Saturday, 25 February 2012

Follow up

On our way to a Mutura participant's garden, passing fields ready for planting

This week I have been back to two groups of women I first visited a few months ago, at Mutura and Burera, in Northern Province. Both say they are delighted that I wanted to come back – so often they have a training from somebody they never see again. The work follows a similar pattern for both groups: visit some participants' kitchen gardens; talk about cooking – not overcooking - the new vegetables and about the way different foods complement each other and improve nutrition in a good mixed diet; consider the needs of different age groups and genders, and especially weaning. The Mutura participants drink hot tea on a cold morning

My parting gift to each group is a collection of seeds – some bought locally, some bought in London and some saved from my own vegetable garden. 'We will plant these seeds in our hearts and minds as well as our gardens', say the women from Mutura.

Driving with Antoine between the two locations, I notice considerable deterioration in the road surface, even since November. This road was surfaced in 1986, he tells me. Properly mending small holes would make good sense. But there is no budget for running repairs, no follow up. I read in the English language paper a few days ago that the East African Economic Community has agreed a standard weight limit for heavy goods vehicles, eliminating the need for frequent weighbridges and the attendant temptations to bribery. Rwanda's current limit is lower. Will provision be made for this road – one of only three to Uganda with proper crossing facilities – to bear the heavier loads? Possibly not.

Antoine tells me later that he is very impressed by the group at Burera. All the 15 women who learned to plant in sacks last time have returned – and arrived on time. All say they have planted a sack and enjoyed the vegetables. In the go-round Vestine says her 12 year old daughter now has her own sack; Joyce has been commended as an example in her umudugudu (group of 10 or more households); Katharine's neighbours are coming to learn from her, as are Josephine's; Florence's family are eating plenty of vegetables; best of all, from my point of view, Angelique has started a second sack. That's what really matters, I say: not that you ate well for one season but that you'll continue to benefit.At Burera, Modeste poses beside her sack containing cabbages, parsley, celery and onions

When I raise the topic of weaning, the pastor interjects that there is no kwashiorkor here, whereas at Mutura it was raised as a concern. Protein is more available here, with peanuts in the local market and small fish, eaten whole, from the lake. But the real difference seems to be in the kind of support given by the local health centre. Here, the women say they are given guidance at the clinic; in Mutura most follow customary practice but with fewer resources than before the war. Learning new practices, developing new attitudes, can't happen without patient support.

Follow up could be crucial, also, for the groups of Batwa revisited last October, a year after my first work with them in 2010. Particularly poised between forward momentum and dispiriting inertia is the community recently rehoused in the campaign to get rid of grass-roofed huts and given a little land to cultivate. Without encouragement they may well give their land away. A proposal for further training in cultivation and cooperation, with follow up visits for several months, is on its way to AGLI (see note to previous post). But last year's main funder has said it will not renew its grant. And my active involvement in Growing Together is due to end this year.

Who knows which seeds will bear fruit?

Thursday, 23 February 2012

A day with Alphonse

Written Weds-Thurs, 22-23 Feb.
Edited and pictures added, Sat 25 Feb.

Monday 20 February
I am returning to Mutura, high above Gisenyi on Lake Kivu. In October I was here with Jean Baptiste as translator. This time the Friends School at Cyangugu, where Alphonse has many responsibilities including teaching, has released him to work with me in his home community.

Leaving Kigali at 8am, I get off the bus just before 11 at Kabali, the junction for the road up to Mutura. Alphonse is there to meet me. First, we will take something to eat. In a small back room of a building labelled 'Restaurant' he orders tea and bread. Would I like some meat, cooked without oil? He is anxious to be hospitable, I to be no trouble. Is he having meat, I ask. Yes, he will try some. OK then, I'll have some too. Is this lunch, I wonder.

As we wait I observe the walls, originally bright yellow but now very grimy, particularly so round the door and the light switch. The door swings continually on a noisy hinge. The radio blares in the adjacent room till Alphonse decides it is too loud and goes to get it turned down.

The tea and the bread are fine. When the plate of meat comes, there are 5 bundles of intestines, each wrapping what might be a tongue or a piece of tripe. To my great relief, Alphonse rejects them. Next, two small bony portions of boiled beef or goat are produced. No oil, indeed. Alphonse is still not happy. Don't they have brochettes? They could send out but it would take a long time. We agree to leave for the village.

