Saturday, 10 November 2012

Looking back, looking forward

The final meeting to evaluate and celebrate Growing Together was held on Thursday. Rachel spoke of how successful my teaching had been, Antoine of how the families where I stayed have changed their eating habits, and Augustin of how the churches have benefitted from my work. But Sizeli said the nicest thing: We saw Elizabeth return after her first visit with the Friendly FolkDancers and we thought OK, the woman has come back. Then we began to realise what she could do.

Yesterday, Friday, I wanted to buy a couple of things. Antoine said he would drive me into town and he would also be helping the new Mennonite Central Committee volunteer buy a second hand car. In our time together I learned that Matt Gates from Pennsylvania is an agriculturalist, whose PhD programme was about agriculture for the developing world. He has worked in Senegal. He will be here for three years.

Is Matt the person I have been seeking? I am so glad I didn't miss him. He is not an AGLI volunteer. Ironically, there have been a lot of conversations in the last few days about how beneficial it could be to integrate the various programmes of Friends Peace House and other organs of the Friends Church here. My sense is that if an MCC volunteer is to visit 'my' groups, offer support, and take the work forward, then that is what needs to happen. Matt has the appropriate education, which I lack. He won't do what I would have gone on doing if my project continued. But his presence seems to me to be a GOOD THING.

This afternoon I spent a couple of hours handing over some of my teaching materials, discussing sources of information and answering Matt's questions. I am to make him a list of the groups I've worked with. Then how he follows up will be for him to decide.


Cabbages and chaya

At the end of my last 2012 visit I went to see how Ruth, the new church manager, was doing with the garden. Now walled against goats and humans, it was ready for development. Here is Ruth with the first chaya plants starting to disguise the wall, and enjoying the prolific nasturtiums from some seeds I left a coule of years ago. This is the Ruth who, when I started looking at the Gasharu church surrounds, didn't think it was her role to get her hands dirty gardening.

Chaya is a shrub whose young leaves are not only edible but palatable - similar to spinach but with a bit more body. The other picture shows the commonest green vegetable, reputedly popular because it keeps reasonably fresh for a second day.

Friday, 9 November 2012

How did it go?

I'll tell it in pictures.

I haven't tried a definitive head count for the photo. But here we are, on the church porch out of the rain, photographed by a passing pastor because he had not been part of the workshop. I don't understand the desire to pose for a photo you won't ever see, but it's widespread.

To go back to be beginning of the day: Rachel arrived on time by bus and came down to the market with the women who had been waiting at the church for me. I had already bought 10 avocados and around 40 bananas and stowed them in Antoine's boot alongside yesterday's purchases and our overnight bags. I extracted the nail brush for cleaning potatoes and half the party returned to the kitchen to start scrubbing spuds and lighting charcoal. The market slowly woke up and we managed to buy everything I wanted except cauliflowers and cabbages.

Here is my most unexpected find - tiny mushrooms. They are a local delicacy, usually fried with tomatoes. My suggestion of garlic and a white sauce was greeted with surprise but later eaten with gusto.

I can't show you all the greens brought in because they were quickly seized and processsed as different women unpacked their baskets. However, there was plenty. (The little tables - painted in the Rwandese colours of green for the land, blue for the lake and yellow for the sunshine - are used for the feeding programme.)
Somebody found lots of lettuce, which I divided into tender for salad and tough for mixing with the other cooked greens. There was wonderful rocket too, and parsley, leaf celery, local spinach and spinach beet. In the brief discussion after the meal most women said everything had beeen delicious except the raw lettuce, mixed with celery, rocket, slivers of red onion and lemon juice. We brought it back to Kigali where it was happily eaten with supper.

Half way through the morning the rain arrived. And stayed.

Everything was taken under cover onto the back porch of the Compassion office or into the three little kitchens. Those with umbrellas acted as runners, fetching flour or salt or oil as required. Others braved the rain and I think I was the only one who slipped.

Every dry space was commissioned. This dark store room shelters pineapple, orange segments, peanut sauce, a mixed salad and a stir fry.

The cooking was completed more or less on time and a final procession carried all the dishes under umbrellas to the church. 30+
women, 2 teachers and 5 guests had plenty to eat and drink. In the picture Rachel is pouring the passion fruit juice into 40 cups while hungry women heap their plates. They were well satisfied and so was I.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Putting on the final show 2

We don't have lunch by the lake, as I proposed. The petrol guage has jumped from half full to nearly empty so we drive the 12 or 13 miles to the nearest filling stations, in Ruhengeri. In the gap between ordering lunch and getting it - often a full hour - I make a list of desirable ingredients that may not be available in the local market at Rugarama. After eating we drive to the market - the one where Rachel and I shopped for the Batwa feasts last year. (Did I tell you about the little girl here who after running her fingers up and down my arm and looking under my sleeve, surreptitiously licked me to see if the white would come off?)

Antoine parks at the side of the market but doesn't want to leave the car unattended, so I'm on my own. First I visit the shops outside the market proper. I get a cheese at the fourth attempt, and a 2 kilo bag of white flour. (The supermarkets in Kigali have 500g bags which would be better, but never mind.) In a small wholesaler's I price a box of 12 cartons of fruit juice, needing at least 8, but it seems very expensive.

I put the early purchases in the car and set off for the interior of the market. My eye is caught by a sack of raw peanuts. I buy a kilo for 1000rwf (one pound sterling and no pound sign on this keyboard) then a quarter kilo of peanut flour for Rachel's sauce. By now I am being helped or hindered by 5 or 6 boys of probably around 12 -14 as well as the stall minder who is not much older. It takes a while to sort out the weights for 250g. I add 2 sachets of tomato puree at 200 each and a bottle of vinegar substitute for 600, though they will also be available in Rugarama. Back to the car nearby. Turning to the market again, I have two of the boys jostling at my side. 'No,' I say, 'I don't need help.' One leaves.

I buy a kilo of green beans for 500, 4 large lemons for 300 (probably too much), 4 pineapples for 1000 (ditto), a bunch of garlic for 300, a piece of ginger for 50 and two large wooden spoons, initially 300 each, for 500. I see no papaya and decide not to spend time searching out sesame seeds. The boy is always there, peering into the pocket of my handbag where I have put all the money allocated for lunch and making sure I close the zip promptly, wanting to carry my bags, pointing at other things I don't need today.

I could pay him to carry the bags, but it's not far to the car and I am too irritated to be generous. Antoine, observing the situation on my arrival, says it isn't good to give money directly to beggars. I am not convinced either way.

Charcoal cookers, crudely made of gritty clay, are on sale at 300 each. 'That is so cheap it would be wise to get some', is Antoine's opinion. We buy 4.
Here are the four clay charcoal burners and one of the more expensive kind

Then we drive round to the juice wholesaler, since 12 cartons from her cost less than 8 elsewhere. To get me my change she sends one minion to change a 2000 note into two of 1000 and another to break a 100f coin into 50, two 20s and a 10. We wait at least 5 minutes to complete the transaction, then we can drive off.

Too late I realise that, distracted by my 'helper', I forgot to go back for some good looking cauliflowers. I hope they may also be found locally in the morning.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Putting on the final show

Several times I was asked about the composition of the group for the final workshop, today and tomorrow. I think I expressed myself clearly. The group was to comprise 10 women from Rugarama and 10 from Burera, making my usual total of 20.

When Antoine and I arrive in good time for this morning's start there are already 23. During the next 15 minutes another 10 come into the church, well on the way to 20 from each village. What to do?

I don't think I can send any away - they have all been invited. Identifying the breakdown in communication would be a waste of time and effort. Yesterday we had the opposite problem of only 5, then 7, then finally 13, being present out of the expected 20. So at least I have a little extra lunch money in hand.

I outline the programme for today: comments on successes and failures in growing veg since my visit a year ago; describing and handing over the final batch of seeds, including some new to Agrotec in Kigali since March; reading and discussing the vitamin and mineral notes; planning for cooking tomorrow.

The first woman to speak produces a handful of plants that she has grown but doesn't know how to use: a large shiny leaf of spinach beet, a sad sprig of parsley, some leaves and flowers of rocket, a tough leaf and a thick flower stalk from lettuce. Another gives a bunch of first class parsley, which I wish I could keep in that condition till tomorrow. Several more leaves of spinach beet are added to the collection.

