-to-date references and draws largely on Rwandan examples. I'm thinking of getting multiple copies for use among Friends here – I'll email Meg when I get home and find her address.

On Tuesday evening I took my host family of David, Rachel and Dina for a meal at a restaurant where tables are out of doors, each in a bower of trees and flowering plants, under a new moon and brilliant stars. David remarked that his vision for the church and conference centre at Gasharu was for a setting like this. The macadamia tree will be a small contribution.

The workshop on Wednesday and Thursday was with the women at Gahanga, first visited last October, and Rachel was my translator and co-trainer. Wednesday is local market day and we shopped together, prepared food and eventually ate it, delayed by the first real rain of the season. (I filmed the rain and will make a first attempt to attach a video clip. No, I've waited for 30 minutes and it won't finish uploading. I'll add some photos instead.)
Gaudance finishing the potatoes

My plate holds, among other things, macaroni cheese, stir fry veg, two salads, macadamia nuts, avocado, an extra slice of cheese - and no means of eating any of it except with fingers.<

On Thursday it rained solidly – and deafeningly on the tin roof of the church – for four hours from ten o'clock, so not much teaching was possible. Washing up on Thursday before the rain

On Wednesday evening I didn't go out. On Thursday I took Ruth and Krystan, plus baby Misha, to a Chinese restaurant they recommended, and which turned out to be one of the best I've ever experienced, catering for the many Chinese working here mostly as managers for engineering projects.

Today, Friday, I finished my accounts, matching up receipts, bus tickets etc and totalling expenses for all nine trainings. Then there was the evaluation of this visit and planning for my next. Then I took Antoine out to lunch after concluding various bits of business relating to the English and Rwandan Friends schools. Then I talked Josephine through my accounts and handed them over before being interviewed by Elin Henrysson, the QPSW worker in Burundi employed by AGLI to evaluate last year's Batwa project. Then home to TV news of the earthquake and tsunami, supper, and an hour going through a project proposal with Rachel, possibly to be called 'Firm foundations for future families' or 5F.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Seeds and nuts

One of the four kinds of food which in combination can provide protein as good as meat, together with grains, dairy and legumes, is a puzzle to all my groups. 'What are nuts?' 'What do you mean by seeds?'

Sunflower seeds are said to be used as a paste in sauce/gravy; I have not yet found any to buy. Sesame and pumpkin seeds I brought with me from England. They are viewed with suspicion and tasted reluctantly, even when toasted. It's sometimes conceded that pumpkin and similar seeds are eaten in Congo, but peeling them is very troublesome. I was once offered sesame seeds roasted with peanuts as a snack and have located them in the two big supermarkets and two Indian shops, both raw and browned. They are called 'simsim' and seem all to come from Kenya.

The same shops also stock almonds and cashews, but they are very expensive and probably bought only by ex-pats. I had searched in vain for macadamia nuts till Matt told me to look with the potato crisps and not with the raw nuts. Nakumat has five or six different brands, some organic. I was on the trail because somebody had mentioned that macadamia nuts are being introduced here. When I started asking around, a couple of gardeners asked if I could find seeds or saplings for them.

Driving with Antoine on Thursday I noticed a new hotel on the outskirts of town was named Macadamia. He told me he has five young trees in the garden of his little country house. There was a government project in Eastern Province to introduce them a couple of years ago. He doesn't know when they will start to yield.

We had been making various plans for my visit to his family on Friday. The tea plantation owner with an interest in fuel-efficient cooking would not be at home. Much of the day was taken up with a visit from the head of a school near Ruhengeri who brought letters and photos from some of her students for an exchange with a London primary school. At half past three, with three hours till dark, we set out to find a nursery selling macadamia trees.

The first site was one I'd been past several times. They had various kinds of citrus as well as papaya and mango but no macadamia. I bought two small orange trees – a valencia and a mandarin – for Antoine’s town garden. He got instructions for driving to the place where we'd find the macadamia.

We soon turned off the main road, heading towards the organic training institute at Gako that I'd visited two years ago. Before we reached it A asked for more directions. We retraced our route, turned down a narrow track and ended in a school yard. Various children and adults shrugged their shoulders. On the way back to our road we noticed the nursery and primary school was named 'La Pepiniere' (sorry, no accents), which is the name for a plant nursery in Kinyarwanda as well as in French.

The next side turning took us past the organic institute, where the gatekeeper confirmed we were headed in the right direction. I don't know whether A was warned about the state of the road or not. I do know we lurched several times at angles that I thought must result in overturning. Deep puddles sucked at the wheels. Somehow we kept going, down to the valley bottom, across bridges made of tree trunks, and part way up the other side.

Would we have to return by this route, I asked. 'Oh no, there's probably a better road.' I hoped so.

The track broadened out in a village. Further directions took us parallel with the hillside, through more troughs, along the edge of more drops, past more excited children. Then we saw a large area covered with black netting. We've found it, said A.

By now it was after five. Rain threatened. Antoine stopped the car and a solitary worker appeared. Following him we walked past thousands of macadamia saplings, perhaps as many as fifty thousand. Another worker joined us, then another, but the office was unstaffed when we reached it. 'This is a government project', they said. 'We don't sell to anybody.' Antoine quietly asked how many I wanted. 'Well, three would be good. I'd settle for one or pay for ten if necessary.'

