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