The hesitation over parsley and leaf beet surprises me. Some, it turns out, have been using them along with other greens. I acknowledge the Rwandan cultural reluctance to try new foods. I tell the class about the lettuce gone to seed at Gahanga, and about somebody at Mutura (actually Alphonse) bringing me a giant rocket plant at arm's length because he thought it might well be poisonous, it tasted so disgusting. I ask the women to bring some of what they have grown for us to use tomorrow. We shall have to do without lettuce, however, for it has all bolted. They were particularly suspicious, they say, when the plants came up different colours. I show them some pictures of mixed salad leaves from my invaluable seed and plant catalogues. 'Oh!' they say.

I'm sorry I didn't manage to do a better job of explaining what I was giving them a year ago. But this workshop is in response to a request from the Burera representative at the conference in Kigali, so I am doing my best now to fill in some gaps. Antoine tells me several times in the course of the morning about how different things are here from in town.

I have texted Rachel, who is coming by the early bus from Kigali tomorrow, to warn her of the large number and ask her to buy beetroot and cucumber, which are not available in the village market. I had thought I might manage this last round of cooking without her, especially since Antoine has had some experience of my cooking for his family. With these numbers, however, I shall be very glad of her experience and her calm.

While the women are in small groups, reading the handouts, Antoine and I go to look at the kitchen we are to use tomorrow. It belongs to a local group of the long-established US charity called Compassion, who seem to provide basic food to large groups. They have half a dozen huge cooking pots, plastic buckets with lids as serving vessels, and 50 plates. There are two fireplaces for cooking with wood, but no charcoal cookers. The two staff showing us round are keen to be helpful. If I make a list of our requirements they will see what they can do. I thank them and go back to the group.

I keep half an hour free after the vitamins and minerals to make some plans for tomorrow: it is barely enough. I have listed what still needs to be found: smaller cooking pots and charcoal cookers, large cooking spoons, knives, trays for preparation and serving fruit and salads, dishes and ladles for serving.

Other groups have done well at bringing in what was needed, but these women are slow to respond. I wonder if they are ashamed of their shabby pots and pans and their knives without handles. I stress that everything can be taken home again. I say we shall be there all day if we have only a few saucepans but many dishes to cook, and that I would prefer not to serve the food on banana leaves.

Some tentative offers are made. Antoine takes over. We need to write down the names, he says. Eventually we have offers of 6 saucepans and 5 charcoal cookers, 2 cooking spoons, 9 trays and 10 serving spoons. Knives and serving dishes we leave to chance after a general request.

Then we start on the food. One woman will order the liver today and collect it early tomorrow: atypically, she says she will use her own money and I can pay her back. Another offers 2 litres of milk from her cow. 3 will meet Antoine and me when the market starts at 9 and load his car with a sack of charcoal, 15 kilos of potatoes, 3 kilos of rice, four packets of pasta, plus what fruit and veg is available. There are lively responses to the request to bring home grown veg - we may disappear under a mountain of spinach.

I'll tell you after tomorrow how things work out, and post some pictures when I can.

Friday, 2 November 2012


Written Weds and Thurs

Tropical storm Sandy, wreaking havoc in the USA, is leading the news bulletins from the BBC and Deutsche Welle. I learn from the internet that there have also been devastating floods in Argentina and Sri Lanka as well as in Haiti from Sandy in its earlier phase. Lives and livelihoods are being lost. The death toll mounts

Here it is merely raining, I think. Last night's downpour trickled under the door on to my floor again, but I now know where the puddles will form and can pick up anything that might be damaged, while giving thanks for a sound roof.

This afternoon the clouds were gathering but I had to go into town to make photocopies of Rachel's translations of my notes on nutrition. If any are spare after my 3 remaining groups, I will leave them for others to use. Photocopying is done near my bus terminus by a group of friendly rivals who swoop on any customer. 'Choose me.' 'No, me.' 'Why not me?' I had a big order last week, shared between two operators. Today several crowded round as I took out my originals and I parcelled out the work between three. After the original competition they share machines and paper supplies.

While they were at work - wheeling the copiers under cover, making the copies, tapping on calculators for the elementary arithmetic of 20FRW per side, sending out for change, finding an invoice chit and a rubber stamp to make it official - the rain began in earnest. After 10 minutes or so I was offered a stool. Another 15 or 20 minutes and a comparative lull allowed me to splash the 50 yrds to T2000, the Chinese supermarket occupying two floors of a smart new building, relocated from a dingy basement nearby.

Here as in many new buildings it's required to have one's bags inspected and to pass through a scanner. Usually this is a trivial annoyance but today access was blocked by people sheltering and I had to work quite hard to get in.

I had come to enquire again about an oven thermometer. Like many in Kigali, the household where I'm staying has added a gas cooker to the traditional charcoal - the cost of cooking is about the same either way. But there is no regulator for the oven. I'm learning to turn the gas up or down according to the sight and sound of what's being cooked. But I'm expected to demonstrate cake making and I don't want to waste good ingredients. Toasted cheese for lunch on Sunday was hard work and not very good - rubbery cheese and melt-in-the-mouth white bread; roast veg for 9 in the evening took longer than I'd expected - most things do, in the kitchen as elsewhere - and were then gratifyingly well received.

No thermometer though, despite assurances a few days ago.

I got back to the bus under my umbrella OK for what is usually a 20 minute journey, sat in traffic for well over an hour, and was very glad when Antoine texted that he would meet me from the bus.

As I write, while a visitor is welcomed and eating dinner is delayed, the TV news has pictures of flooding on the other side of Kigali - and four killed. Heavy rain rushes down the steep hillsides, sweeps away flimsy foundations and the roofs fall in.

The Bugesera district, where I'm teaching this week, is in the dry south east. When I ask the group in Katarara, on my third visit, to tell me of their successes and failures with growing vegetables, the only topic of interest is the chronic lack of rain. Actually this rainy season is wetter than usual and uncultivated land looks green between cultivated patches of beans, beans and beans interspersed with cassava. However, the rains have arrived only recently.

In the dry season not only does the usual piped water supply dry up and the crops shrivel - even finding enough water to drink is a problem. The women go down to the lake and fill jerry cans, then use the newly introduced water purifying tablets. The suggestion of making all that effort to carry water and give it to the garden makes them laugh grimly. Yes, it would save money spent on food at the dearest times of the year but it would be too much hard work.

I ask if there are ways of storing rain water. A few houses have gutters now and they are compulsory on new public buildings. The conversation about the price of domestic water tanks I've had many times. I wonder why they don't dig pits; the clay soil could be pounded into an impermeable lining even without plastic sheeting, which I've seen in use elsewhere in Rwanda. No, they don't think they could do that. Rain comes and then it goes.

Antoine's comment as we drive back is not new either: it's a matter of changing minds.

Minds could need changing in relation to climate chaos, too. When I hear, in Rwanda where even the main roads have many times more pedestrians than bicycles - ridden or wheeled laden like donkeys - and many more bicycles than cars, of New Yorkers having to walk for two hours to get to work because there is no power to pump the fuel for their cars, I must confess to moments of schadenfreude. Could this be a wake up call for some changes of mind?

Monday, 29 October 2012

What a good project!

I wish I had had time to visit this one. Rwanda Aid have a street children's village in Kamembe. I can't quite envisage that, but I suppose it's a small complex for sleeping, eating and getting quasi-parental support. An American Peace Corps volunteer has a scheme there close to my heart.

Before the rainy season, she started the children on making compost. The difficulties of that are persuading the children to sort rubbish into what will rot and what won't, while also persuading curious observers that this is not an old-fashioned general rubbish pit, and therefore a bad thing.

With the coming of the rain - late this year - it is then time to plant seeds in a prepared bed, give them shade and water as necessary, learn to distinguish edible plants from weeds, and protect them from predators of all kinds. This phase is now under way.

When it is time for harvest there will be lessons on cooking: being scrupulous and consistent about hygiene; choosing methods that preserve micro-nutrients; putting all the vegetable waste back into the compost: not breathing smoke; eating as many different foods as possible, even in small quantities, for optimum nutrition.