After an awkward stand off when a line of men, some with staves and one with a clipboard, symbolically bar the entrance to our road (they want 'tax', a worried Alphonse explains, before our moto drivers push through without paying) we make our way up the bumpy road with the stunning views, past the turn off to the church at Mutura and into the village of Mudende. A stop and a brief discussion. Then remount and cut down a side road. Alphonse, anxious again, explains that I have to be registered because I'm staying overnight. (First he says that foreign visitors earn kudos for the district. Later he adds that this is very close to the border with DRC.) The appropriate official is in a meeting. Waiting outside the office
We dismount again, he fetches her out, and I hand over my passport to be recorded – lucky I remembered to bring it. Another 5 minutes and we are at his house.

How would I like to spend the rest of the day, he asks. I'd like to walk through the village, and I'd like to meet and greet his parents. We also need to go to the church to make plans with the pastor for the workshop tomorrow.

The road to the parents' house
We set off for his parents' house, further out of the village, past neighbours he greets and one or two who say a few words to me. John, for example, is preparing to plant his next crop of potatoes, sprinkling commercial fertiliser into every hole in the deep soil. He'd like me to take his picture, and here it is. Frequently, as on previous visits to this region, I see an adult or a child, spray nozzle in hand, carrying a tank of foul-smelling pesticide on their back.

Alphonse's father, a retired teacher, and his mother are welcoming and gracious. I am given a fizzy drink while Alphonse and his parents have something warm made from sorghum. His mother, laughing, wants to see my face when I try it. It tastes fermented but they assure me it couldn't be alcoholic or they wouldn't drink it. (The parents are Catholic; many Christians are teetotal.) Alphonse and his parents. He is dresed for my visit. I don't know whether his father always wears a suit.

There is wiring taped to the ceiling for a light to be run from a battery, which is charged in the village from a shop with solar panels and a bigger battery, which in turn is charged further down the hill where the grid reaches. I ask if they would like a solar lamp. They are delighted with the prospect and I am delighted to find somebody who really needs one, rather than keeping it for use in power cuts and for spot lighting to supplement the low wattage common in ceiling lights. I just hope there's enough sunshine to keep it topped up. I tell them it's a gift from my friend Anne, who would love to be able to travel with me but who supports my work in many ways while confined to her bed.

'Tell us what her illness is and we'll pray for her recovery.' I explain it's a result of DDT poisoning. 'Oh yes,' they say, 'We know about that.'

We walk into the village – quite substantial, with a modern covered market I had not seen on the route taken by the motos. Alphonse knows almost everybody, and most are greeted with a handshake, a handshake from me, an exclamation of pleased surprise that I know how to say hello or good afternoon, a brief or very brief conversation and two parting handshakes. This in addition to the swarm of children, some old enough to be in school, who pursue me with 'Good morning, good morning, good morning. How are you? How are you? How are you?' Replying doesn't diminish the chorus. Alphonse comments that they are like birds, with only one song.

It's a long time since I read Larkrise to Candleford but I remember a passage where somebody gets a bicycle and declares that its chief benefit is the ability to pass through the village without having to stop and talk to everybody. Alphonse, used to a different pace in the town where he now works, apologises for the time it takes to speak with everybody. I think he has to explain who I am and why he's home mid week. But this is where he grew up, where his parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in June, where his wife and three of his four children are. And his field, of which more later perhaps.

Moreover he feels very committed to the place. The living room, in his house with a bare earth floor and no electricity, contains, in addition to enough chairs and stools for the family to eat round the table, a treadle sewing machine and a stack of boards. There's nowhere else to keep them safe, he explains. He will need the boards in a few months' time when he will use a school holiday to make doors and window frames for the building he's constructing in the heart of the village. (Usually such a statement seems to mean employing and supervising labourers rather than doing the work oneself.) The plan is to use the sewing machine, donated by Matt and Gayle when they visited at the time of the wedding jubilee, to train a team of young village women in a marketable skill and to have a sewing shop on the main street. (When we do the opening go-round in the workshop on Tuesday, Alphonse says that what gives him pleasure is helping people develop themselves and improve their lives.) There will also be a section offering secretarial services, photocopying and perhaps internet access. Then his wife will work there instead of being an overworked primary school teacher, doing two shifts every day from 8-5 with classes of up to 50.