I wanted to plead my case but A's body language said I'd better keep quiet and let him do the negotiating. He took his time. One of the workers phoned the manager. I went to photograph the notice board. When I returned the deal was done. We could take three. I paid generously 'for the phone calls'.

We didn't need to turn the car. The rain, as all too often this year, didn't fall. After perhaps three or four miles of adequate dirt road, passing macadamia trees, we rejoined the main road a mile or two from where we'd first turned off.
Antoine said he could do with a drink – non-alcoholic, of course. I said I'd be happy to treat him. We went to the very restaurant where I'd bought drinks and brochettes two years ago. Sitting outside in the fading light, we ate a fish kebab each and drank non-alcoholic beer before returning to letter writing and supper.

Next morning on the way up to the teachers' house, where I was to borrow a couple of novels and Sandrine a couple of DVDs, Antoine pointed out a macadamia tree, about four metres high, behind a garden wall. I wondered how they'd managed to buy it. Could there be a nursery selling the trees somewhere? 'They must be part of the government project', said Antoine.

This morning, Sunday, I bought roasted peanuts and sesame (in packages with Rwandan phone numbers) to add protein to the meal to be prepared by the women at Gahanga on Wednesday. I also got roasted and salted macadamia nuts, and sesame bars with jaggery (what's that?), sugar and edible oil – Kenyan again. Perhaps in October I'll find somebody growing simsim.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Changing minds

Thursday 3 March
Only on the last of three sessions with a group of women from the Friends Church at Katarara, in the famine-prone Bugesera district south east of Kigali, do I remember to do the formal introductions every group expects. On Tuesday communication had broken down and the women had not been invited to the expected morning session but were recruited for a rather rushed afternoon; on Wednesday we started with an hour's walk in full sun to visit three participants' kitchen gardens; on Thursday morning, looking round the group as they sing and pray, noting which babies and toddlers are here and which not, I realise I don't know any names.

One young woman has taken my attention at several points. She was the most assiduous wielder of the hoe to break up compost and mix it with topsoil on Tuesday when we filled the demonstration sack. On Wednesday she stepped into her family field and pulled me a bunch of onions, crisp and fragrant, before I could protest. In the discussion about restoring soil fertility she volunteers that her family store and use their toilet waste and have found their yields better than with chemical fertiliser – the first person I've met who does this. (on the final drive back into Kigali I notice a signboard for ecosan training - that's composting toilets.)

Now I have invited the women to introduce themselves by giving their name and something that they enjoy in their lives. 'My name is Vestine', she says. 'I am HIV positive and I enjoy helping others by speaking openly about my condition.'
Vestine with her gift - sadly I didn't capture her smile

Vestine shows her kitchen garden

In the evenings this week I have been proof reading the final version of Augustin's MA dissertation, which I first saw when I was staying in his family last October. His research project was interviewing members of a particular Friends Church to gain insight into successful and unsuccessful strategies for dealing with the mutually reinforcing problems of poverty and HIV/AIDS. One of his most heartening responses came from a former prostitute who 'came out' about her HIV status, became regular in taking her medication and began to make something of her life – and make an income as a small scale trader - instead of waiting to die. When church members and pastors themselves begin to be open about HIV in themselves and their families, change can happen, Augustin concludes.

I mention to Antoine during the drive back to Kigali that I was surprised by Vestine. She looks so well; she is open to new ideas and asks perceptive questions; she certainly challenges the stereotype of 'AIDS victim'. 'Well yes', he says, 'but that's how it works. When you are sick it's a great relief to have a diagnosis, and talking about your illness is a kind of therapy.' I sometimes forget Antoine is a psychology graduate of the 1980s.

I am more aware this year than previously of people in positions of leadership talking about how the only significant changes to Africa will be changes of mentality. On this morning's drive to Katarara we pass an unusual number of goats – one or two roped, or small flocks herded with sticks, then a large clump of goats and people by the side of the road, then a thinning stream heading away. I often see goats being traded at roadsides and in market pens.

Looking for a local cheese to take to a workshop last visit, I found a firm goats' cheese manufactured in Rwanda. Both the women and the teachers in Katarara have been telling me about the shortage of food round here, and the school has a feeding programme, using donated maize meal, because of the district's famine status. I have already heard that goat's milk is not drunk except occasionally by babies and young children. I invite Antone to comment. 'They won't use it', he says. 'They think the only milk for humans to use comes from cows.'

'But I have bought cheese in Kigali.'

'Oh, that’s only in Kigali, not round here.'

At the end of the workshop with the women I say my usual piece about how they are the experts in their lives while all I can do is bring some ideas they can adopt or reject, preferably after trying them. Telling them this may be the first time they hear this idea which may shock them, I say that in my country goat's milk is expensive and highly prized by some people. They dissolve into giggles. 'How on earth would you milk a goat?'

Antoine and I, later in the journey home, reflect on their response. We have both heard the formulation that a new idea is often ridiculed, then ignored, then opposed and eventually accepted. 'Rwandans do now eat eggs', he observes. (If this remark doesn't make sense, look at the blog entry for October 2010 entitled 'Le Congolais')

Jacqueline models a product of the women's (machine) knitting cooperative

Teachers and primary students in their lunch break

This crop benefits from the hot dry climate