And what child will not be attracted, and remain interested, by the promise of FOOD!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Networking comes good

Thursday 25 October

Felicien is quite outspoken. Chemical fertiliser and pesticides poison the earth and poison people. What a relief to hear those words from the mouth of a young Rwandan! He is 25. He works for a small British charity, Rwanda Aid (, based 100 yards from my guesthouse.

Alphonse and I are meeting him at the suggestion of Mary, friend of Dorothy and Vern (with whom I stayed in Byumba last week), retired from a career in NGOs and the UN, and now a VSO volunteer director at Rwanda Aid. It turns out that Felicien and Alphonse know each other from church: Felicien's wife works on the student support team at Friends School Kamembe. (I learnt yesterday from Dieudonne, the new head, that over half the students are genocide survivors or orphans, so support is essential.)

This morning I was trying to be tactful in expressing my dislike of chemical treatments. Before the class assembled, Odette, the pastor at Cyete, wanted me to see her garden, where she has been growing food since my first visit.
Odette and Alphonse with the unmodernised market behind

She has the ingredients for several large compost heaps,
not yet assembled, bought from whomever is responsible for cleaning the old-fashioned market when the traders have abandoned their debris. But she uses chemical fertiliser to boost the growth of her plants after starting them with natural compost.

She is planting a variety of potato new to this region and has been told to spray with insecticide every week. I suggest she might wait to see if she gets any pests, as the insecticide kills the benefical insects as well as the harmful ones. This is my first attempt, she says. I'd better do what they tell me.

Later, in class, I ask who uses artificial fertiliser. All but three. One of those says she gets better yields using only compost and manure. The others are dubious. It's not easy to go against the Monsanto orthodoxy promoted by officials at every level

It has been raining on and off all morning, often too loud on the tin roof for teaching, so I am short of time. I focus on the reasons for eating a varied diet - Odette has said the women need to know why to eat what they are starting to grow. I can't give recipes for plant tea or liquid manure. I can't even discuss the ingredients for compost, to revise what I taught last time. What I can do is encourage the group to look for information and support from local experts, who will know more than I do about local conditions. I mention my planned meeting with Felicien. Odette knows him slightly.

With Mary's encouragement Felicien takes Alphonse and me out to the farm where he does five-day organic trainings.
Here is the kitchen garden in front of the training and accommodation block

There are kitchen garden beds, pigs, cows, chickens. I learn later there is a widespread problem with rabbits weakened by inbreeding succumbing to disease, so we see no rabbits. He has a sequence of compost heaps and a tree nursery for fruit and fodder trees which he gives the students to plant at home.
At one side of the site is a demonstration smallholding, to show what can be achieved on a modest plot. Students who practise what they learn on the first course may be invited back for animal husbandry training and leave with a piglet.

He agrees to train six women - two from each of the groups where I am working this week, so they can train the others. It will cost them nothing, but they need to be free to leave their families for the residential course, where children cannot be accommodated. Alphonse undertakes to liaise with the pastors and the groups. I hope the women come forward.

I was permitted to photograph this wonderful bundle of pumpkin leaves and bean leaves in Cyete market, but not the trader who carried it on her head. Alphonse asked if you could harvest the beans as well as the leaves. She replied that the plants yield better if you take off some of the leaves.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

What does it take?

Tuesday 23 October, in Kamembe

Using a coin, I scratch the black covering to reveal the number on my airtime card.Shall I blow it away like everybody else, or brush it into the plastic bin with mesh sides in the corner of my guesthouse room? Will it make any difference?

There is very little litter in Rwanda. Offenders can be fined. Rubbish bins are now appearing on the streets in towns. But the habit of letting drop whatever is not needed - like the top and bottom of the plastic bottle used for the column of stones in the planting sack - is hard to break. Indeed, what to do with a non-returnable water bottle - always plastic, and replacing the recycled glass of Fanta etc - is a problem.

Sweet fizzy drinks are popular for the morning break

Don't put it in the rubbish/compost pit, where in simpler times everything would decay; don't drop it down the toilet, whose contents may now be used on the fields after a year or so; don't burn it and release poisonous fumes. In towns there is now rubbish collection - out of sight, out of mind, as my students in Gisenyi agreed. But yes, they could keep vegetable waste and make a little compost, now they have seen the sack planting. They had never thought about the landfill.

A few years ago at the John Woolman School, near Nevada City in California, above the central valley where a single field can stretch for several miles and the ploughed topsoil blows away on the wind, 14 year old Norah had been set an assignment: to take an everyday object and find out as much as she could about its components. She had chosen a cup of coffee to go (ie takeaway). She could trace the coffee and the milk; she was hopeful that the source of the inks and the cardboard would not be beyond investigation; but the manufacturer of plastic lids refused to reveal anything. She began wondering why.

Particularly since that conversation with Norah, I ask myself more often what irreplaceable resources have gone into what I buy and what I use. How much should I refuse or give up? The plastic bag for carrying my shopping home is easy: take my own bag. Cheap cotton grown with pesticides that poison soil and people is tempting but avoidable: buy only fair trade organic. And what of flying? Never visit Africa or N America again? Holiday only by bus, train and ferry? I'm seriously thinking about it.

Wednesday 24th

For about 30 minutes during the long bus ride on Monday I tried consistently to decipher the project announcement boards along the road. While new road signage is appearing in lower case, these boards are uniformly in block capitals and usually in French.


PROVINCE DU SUD (for example)



And only then a description of the work, followed by the agency or agencies responsible.

Here are the ones I noted: wetland management including 7 fish ponds; a rural burial site; 31 hectares of forest regeneration; a block of public latrines, composting style; improvement of a (feeder)road surface; a post office; a modern market; an integrated centre for artisans; extension of a drinking water system; a court house for enforcement of law and justice; a small hydro-electric scheme - and there it is, deep down beside the road.

This board, adjacent to the market in Cyete, is unusual in being in English

Would one wish any of those cancelled, in the interests of resource protection, climate stabilisation, reduction of carbon consumption or anything else? 'Our development here in Rwanda is at an embryonic stage', I was told yesterday by Mobile (pronounced with 3 syllables), the discipline master at Kamembe Friends School and assistant pastor at the Friends Church. For his introductory words to the group of women yesterday we were back with Genesis 2 and I was delighted to hear his interpretation - that where we live is our garden of Eden and we have a responsibility to tend it and use its fruits to give our children good health. He was delighted by Rachel's translation of my notes on vitamins and minerals, with lists of locally available foods. 'How did you learn all this? This is exactly what we need.'*

Mobile, with his son Triomphe, waits with other parents as lunch is prepared on Wednesday

Mobile phones make a huge contribution to everyday life here. At least until the fibre optic cabling throughout the country, laid at President Kagame's personal insistence, is enabled with a reliable power supply, the phone masts also carry internet traffic, so I can read email and post this blog. I'm not seriously worried about the tiny amounts of black dust from the scratch cards, whatever the ingredients. But there is accumulating evidence of the harm done by unseen microwave radiations, not only to human beings but also, for example, to aspens and tadpoles.

Something else I've noticed increasingly over the 5 years I've been visitng Rwanda is mechanisation replacing human labour. The surfaces of many roads outside the arterial network are much improved by stone-lined drains - still dug with picks and cemented stone by stone - and surfaces compacted by steamrollers, often then tarmacked or cobbled. (Are they still called steamrollers when not steam powered?) But where is the work for the displaced labourers, not to mention the cohorts of new secondary school and college graduates? Of course development brings benefits. And of course I think that by my work here I am contributing to the right kind of development through individual empowerment, or I wouldn't be here. But only the most naive would believe that benefit is only or always to the intended beneficiaries rather than to powerful interests and individuals. Ideally I would like to remember, every time I travel or shop, not only what does this give me but also what does it take from our finite planet.

*A significant part of the answer to that question lies in two sources. The first is a comprehensive textbook and practical guide for nutrition workers, now 20 years old but available on Amazon: Nutrition for Developing Countries by Felicity Savage King and Ann Burgess. I'm leaving two copies with Rwandan colleagues and hope they will be well used. The second is the work of Mary Abukutsa-Onyango, a professor at Jomo Kenyatta University of Technology and Agriculture in Nairobi, whose analysis of the nutrient content of African and exotic (eg cabbage) vegetables has enabled me to add many local Rwandan vegetables, often despised, to my lists of beneficial foods.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Technical update and some scenery

I now know how to insert paragraph breaks - thank you, Michael - and have gone back through previous posts making them easier on the eye. I have also added a few photos, but without editing. My attempt to load a video clip was unsuccessful, however.