We eat goat brochettes and potatoes – the least expensive and the most delicious I've yet had – at around 3. Alphonse would like to pay because I'm his guest, but demurs when I say that eating with him is allowed for in my workshop budget. That was lunch.

We walk on down to the church, where I observe that the sack planted in October is no longer there. Children destroy them, I'm told. There's a lot of bad behaviour. Look at our fine cauliflowers from your seeds, though.

As we return to his house, passing the primary school where his wife comes out to take the money she's forgotten, for shopping on the way home, Alphonse comments that even though she works such long hours she does her own cooking. It would be nice to give somebody a job, but there's so much jealousy around still (envy, perhaps?) that you have to beware of being poisoned by the person who's meant to be working for you and whom you are paying.

It's government policy to declare that all hostility is in the past. It's not done to mention Tutsi and Hutu, though of course people know what they are. (On the other hand, radio and television news often contain reports of groups visiting memorial sites commemorating the genocide of the Tutsi, I've noticed. Augustin, when I asked him, couldn't explain the inconsistency.) Here is evidence of how much the trauma healing work of AGLI (whose volunteer I am) and other agencies, is still much needed. Later I ask the pastor whether there has been a HROC training here. Not yet, he says.

We get back at dusk, and I rest in the dark till supper time. I give the family a solar lamp and they suspend it from a bent nail in the ceiling over the dining table. Aren't we fine, they declare.

AGLI is the African Great Lakes Initiative of Friends Peace Teams. Healing and Rebuilding our Communities (HROC) is an AGLI programme developed in Rwanda and Burundi, based on AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project).

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Rain, rain

It's raining! I mean really raining - at least for several hours since first light when I woke to the sound of drips falling off the roof outside my bedroom. Sometimes there's a heavier pulse for a few minutes. Then the soft pattering on leaves and ground resumes.

Up till now there have been two sharp showers in parts of greater Kigali where I happen to have been – good for temporarily laying the dust but not much more. The air has been getting cooler after 5 or 6 weeks of unusual heat. People have been quietly confident that the rain was on its way, if rather late. Yesterday the gardening group at Gasharu church was planning to buy some fruit trees, so they could be planted as soon as possible to allow maximum root development before the dry, hot season begins in May.

Water drips off the roof along the outside of my window because there is no gutter. New public buildings are legally required to have gutters and cisterns. Few private homes collect rainwater, though I am seeing more cylindrical black plastic tanks elevated in gardens for storing water from the erratic mains supply.

'Why not capture some of the copious seasonal rainfall for watering to prolong the growing season?'
'The tanks are very expensive.'
'Is the price you pay for water from the mains supply stable?'
'No, it's increasing rapidly.'
'How soon would you recoup the price of a tank?'
'I'll have to think about that.'

On the drive with the family to visit the older son in his boarding school last Sunday, we passed the new reservoir at the head of a valley beyond Gitarama. Below it a couple of miles of land, once boggy but subsequently drained like most of Rwanda's marshes, is bright green with irrigated rice. This is not a huge project, but it's beyond the capacity of a single district.

At the other end of the scale, I have recently seen in several compounds a makeshift water store, sometimes in a pit, made of plastic sheeting, supported with wooden staves and covered for protection from leaves and other debris. A single gutter on one side of a roof channels plenty of water in a heavy rainfall. In Gaudence's family we used this source for washing clothes and vegetables, for cooking, and for flushing toilets, as well as watering the garden.

At Gitarama, when the women say their sacks have dried up in the recent heat, I ask whether any of them store rainwater. That's all very well if you have your own compound, they say. Otherwise people come and steal the water in the night so it's not worth the effort. What would it take, I wonder later, to reach a critical mass where there were so many small supplies that the amount stolen from any one became insignificant?