Here is another view of Muhabura above Mutura

This view from the road between Gisenyi and Ruhengeri shows tea in the valley bottom. I was able to take a stationary shot because we waited 20 minutes at a spot check for smuggled goods, while the bus in front and all its passengers were searched.

At the end of Thursday's session in Musura the motos were late, so we walked back towards the main road. I never tire of the folding hills and the cultivation terraces. As you can see from the forest of stakes, this is the season for growing beans.

The camp for refugees from DRC dominates the hill top seen from Musura

Finally for now, and not really scenery, here is the two year old Russian kale in Gaudence's garden.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Another village group

Thursday 17 October

I'm back in Byumba, cool and fresh and with occasional views of the volcanos. I was to work with an HIV/Aids group, but my contact there, Rachel's brother Fidele, died in May and the group is 'not ready to work with me'. (His third wife, Lucille, was in my class in Gisenyi last week.)

So Rachel has made contact with Donata, a church women's leader she knows in the village of Musura. We set out on motos, down the side of the hill with the Congolese refugee camp (being extended as the violent disruption in North Kivu intensifies) at its summit, and round onto an adjacent hill, looking back over the valley to Byumba.
Looking across to the camp

The women gather slowly; they seem withdrawn - Rachel says they are shy because few trainings have come their way.
Singing while we wait for latecomers

The leader has seen Yvette- Marcelline's planted sacks in town and is curious. The women tell me they all have some ground for growing food. I wonder whether constructing a sack might not be the best use of our time but Rachel encourages me to give the usual practical demonstration. I concur, knowing by now that having a sack with different seeds in a small space can lead to the shift in mindset first described to me by Verena from Kamembe: to grow and eat many different foods.

As usual, we consider the ideal location of a sack: level ground: dappled shade; protection from envious passers by, destructive children and hungry goats or chickens; closeness to the kitchen for harvesting and watering. This church is exposed and somewhat isolated. I ask if a participant living nearby would like to host us. Alphonsine agrees.

A leisurely ten-minute walk brings us to her house and garden. She points to a healthy plant of sukumawiki outside (the Swahili name means the one that gets you through to the end of the week/wik): one of the dark green leafy vegetables some are learning to eat and others dismiss as fit only for goats. Round the back is the penned cow with a calf tethered nearby. (It is forbidden to let cows graze; they are fed two hundred-kilo sackfuls every day of grasses and other weeds cut with small sickles by children who are therefore not in school - I suppose there must be some justification for these arrangements.)
Here is the cow beginning on the girl's scant offering

We have everything we need. We have bought a small (25 kilo) sack, Rachel has drunk the water in my bottle so we can cut it top and bottom, there are small pebbles aplenty, good soil with compost, a knife, a hoe and a bucket, and good stakes. We choose our spot and the work proceeds.
Standing next to the sack, this is the view

Part two will include cutting and planting the sack, returning to the topics of looking after our families through good nutrition and hygiene, and looking after the soil. I've asked the group to think about how they will distribute the seeds I bring. Perhaps this time all will be sweetness and light.

Part two

Friday 19 Oct

We met and prayed, we walked to Alphonsine's and planted the sack with her chosen seeds - cauliflower at the bottom, leeks and leaf celery on the sides, and peppers on the top. I was encouraged to see she had already prepared another sack but we planted only one.
Cutting a hole for planting

As we walked back to the church, people were gathering. I was told there was to be a village meeting. I wondered whether my women would be summoned. Half an hour later they were. But I asked the organiser to stress that they had only a short time for the training, and to my surprise they were back in 30 minutes. What was it about, I asked? The reply was without enthusiasm - the usual: just development and peace.

After a little more teaching it was time to describe and distribute the seeds. The wind rose, the doors banged, we all wrapped up against the cold with whatever we had. Rain began to blow in through the unglazed windows along the whole of one side, half way across the floor. Benches were moved to the far side, then the table followed, cloth billowing and seed packets threatening to blow out of control. It was far too noisy for teaching.

After half an hour the wind and rain eased. During the downpour I had divided each kind of seed into two packets. (Small brown money envelopes are in my teaching kit.) The class moved into two groups according to where they lived. Each received their share of the seeds and lunch money. The moto drivers arrived in another surge of rain and were invited in to keep dry. Soon, thanks and goodbyes were over and so was the rain. There was no excuse for delaying the exposed journey back to town. If there was any disgruntlement among the students, I was too cold to notice.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Rwandese don't queue

Rwandese don't queue Not even the group of 18 women and 2 men invited by Rachel and Gaudence to a conference and advanced training for those who have worked with me, for evaluation and forward planning.

I suppose queueing for additional seed packets to add to the basic eight in everybody's 'goody bag' is seen as a kind of game - a 'light and lively' such as Theoneste - AVP trained - suggests when we are working together.

One of Theo's games in full swing at Gisenyi

We are in the meeting room in the church compound at Kagarama, where this all started for me, as a member of the Friendly FolkDancers in 2008. In my eight project visits for 'Growing together in Rwanda' I have been here many times. This may be the last, but there's scant opportunity for nostalgia. We have work to do.

We have had our morning break, with tea, buns and bananas thoughtfully brought by Rachel because the staff are all exhausted after yesterday's jubilee. (Later, when I take Rachel and Gaudence to a nearby restaurant, I'm glad to see them all being treated to lunch after the clear up and evaluation.) I suggested the women should take a look during the break at the seeds to be distributed
Looking to see what's on offer

...but perhaps I should have emphasised that they will be asked to choose quickly. Aided by Theo, I get them into a line. At the front of the press, Rachel stands firm, arms outstretched to restrain those behind. I give a simple instruction: take one packet and go round the circle of chairs to rejoin the end of the line for your second pick.

Theo translates and repeats my instruction. I can't say that order is established, but we do get to the point where no packets remain and nobody is complaining. That's good enough.

Queueing may not be their strong point, but these women fill me with hope. They get into regional groups and start planning. They invite me to return in a year or two and see how the work is developing. They are standing on their own feet.


It's the morning of the conference. We've gone through the usual pattern of arriving on time at 8.30, greeting the few early arrivals, moving furniture, checking the arrangements for refreshments, singing, praying...

By 9am a respectable 13 out of the invited 20 are here. One has a doctor's appointment; a couple text Rachel to say they are on their way; most are somewhat weary after the noise and excitement of yesterday and so am I.

We have a first brief go round for names and places. Rachel suggests following my practice of asking everybody to name their favourite vegetable. That's a good move because it immediately presents a picture of the rich variety available.

No pastor has turned up expecting to open proceedings with a sermon, which is what sometimes happens. So I take a couple of minutes to contrast the two crucial passages in Genesis: man is given dominion over nature, but Adam is also exhorted to 'dress and keep' the garden of Eden. Both theories have their outworking in Rwanda; my work is to bolster the chances of dressing and keeping.

Now we have the luxury of a leisurely review. Some of these participants I know well; others have not worked with me but are representing their church because they are already in Kigali for the jubilee. I'll give you a selection.

Daniel is from the new village where some Kinigi Batwa were resettled last year and I funded Rachel and Solange for several months to visit and encourage the owners of new gardens not to give them away. He has used my seeds in sacks, old car tyres, and cleared his plot for planting. They have eaten well and sold some surplus. (Solange later confirms that they are keeping their plots, though some have lost enthusiasm when seeds didn't grow.)

Sara is the pastor's wife at Remera (and mother of twelve), where I worked so hard cooking in the hot sun. She appreciates the planting, the gift of seeds, the cooking together and the flash drive with some useful files. When she had more vegetables than she could use she didn't want to sell but invited her neighbours to share the harvest. Her dream is to teach the whole village, not just church members.

Angelique from Burera didn't know vegetables are important for health. She used to use chemical fertiliser and is surprised things grow well without it. She hopes I will come again and show how to cook what they have grown but don't recognise. (It's in my schedule.)

Odette, the pastor from Cyete near Cyangugu, didnt know the importance of vegetables. In the village there is plenty of land uncultivated and she has created several vegetable beds. Her own health has improved and that of church members. (When I visited this group I thought I had done rather badly, with a translator from French who didn't understand what I was teaching.)

Odette, , the pastor's wife from Musanze who gave her kitchen for us to cook with two groups of Batwa, is now eating more variety of veg. But she doesn't know how to plant the sacks and hopes I can come and teach the church women, not just the others. (I can and will, though it's meant rejigging the schedule slightly.)

Gaudence, with whom I have stayed twice in Kigali, has encouraged many women to plant at home and established a circular raised bed beside the church at Gahanga. Local officials are now sending people to her to be trained.

Verena, the pastor's wife from Kamembe, now relocated in Gitarama, loves the way the sacks can be re-established when you have to move house. In Kamembe she sold surplus veg and bought goats. Then she made her own compost and didn't have to buy from neighbours. She collected enough seeds to sell some. When local radio did a story about her, the church got new members.

Leoncie from Musanze has been helped by the herbal rememdies made and sold by the Seventh Day Adventists. She started planting and has been rewarded with the gift of a cow because she is a good example. But she needs to learn about saving seed.

Yvette Marcelline, the pastor's wife from Byumba, was in the group that first suggested cooking together. (I've reported on her garden before.) Now she told us how she experiments by letting two or three of every kind of plant run to flower and seed. She has succeeded with peppers, tomatoes, leeks, onions, radishes, as well as traditional vegetables...

I could not have predicted these results. I am well satisfied.

Programme nearly finalised

Into my third week, I'm fairly clear after a discussion with Antoine what is in my schedule for the remaining three and a half weeks.

After inconclusive discussions in Antoine's absence (in Belgium and Holland) my first week was the best holiday opportunity, so I went to the lake for a couple of days.

Last week, Sun 7 Oct - Fri 12th, I was in Mutura and Gisenyi, with two return visits (Mutura and Gisenyi Batwa) and one new group of church women in Gisenyi.

Sunday 14th was the Evangelical Friends Church 25 year jubilee - 5 hours of over-amplified singing, speeches and preaching in a rented stadium, and a resume on the TV news in the evening.

Yesterday, Monday 15th, was the day of the conference for those who have worked with me. I'll write that up later today, I hope.

Today, Tuesday, is free. I am invited to lunch with Gaudence and Augustin and shall be cooking the evening meal as Annunciate, Antoine's wife, is still in hospital.

Tomorrow afternoon I go to Byumba, where I shall stay with Dorothy and Vern, Cornish F/friends, until Saturday. Thurs and Fri will be with a new group in a church Rachel knows, and on Saturday I can catch up on the little group of orphans being trained by Rachel with money from Ealing Meeting.

Sunday 21st is a free day after church - going to church is part of my contract!

On Monday 22nd I go on the 7 hr bus journey to Cyangugu, for two two-day workshops, probably including cooking - a bit scary without Rachel.

Weekend free, after return.

Monday 29th - Fri 2 Nov will probably involve 3 days in Bugesera - the drought-prone south east - working with a new group and an old one, with Antoine as driver and translator. I also need to find time to revisit the church garden group at Gasharu.

Another weekend free.

Mon 5 - Weds 7 Nov, again with Antoine, in Ruhengeri (new church group for sack planting) and Rugarama (including women from the lakeside church at Burera) for cooking the unfamiliar veg grown from my seeds as well as what we can buy in the market.

Thurs 8th - probably free.

Friday 9th - final evaluation, planning for continuing without me, celebratory lunch.

Saturday 10th - evening out with Antoine's family, and perhaps others, followed by final departure at 02.35 on Sunday 11th.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Singing again

What to sing? At the beginning of this project I had high hopes for teaching simple songs. Singing is many people's chief pleasure here - churches have several choirs for women, men, youth, junior and senior children. But I struggled to find material.

The culprit is the semitone, I realised. I gave up the search for suitable settings of recognisable words - especially Alleluia. I became resigned to taking pleasure from groups' choice of songs, and to humming the harmonies. Occasionally I have been given a hymnbook and tried to get my tongue round the syllables fast enough to join in. (I have some video clips I will try to post when I get home to a strong internet signal.)

Among Rachel's many talents is singing harmonies and holding a line. In our shared bedroom on Monday morning, waiting for the signal that our washing water was ready, I found myself teaching her a song I learned at Dance Camp Wales from Jane Read. Im sorry I don't recall the name of the composer. I've made a slight modification to the words, to fit the usual practice here of invoking God at every possible opportunity. The basic tune uses only 4 notes: soh, la, ti, doh, though not in that sequence. Yes, I know there's a semitone there but it seems to work OK. The words are these: We hold you in our circle; hold you in God's love.

Mostly I'm not explicit about community in what I teach here. However, I do usually point out that even filling a sack for planting is quite tricky for somebody working alone. The groups I work with are usually from a single church, so they know each other. Sometimes there are tensions. Especially when I give out seeds, however generously, some are disgruntled.

At the end of Monday morning's session in Mutura, when the pastor took over seed distribution and was somewhat high handed, muttering persisted. I started humming 'We hold you in our circle' and Rachel joined in. As the group settled, we taught the words and gave the translation and a commentary: 'This circle of students is the community for now, so we are all singing to each other.'

After 8 or 10 times through, I risked singing one of the higher parts with a different rhythm. We faltered slightly but recovered. Several more times through and I shifted to the highest part. Then down again. Then in unison for the close.

Wednesday and Thursday have been spent with a new group - women from several churches in Gisenyi. Theoneste, my translator, is now in charge of HROC in Rwanda. He is an experienced facilitator, using 'light and livelies' to relax and energise a group. I tell him I have a song I could teach and he is enthusiastic. After the mid morning break we have a first go. Later, when attention is wandering, I suggest he might like to introduce an activity./// All stand up, he says. Now hold hands. Then we sing again, pacing the rhythm. The song is serving its purpose.

Again on Thursday I finish by giving out seeds. Few of these women have planted before, often inhibited by living in short term rentals. (The cost of living here is even higher than in Kigali, with prices inflated to cope with shoppers from Goma, just across the DRC border.) Invited to devise a fair method of sharing, they settle on three bundles of seed packets and three groups of participants. Still there is a degree of dissatisfaction.

It's time to end. How shall we finish? Let's sing the song again before the final prayer. And we do.

The Batwa group I revisited danced to their songs of greeting and peace. And the church roof is nearly complete.

I tried posting some video clips but without success. So please be patient.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Some things get easier

Some things get easier with practice. Fortunately moto riding is one of them.

Sunday evening

Rachel and I got off the bus on impulse in Ruhengeri to buy a few provisions for cooking on Tuesday. Consequently we arrived at Kabali Station for our ride up to Mutura in complete darkness. Indeed we almost missed the place to get off: the driver had forgotten to set us down or didn't care, and the landmark I depend on - a huge limestone cliff - was invisible. As we walked the pitch black 100 yards or so back to the moto drivers at the junction, I wondered how we would survive the ride up. I checked with Rachel and neither of us had thought of this complication when we decided to shop.

We wrapped up against the chill and set off. To my surprise, the moto headlights were just as good as daylight for showing the road. Passing the turn off for the Friends Church, I thought how easy it had been. What I'd forgotten was that it was another 10 minutes or so to the house where we were to stay and that the road through the village and up, up, up beyond was badly in need of a new coat of clay and gravel to bury the volcanic rock. I think that without experience I really might have crashed forward into the driver of fallen off completely.


Our double act is quite fluent now. 4 of the early arrivals stayed with me while 3 went with Rachel to the market. Yesterday we'd talked a lot about food and personal hygiene - it's a current government priority, Rachel says - so hand washing was scrupulous. Then 3 large beetroot, not available in the market and grown by participants from seed I gave them last time, were grated; 7 kilos of potatoes scrubbed and not peeled; a huge bunch of chard divided into stalks and leaves to make two dishes; 3 heads of garlic peeled and chopped; 2 kilos of rice picked over; half a cheese grated fine; 2 large pineapples cut up. By now I was quite anxious for the remaining provisions to arrive, and fairly soon they did.