Friday, 17 February 2012

The electric kettle and other luxuries

Thursday 16th
Breakfast this morning was at seven, to give me time to buy some salad items on the way to the bus to Gitarama, where Rachel and I were to perform our double act of preparing food with a dozen women. (We ended up with 12 dishes, of which 5 were salads.) I am given hot water for washing every morning. What time would I like it, I was asked.

Would 6.30 be OK, I asked, imagining the charcoal would have to be fired up some time before 6. Yes, 6.30 would be fine. At 6.20 I went out to the dining room to get some drinking water. There on the side table were the 5 litre water container and a singing kettle. Easy.

Last weekend Annunciate asked me to teach her how to make mushroom soup. Several other dishes were also being prepared, and the pan of water for cooking, heated with charcoal, had run dry. 'If there's no hot water we can add cold', I suggested. 'Oh no, that won't be necessary; I'll boil the kettle.'

In preparation I had looked at several recipes. Do they have cookery books in Rwanda? Well, I had seen a small, modestly presented one in French at Gaudence's. But no, I simply used that upstart – the internet.

When I came for the beginning of my project, in February 2009, web browsing was a luxury beyond my reach. Email was done at a small internet 'café' (with no drinks) where the system crashed when the power failed, customers paid per 15 minutes and were expected to leave after 30 unless there was nobody waiting. Then my hosts started to offer me time on a home computer, when the machine was free and with dial-up at a price that I learnt was embarrassingly high. Then one of the missionary households had bought unlimited airtime for a monthly fee and I was sometimes invited in. Now I have my own dongle (portable modem) with unlimited time, paid by the single week or month; this was a special offer in October and still operating in February. And yes, it is a welcome luxury.

This morning I had a late start and used the lovely kettle to make my own coffee. Setting off to walk to the church at Gasharu, taking my Rwandan cell phone, I left on charge the batteries from my little radio, the UK phone I use for my morning alarm and to receive emergency messages from home, and the laptop that hosts my modem and is carried round to show photos as teaching aids to groups. In my bag I had a camera with photos of plants and plantings to show to the small group planning the church garden. None of these devices would function without access to electricity and I would be sorry to have to do without any of them.

Only around 15% of Rwandans are connected to the grid. A few more have solar panels. Most eat their evening meal in the dark – if they have food enough for a second meal in the evening – and go to bed by 7.30 or 8. In the novel by Anthony Trollope I've just finished reading (largely by the light of a natty solar lamp), one rich show-off is described as having the gaslights in his house lit before a dinner party. The others presumably use candles, sit talking by firelight in winter, or go to bed when it's dark. Yet their inner lives are as rich as ours, after another century and a half of technological innovation.

I heard an item on BBC Africa – thank you, little radio with the rechargeable batteries – about the lifelong damage caused by early malnutrition, illustrated by a visit to an infant feeding programme in Kicukiro, which is where I am staying. Children suffering from kwashiorkor or marasmus are taken in for several weeks' feeding, and their mothers educated in nutrition. This evening I shall use my phone to discuss with my translator for next week, Alphonse, which topics relating to diet and health would be most suitable to present to the group of women in Mutura, high above Lake Kivu in the foothills of the volcanoes. Much of the country's food comes from this fertile region, where rich soils get plentiful rain, yet the custom is to send the vegetables off to market, filling the family with maize, potatoes and beans. (I'm reminded of how difficult it is to buy fish in Cornwall, because it's almost all sold in France.) In my usual guest house near here, greens have to be ordered in advance to supplement the standard supper. It will be interesting to see what food Alphonse and his family eat while I am staying with them.

At the end of our shared meal at Gitarama yesterday, Rachel and I asked the women what they had found interesting. A first encounter with cheese; much vegetable preparation in the background
The main thing they had learned was that you can make salads or stir fry with what you have, combining ingredients in different ways. As we left, they were gathering round the table to share out the seeds from Kigali and from London that I had given – probably 20 different vegetables. Most of this group had worked with me on my first visit three years ago; they have been planting in sacks and they have compost. I hope they realise that eating better need not be a luxury.

Well, somebody had to hold
the baby

Saturday, 11 February 2012

My work schedule

Photos from my first week are at the end

Mon 6 Feb First working day. Starting to design the church garden at Gasharu.