Red and white onions were chopped; a kilo of carrots grated and another sliced; a huge white cabbage laboriously shredded in Rwandan fashion; 23 eggs put on to boil. Following her teaching on clean water yesterday, Rachel had bought some hygienically bottled, for washing any salad not to be cooked. Tomatoes, parsley, green peppers got the treatment. It was too late for the beetroot or celery leaves but she let that pass.

Some work and some rest

Then we each started on our party pieces: Rachel making a sauce/gravy with peanut flour, a vegetable stir fry and a cheese sauce for the macaroni while I assembled a large salad on a tray and another in a bowl, made a white sauce for the boiled chard and celery stalks, and finished by frying slivers of ox liver dredged in flour and salt. (If any reader wants to discuss the ethics of that last, I'll be happy to engage.)

Cabbage, carrot and onion with parsley and vinegar and a surround of tomato and pepper slices (no lemon available)

There was enough, despite anxiety from the group that we should have bought 10 kilos of potatoes, and plenty to spare for half a dozen expectant children and for the host family to eat later. When I asked, dish by dish, whether the women had enjoyed the food, the answers were enthusiastic yeses.(Or should that be yesses?) Task accomplished.

Here is the feast before we broke into it

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Preparing for work

The lakeside holiday is over.

I've packed what I think I shall need for 3 groups in 5 days. It's as spare as can be because I shall have to carry it on a taxi-moto from Kabali Station on the main road up to Mutura, where Alphonse has found rooms for me and Rachel.

Clothing ranges from rain gear and several layers - it was chilly in Mutura last time - to a swim suit in case of a lakeside opportunity near Gisenyi at the end of the week. For teaching I have hand sanitiser, knives, graters and a scrubbing brush for cooking with the Mutura women and Rachel; then introductory visual aids and a cut down plastic bottle for constructing a sack garden with a new group in the Friends Church at Gisenyi; then notes on vitamins and minerals, and on storing and preparing food to preserve nutrition, translated into Kinyarwanda by Rachel, for the Batwa I met in March with Theoneste, some of whom can read and will remind the others.

I've become increasingly reluctant to make gifts that could be construed as hand outs, but I do continue to take seeds. I've sorted through my store this morning, choosing some from my own garden, some bought in England and some bought here. I've tried to choose what will grow well in cooler, wetter conditions. I was surprised to find brussels sprouts in the Kenya Seed Co in Kigali - I'd assumed they wouldn't do well here but am told they will be fine in the Virungas. Most of the unusual vegetables and salads I'm keeping for the women who come to the conference day next week, convened by Rachel and Gaudence, to decide what to carry on when I leave.

At this point, leaving is a long way away.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Rest before labour - and after

At 9am on Tuesday, 25 hours after leaving home, I discover my first mistake.

The second revealed itself at 1.30am, when I tried to unlock my big red suitcase. There is no padlock. Oh, I think, it's been broken off and somebody at Turkish Airlines has tied the zip with coloured string. The theory lasts a split second. Then I realise the real explanation - this is not my suitcase.

Theoneste met me at the airport with Rachel at midnight. He is driving her home now. But even when I plug in my Rwandan phone to charge it I can't call with credit of around 1p, and I can't buy a scratch card for more airtime in the middle of the night. All I can do is go to bed and sleep, eventually and somewhat, for a couple of hours.

At 5 the muezzin calls and sleep is definitely finished.

At 6 I get up and unpack one suitcase. Among presents and teaching materials I find shoes, underwear and tops. Better than nothing.

At 6.30 I go out and find a small shop open and able to sell me airtime.

At 7 I text Theoneste, asking him to call me when he is up. Soon he calls and I explain and apologise. He arrives soon after 8. At the airport he knows the procedure and I get my bag.

At 9 I finish unpacking. Almost everything is as I remembered, except that I have located the cable but no netbook. I clearly remember putting the portable modem and some flash drives with useful files into the pocket of the case. What I failed to do, it seems, is to put the case and its contents into either suitcase or my carry-on bag.

Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon. I have been lent a netbook and eventually got it to accept a replacement modem with a month's worth of internet access, bought on a trip into town. I have persuaded both bank cards to release money from cash machines, after yesterday's nasty scare when one card was declined at two different banks. I have persuaded Yahoo to let me log on instead of constantly apologising that the validation screen I needed wasn't available. I have a programme of teaching etc which starts with a journey north on Sunday afternoon.

So I phone to reserve a lakeside room at the highly recommended Bethany Hotel and make a second trip into town to buy my bus ticket for Kibuye.

It's now Thursday afternoon. The bus journey was exceedingly twisty, as I had been warned - and fast on a smooth new road. The first hour to Gitarama is now pretty routine, though the landscape continues to delight me. Thereafter I was in new territory, passing numerous land improvement schemes - irrigation for this hillside, tree planting for that; ditches for erosion prevention and plantes fixatrices for stabilisation. Groups of men in country style with black wellingtons and bleached walking sticks got on and off. Two policemen settled down with guns pointing skyward - presumably not loaded. Across the valleys occasional working parties of around a hundred men and women hacked deep terraces in hillsides - I hope they have the topsoil and some humus for when they've finished.

Im having my holiday first. It is wonderfully peaceful - lakeside, swimming, warm air and light breeze. And in Hotel Reception, tho not in my room, internet access.
Early morning commerce on Lake Kivu

Monday, 6 August 2012

One woman's story

This is Dave Zarembka's Journal Letter, describing his wife's farming in Western Kenya. It's one example among many of the benefits of small scale agriculture.

AGLI Report from Kenya #184 – August 5, 2012

Gladys' Two Acres of Corn


Dear All,

Since at least the end of World War II the conventional wisdom in the western world is that the increasing numbers of people in the world with increasing wealth to spend on food will be fed by mechanized, large scale, commercial agriculture. As a result most agricultural research has been devoted to increasing this industrial production while the small scale farmers, who actually control more than half of the farmland in the world, have been left mostly to fend for themselves. I want to weigh into this controversy by describing how much more Gladys was able to produce on two acres of corn (maize) than local commercial Kenyan farmers.

Gladys obtained forty 200-pound bags of corn from her two acres. This is the equivalent of what good local commercial farmer did in the same good growing year. Good farmers in the corn belt of the US get about 60 bags per acre, but they live on some of the most fertile, well-watered agricultural land in the world with decades of research on how to improve their yields. I always wonder, as I drive through the eastern part of the US Corn Belt on my way from DC to St Louis, why these American farmers aren't wealthy. Their houses and cars reflect only a normal middle-class income. Clearly someone else -- the seed companies, fertilizer and agricultural chemical manufactures, and the farm equipment manufacturers -- are the ones making the big profits on this commercialized farming.

If we stopped here with the comparison between Gladys and the local commercial farmers, we would have to call this a draw. But Gladys got so much more that commercial farmers didn't. First she planted beans in between the corn. She harvested this as the corn was growing and got about a bag of beans per acre. This would have been two or three bags of beans, but a hail storm hit the beans just as they were flowering which depressed the yield.

Moreover, our family ate some of the fresh beans -- much more delicious than the dried beans -- which were never dried (and counted). Then for three or four weeks Gladys harvested what is called "green maize." This is used as boiled corn (corn on the cob, but the corn here is hard), corn roasted over a charcoal fire, and corn kernels cut off the cob to mix with beans. It is impossible to measure how much additional harvest we ate in this fashion. Gladys also got a small amount of greens and squash from the field. Since she had rented the two acres, she was unable to plant sweet potatoes in some of the plot. For many small farmers this is a second yield crop. Only a small part is planted because sweet potatoes don't store well so a person can only plant what he/she can eat or sell locally.

To top off all this, after the corn was shelled from the cob, the cobs were dried and used as a cooking fuel.

The total result is that Gladys obtained a bigger harvest with much more variety than the good commercial farmer.

Gladys also used a lot less fuel. While she plowed and harrowed with a tractor, she planted with oxen cutting the lines and people dropping and covering up the seeds. Weeding was done twice with about ten to twelve people working in the field for a day. Like the commercial farmers she used hybrid seed (which she had to buy from Kenya Seed Company), and used fertilizer twice (imported from South Africa, Egypt, or India); once when planting and again after the second weeding with a top dressing. Harvesting was done by hand, the first day putting the corn stalks in stacks as the Amish still do in the US and then a day of harvesting the corn cobs from the stalks. My main activity in all this was the five trips I made in our pick-up to carry the corn from the field to our house. After the corn dried by being spread out all over our yard, a tractor came with six men and within half an hour had shelled the 40 bags. Unfortunately the tropics are very buggy and Gladys had to put insecticide in the corn that she stored in order to keep it from being eaten by bugs.

The result is that Gladys spent less than half the amount of fuel per acre as the commercial farmer. Moreover she did not have to truck the harvest to market.

Gladys only farmed two acres, but 40 bags of corn is much more than our family -- including all our guests -- could consume in a year. Every time we visit my father-in-law we take a half a bag to him. Guests are frequently "rewarded" with some corn to take home with them. Nonetheless Gladys sold some bags of corn which more than covered her costs. We still have more than ten bags in our storeroom.

The way to feed this world is to increase research and outreach to the hundreds of millions of small scale farmers so that they can become more productive. I think that average yields could easily double which would be more than is needed for the increasing world population and to spend on more meat and dairy products.



David Zarembka, Coordinator
African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams
P. O. Box 189, Kipkarren River 50241 Kenya

Phone in Kenya: 254 (0)726 590 783 in US: 301/765-4098

Office in US: 1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104 USA 314/647-1287

Webpage: Email:



Ending Cycles of Violence: Kenyan Quaker Peacemaking Response after the 2007 Election by Judy Lumb -- Available for $15 at


Since 1998, David Zarembka has been the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. He is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region (also available at

Friday, 9 March 2012

Serious fun with the historically marginalised people

Tuesday 6 March

Yes, I know it's a mouthful, and I still can't get my tongue round the several words in Kinyarwanda, but we're not supposed to say 'Batwa' in public, any more than 'Bahutu' or 'Batutsi': all are'Banyarwanda' now. Ask the Batwa themselves and they tend to say 'Twa is what we are. Why not use our name?' Most readers will recognise parallel problems of nomenclature with other marginalised groups.

I'm working with Theoneste, the leader of the Rwandan HROC* team now he's finished his degree in Nairobi. It's Tuesday morning. I took the bus ride of over three hours from Kigali to Gisenyi yesterday afternoon. I've spent the night in a church guest house because Theoneste has only one room and staying alone at the Friends Peace Centre is not considered safe. T. has driven me in the elderly HROC car for about half an hour along a levelled but rocky road, remarking that shoes and tyres wear out fast here. Benches have been taken from a small locked room at the roadside and carried up a short but steep path to the Friends church. We settle in a corner, under the segment of sheet-metal roof.

Preparing the church as classroom. Later it rained and we all huddled in the small dry patch

Theo first met this group only last week, when he led the basic three day HROC workshop, with two other local facilitators. He and I have agreed that he should lead the first part of the morning, revising last week's work and ending with the trees of trust and mistrust, to give me a smooth link to the imaginary trees of good nutrition and malnutrition. This is the formula devised when I started Growing Together work with Batwa in October 2010 and it seems to work well.

He starts with a welcoming go-round. Each person says their name and the group responds with 'Karibu X'. Karibu (welcome) is one of the Swahili words absorbed into Kinyarwanda. I am the last. 'Elizabeti', I say. 'Karibu Elizabeti' come with smiles of delight.

HROC, like AVP, uses 'light and livelies' to relax participants and integrate any cliques in the group. 'The big wind blows' is an old favourite. Theo leads, translating only the final word for me. 'The big wind blows on....' excitement mounts as he extends the dramatic pause. 'The big wind blows on... everybody!' We all make for a different place. 'Some people hardly moved', he comments. 'You can do better than that.' Two further rounds follow: 'everybody' again, then 'black shoes'. (This includes me because I am, for once, appropriately shod, in my lava-defying smart black trainers.)

Faces are open, postures alert. Now Theo asks participants to say one thing that has changed for them since the workshop.'There used to be lots of violence in our home and now we can discuss things.' 'I was often too angry to eat and now I can be happy.' 'I know now that I am a Rwandan like the other tribes.' 'I have started to talk to my non-Twa neighbour and now she replies.'

These seem to be very big changes for a single week and may be aspirational rather than actual. One woman reports that her neighbour still won't give her a drink of water. (Theo comments later that it's not uncommon to throw water on the ground rather than let a Twa have a drink.) The wife of one man who says he can now handle his anger has a recent black eye. Early days...

Time for more fun. They remember another game: 'What flies?' The leader pats his hands on his thighs and all join in. He says the name of a bird, raises his hands over his head, and all follow.

Something flies!

Eventually he raises his hands but names a creature that can't fly.

Nothing is flying here. The woman on the left was the eventual winner.

Some hands go up and these players are eliminated, with much laughter. I can't play this one for lack of vocabulary so I ask to take photos instead. Theo joins in; I do recognise the word that tells me he's disqualified for gesturing that a cow can fly.

Everybody is paying attention in the go round

Back to work. This time each participant is asked to say what part of the training helped them most. Answers range over pretty much the whole syllabus. Skilfully Theo brings the conversation round to the tree of trust.

But it's not my turn yet. First there's another game. This one is new to the group, I think. An appointed person takes another out of sight and earshot, then returns to the circle. A leader is chosen to initiate movements that everybody else copies. The person who was outside has to detect who is the leader, in three guesses or fewer.

The first round is over in no time – too many eyes were on the leader. Another player is escorted out and round two begins. Another instant result.

For round three, speaking in a whisper, Theo encourages the group to make guessing more difficult. We don't all have to look to the leader – most can copy from somebody else in the circle. The new technique is implemented and this leader stays undetected as the person guessing turns in the circle, looking at face after face for clues. Everybody has had fun again. No didactic point are made. It's time for a five minute break.

Imitating Theo, I point down with the fingers of both hands to indicate roots – on the right the tree of good nutrition, on the left the tree of malnutrition. What are the roots? Answers focus entirely on money versus lack of money; nobody seems to think of growing food rather than buying it. To change that mindset, after all, is why I'm here. I wonder if the new village where the group members have been settled has a plot of land round each house.

I am hoping to fill and plant a demonstration sack here today and supervise several in the village, some way off, tomorrow. Is there any soil we can use here, when other people's crops press on both sides of the narrow path? Well, there would be a place round the back, but who will look after it? I'm prepared if necessary to fill, or half fill, the sack, finding stakes and cutting the holes for seeds without wasting real seeds in a place where they won't be tended.

Then Theo has a better idea. On our way up we gave a lift to a church member who lives by the road below the church. We can set up the sack there. Don't we need to ask him before we all troop down? No, it will be OK.

It's more than OK. By the time the group has fanned along the road, looking for stones of the right size for the core, neighbours and passers by are gathering. When the sack is full and staked, I have to ask for regrouping so members of my class get a chance to come forward and see what will happen next. As the holes are cut and seeds inserted, I count more than 50 adults and children. My teaching diagramme is circulated – thank goodness for lamination. The desire for entertainment overcomes any hesitation about mixing with these marginalised people. Briefly at least we are the heart of the community.

Watching the work. The sack is at the far left

*See the footnote to 'A day witth Alphonse', posted 23 Feb.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Helping in Byumba (part 2)

On Sunday we woke to heavy rain. Rachel duly arrived in town, but it was too wet to walk to the church service, as planned, so she came by cab to join me and meet D & V. Eventually the rain eased and we set off to meet the little group with whom she had worked during the end of year school holiday. The report of that work can be read at My purpose now was to meet the children and take some pictures.

Two girls and two boys, aged between 10 and 12, came to meet with us; the teenager who leads the group had another obligation. What a small beginning, I thought, compared with training whole classes of teachers. And how small is Growing Together compared with VSO International, or even VSO in Rwanda.

However, for these children we are able to start a process that should be able to continue without reliance on continued handouts. There is no question of their need. All are small for their age. One of the girls has the moon face and pot belly indicative of malnutrition – Rachel will make a point of visiting her home.