Tues-Thus 7-9 Working with Rachel:
Tues - reports and project proposals;
Weds - visits to Gaudence's garden and the church kitchen garden at Gahanga;
Thurs - looking at plants and prices for Gasharu garden, buying seeds, searching out rags to for making stuffing for insulated cooking baskets.

Fri 10 Visit to Antoine's farm in Eastern Province; informal conversation about future of Growing Together

Sat 11 Wedding of Julienne, member of Friends Peace House staff

Sunday Free

Mon-Tues 13-14 Introductory workshop with church women at Remera (w Rachel)

Weds-Thurs 15-16 Ditto at Gitarama

Friday 17 Further work at Gasharu garden – making a ground plan

Saturday – Sunday Free

Mon- Weds 20-22 Return to church women at Mutura (w Alphonse)

Thurs 23 Free in Ruhengeri

Fri-Sat 24-25 Return to church women at Burera (w Antoine); visit Kidaho and Rugarama schools in afternoons

Sun 26 Free

Mon-Thurs Feb 27- Mar 1 Introd workshop at Muvumba Church + 4-5 hrs travel each way (w Augustin)

Fr -Sun 2-4 To Byumba. Weekend w Dorothy (VSO) and meet Rachel's youth group

Mon-Weds 5-7 To Gisenyi for Growing Together with new group of Batwa (w Theoneste)

Thurs 8 Follow up as required

Friday 9 Planting at Gasharu

Sat 10 Evaluation and planning

Sun 11 Leave for home in the evening

The crop of lettuce at Gahanga church garden, gone to seed for want of consumers

The pastor at Gahanga is delighted that the gardening project has put his church on the local map and won praise from local officials. Rachel and Gaudence are taking home some spinach beet.

Antoine washes his hands in the smart restaurant run by a Kigali catering college. Pity about the loo.

Nutrutional supplement for the four cows is unloaded from Antoine's car...

...and carrots loaded for bringing back to town. In the background is the new hen house, where up to a dozen free-range hens spend the nights

At Saturday's wedding, the bridal parties assemble between 3 marquees in a neighbour's garden for the dowry ceremony

Friday, 10 February 2012

Which side of the boundary? From seed to table

Last October, Gaudence and I planted several kinds of seed brought from England into the garden at her house, where I was staying. Only the radishes were ready to harvest before I went home after five weeks; now I needed to see how the others had fared. After planning the next stages of Rachel and Gaudence's project to make demonstration kitchen gardens with women in each part of Rwanda, we walked round the garden. Was this personal friendship or professional development, particularly since Gaudence is just starting on a degree in agriculture?

Green peppers are used for flavouring here, but there are no red ones in the markets. I had brought a single packet of mixed red and green – the harvest of luscious red fruits had just finished and Gaudence had collected much seed, as you can see. Also growing abundantly - rather to my surprise since it does well in my home garden right through the cold winter – was cavolo nero -black italian kale. Another crop waiting for my serving instructions was the mixed spicy salad leaves, big and glossy, from a few seeds I'd saved at home. I was interested, too, to see whether any of the tomato varieties from pound store selections were growing well and tasting good.

The cavolo nero, so fashionable now from England to New Zealand, has not appealed to Gaudence's family. So I am to go round on Monday and help her cook it. I've been looking on the internet for suitable recipes. Because cabbage doesn't usually set seed here, there may be no need to increase its popularity, however. We shall also try a salad of the mixed greens, though it will be rather strong without any sweet lettuce – all that has gone to seed now.

This small patch includes rocket and mustard greens

There is only one kind of tomato generally available here, and to my taste it has little flavour compared with the better varieties available from gardens and even supermarkets at home. So I was disappointed that Gaudence had not even tasted the small red and yellow fruits now withering on desiccated plants. The overlooked tomatoes, with cavolo nero in the background
I picked a few and offered them as samples. Surprisingly to the Rwandans, who usually discard any small fruits, they still tasted strong and fragrant, if not particularly sweet. Perhaps the beefsteak kind, currently plump but still green in Rachel's garden, will be more appealing. Perhaps one of the other recipients of the variety packs will start some niche marketing.

I asked if I could take some of the kale and the mixed leaves, since there is too much to be used before it spoils. I have been doing most of the evening meal preparation this week, with Annunciate working in Ruhengeri and Sandrine at school in England. Cooking with my teaching groups has become an important and mostly enjoyable part of my work. What about cooking our dinner?