They tell me they need money for food, for school fees, for uniform. I tell them that the people providing the money to get them started on this project will be particularly happy if they begin to grow and eat vegetables: if they do well thy will have some to sell. We go immediately to look at the place where they might start some sacks and Rachel briefs the neighbours.

Accompanied by Francois-Xavier, the pastor whose smallholding I have admired over a couple of years, we set off to see the rabbits. The children collect fresh food for them every other day. They are a good breed, F-X tells me. They look healthy and the three females are pregnant, so there should soon be something to sell. Pictures are taken. The children with Rachel and the rabbits...

...and this time with Francois-Xavier and me

Yvette-Marcelline greets me with the closest, warmest hug I have yet had in Rwanda. Her vegetable garden continues to be productive, with a mixture of sacks, raised beds and various containers. I love it here. But there is nothing to detain us. The children leave and we walk up to the bus stop.

Ten minutes pass with animated conversation between Rachel and Francois-Xavier and halting French between Marcelline and me. Then I ask Rachel to translate. M hopes I will visit again. She would like money to buy goats – not for herself, I think, but for the children and perhaps others.

Byumba is where the army of invasion/liberation was held back from advancing by UN forces, for three years before the genocide. Their behaviour was far from exemplary, with large numbers of men killed and women raped. But all that is supposed to be in the past now.

Orphans from the war are now adults, though interruptions to their education mean some of Dorothy's students, for example, are far older than the teenagers one might expect from their educational stage. Clearly there are many households struggling to survive and many children desperate for support. Handouts are not the answer, especially if they arrive out of the blue without the recipients being involved in setting goals and priorities. But these children know what they need. I trust Rachel to work holistically with them. Firm Foundations for Future Families (5F) is the title of her project – rather grand, perhaps, but certainly work I am happy to support.

Waiting for the bus with Yvette-Marcelline

Pastor and wife make farewells and we settle onto the bus back to Kigali. I've said I won't work here again. I think, though, I may pay one last visit.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Helping in Byumba (part 1)

I had two reasons for visiting Byumba over the weekend – to see my friend Dorothy, returned to a second VSO posting, and her husband Vern; and to meet a small group of children undertaking a project led by Bugenimana Rachel and funded by the children and young people of Ealing Quaker Meeting. I have previously worked here three times with a group of Friends Church women, including the pastor's wife, Yvette-Marcelline, whose picture was on my first end-of-year leaflet, with her productive vegetable sacks.

Dorothy's Voluntary Service Overseas posting is to a teachers' training college cum secondary school. Students who don't do well enough in the exam at the end of Secondary 3 (year 9) to progress to academic courses preparing for university can have another 3 years of secondary education plus training as primary school teachers, though the entitlement to free education in state schools ends with Sec 3. Many of these students don't want to teach, and will use their first working years going to evening classes in preparation for something with better pay and status. However, these are the teachers primary students get, so training them in better methods than they themselves experienced – and their teachers before them – can only be beneficial.

Rwandese education usually follows the method introduced by the Belgian colonials: teacher writes on the board, students copy into their notebooks, students learn the notes and reproduce them in tests. Most schools have some textbooks, often in sets big enough for a class to use, and typically in unopened packages under lock and key. Dorothy is promoting two innovations – issuing textbooks to the class and using visual aids. She is also advocating for teaching practice, mostly seen by the teacher trainers as a waste of time compared with copying notes about how to teach. Her photos show the classroom she has equipped for the students to make their own wall displays.

Saturday I spent with Dorothy and Vern, whose house has occasional views of Karisimbi, the extinct volcano above Mutura, where I was a couple of weeks ago. I wasn't fortunate enough to see this evening view, caught by Vern, but there was enough sunshine for me to try to capture the valley between house and college.

The towers of the Roman Catholic cathedral, adjacent to the college, can be seen on the skyline. The previous image shows some of what lies in the intervening valley. Understandably, Dorothy doesn't walk straight down and up again to get to and from work, but follows the ridge.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Food journeys

This piece was written for the Ealing Quaker Meeting newsletter, whose theme this time is journeys.

It's a goal of British campaigners that consumers get fresh, nutritious food, travelling short distances and with trading relationships of equality. What about Rwanda?

First the plusses. Many fruit and vegetables are harvested and delivered daily to local markets or sold informally at the side of the road. Many people eat mostly the local staples – potatoes in the cooler north, cassava and sweet potatoes in the hotter, drier south and east. Because of the lack of refrigeration, most milk is consumed by the owners of the cow or sold to their close neighbours, and vegetables are bought every day or two. Beans are grown everywhere, stored in sacks, and eaten most days by most people. Green bananas are also ubiquitous, popular and affordable.

Local transport is in sacks or baskets or on trays, often carried on the head. For bigger loads a bicycle is either ridden or wheeled.* This low carbon system is supplemented by trucks that drive around picking up, for example, several tons of potatoes to be taken into town. Also on the main roads are huge lorries, sometimes labelled as carrying petrol or 'goods in transit' but more often anonymous.

Now some qualifications. It is usual for a small farmer to grow one or two kinds of vegetable for market but not to keep any for eating at home. Many people eat no fruit because all food should be cooked - we are not goats. So vitamin and mineral deficiencies are common, even when ugali (made from cassava, maize, sorghum, millet or combinations thereof) is eaten in large quantities with beans.

Sorghum makes a popular porridge as well as a slightly alcoholic beer. But planting it is now forbidden in large parts of the country. Even potatoes are banned. In more and more areas farmers are instructed to sow more and more maize, and undersized plants can be seen in many areas, often quite shrivelled up. It's taken me three weeks of asking around for the reason. Now I have it: somebody important has opened a factory producing maize meal. These sheds for drying maize cobs have recently appeared all over the place

More generally, there's insistence on monocultures under a policy called 'consolidation'. Local farmers, who traditionally grew several crops in a small field, don't like it but they have no choice and no voice. Presumably the ministry of agriculture forms its policies with advice from agribusinesses, who sell fertiliser and pesticides as well as a few 'improved' varieties of seeds. And perhaps, I'm told, the officials have seen something working in a more developed country and think it will be beneficial for us to copy it.** It's fortunate for my work that another part of the government is encouraging – even insisting on – kitchen gardens. Fields and compounds seem to be different domains.

Self-sufficiency in food production is a government goal, and makes good sense. Exports to the East African Community – where Kenya, Ugandan and Tanzania have recently been joined by Rwanda and Burundi – are growing. Rwanda produces some of the best coffee beans in the world and increasingly farmers are being helped to form cooperatives to process the raw 'cherries' to get a better profit from the crop. Pyrethrum (for insecticide) and milk also used to be processed here before the war; now a new pyrethrum factory has opened, and the bottled water company owned by the president's family has branched out into UHT milk (including semi-skimmed) and bottled fruit juices. Restaurants tend to offer Nestle powdered milk, imported from Poland or Holland.

This tin was lying in a pastor's garden, next to where the sack was to be planted...

Some sugar is grown and processed here, but the best is exported and what remains is poorer quality and more expensive than that imported from Uganda. Why would anybody buy it?

...and here's the sack

Rice imported from Tanzania, Vietnam and China is said to be better quality than that produced locally; poor people don't eat it anyway. Similarly, a little wheat is grown, but bread is not a staple and pasta (from Uganda or Kenya, or Turkey, or Italy) is considered too expensive for ordinary people.

Eastern Province has a government scheme to produce macadamia nuts. Some are reaching the supermarkets, now the trees are five years old, but they're more expensive than the imports from Kenya. And in any case, few people even know of the existence of nuts at all – they're another luxury for rich people.

In summary, there is trade within the region; there are some imports from further afield (and among non-food items soap, for example, may come from Indonesia or from Rwanda itself); enough different foods are produced for complete nutrition. There is severe rural poverty and hunger, however, despite some good soils and adequate rainfall for most of the country. Food miles are not the problem.

*The strangest use for a bicycle I've yet seen was the transport of a coffin - presumably uninhabited- resting across the rear passenger seat, accompanied by one young man at the handlebars, one at the head and one at the foot.

**On a recent drive to the east, I saw a huge area of dried up maize. What's that about, I asked. 'This land belongs to an army training establishment. They're probably demonstrating modern practice.' Yes, quite. But will the lesson be learnt?