I steamed the kale, stripped from its stalks and shredded, with white cabbage, on top of carrots and broccoli stalk. (The small amount of water at the bottom of the pan went into the tomato sauce after it was thickened with cornflour.) Emile was at my side as I gingerly lifted the flat lid, protecting my hands with an old tea towel, stiff with oil and soot (better than the bits of paper bag sometimes proffered for the task), and fished out some pieces of cabbage to try. No, he didn't think that was cooked enough yet, though he knows that's how they eat it in Kenya now. So I say I'll give it a few more minutes. OK, he says, but you're killing vitamins, you know.


Shopping for seed in my usual two shops, I am seeing a few new kinds from year to year. Basil and rocket are now available at the basic price, and large black aubergines as well as the small green local ones, with coriander and mint at a premium and several varieties of melon on offer, from the standard to the ridiculously expensive. If I think back forty years I can remember trying to buy green peppers and garlic in a small Yorkshire town and being told that for that kind of fancy stuff I'd better go back to London. Rwandans have a reputation among their neighbours for being conservative in matters of food. All I can do is offer possibilities.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Which side of the boundary? Plans and projects

I am operating a new arrangement this time, with different purses for work and private life. Bus to a meeting – work. Bus to buy food for family dinner – personal. Lunch with Rachel as we make our way round town – work. Quiet sit down in a café with a cold drink to do my email – personal.

Some activities, though, are harder to classify. I woke on Tuesday wondering what designing a church garden (described in my previous posting) has to do with my primary focus on growing food, conserving the soil, and understanding the benefits of eating lots of vegetables. Part of the answer is in the second meaning of 'Growing together': strengthening community by working cooperatively. Rachel and I have been working this week on a proposal for her and Solange – who shared the Batwa work with me last time – to go back to the last of those communities and encourage mutual support for vegetable growing; we hope the cycle of selling allocated land for a pittance then remaining destitute can be broken. I have also been writing up Rachel's report on her new work with orphans in the Friends Church in Byumba, funded with money raised by the children and young people in my Quaker Meeting in London: that's an example of two distant communities growing together by the fortunate supporting the less fortunate.

To return to making the church garden: it's about improving physical and emotional health, developing community, enjoying and cherishing our portion of our world. In this Evangelical Friends Church context, it requires children and the adults who teach them to see caring for the environment as doing God's will. From my perspective, in this my final year, it's also about leaving a place that can remain green and pleasant long after the sack gardens have disintegrated.
This spiny hedging plant, seen in a nursery on the edge of Kigali, could be used to block off an unsightly track once the main path has been mended.

I was talking this morning with Jonas, the head of the Friends Peace House school for vulnerable teenagers, Mwana Nshuti (Child my friend), where we made a compost heap and planted several sacks with green vegetables three years ago. Please will I come back, he asks, because the current students have seen no sign of the work I did then. And please will I bring seeds of that special sort of cabbage? He means perpetual spinach. I tell him that, unlike real cabbage, that plant produces viable seed in this country, so next time he can save some. I have enough words in Kinyarwanda to know he then spoke to the class about how they could learn to eat more variety and improve their health. So that was work.

And why was I talking to him this morning? He was translating my words from my limited French and struggling to grasp the strange concepts I needed to communicate to the teacher of sewing, Samuel, who is also part of a tailoring cooperative in Kicukiro, behind the market. I had two requests: a source of rags for lining baskets to make insulating cookers – work, since using more variety of ingredients is easier for women if they don't have to stir the beans for three hours every day to stop them burning on the wood fire or charcoal; then offcuts from African patterned fabrics to take home for my granddaughter, who uses scraps in collages for her fine art course – personal.
This insulating cooker (aka haybox or peacemaker) is on display at the Sowarthe Tea Factory, whose owner, Calley Alles, has a continuing interest in fuel efficient cooking.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Beginning again

Since my arrival late on Friday, I have contributed to food preparation for Antoine and Annunciate's family for the last two nights. Asked to make salads, I served lettuce dressed with oil, vinegar (I sometimes use lemon juice, which is cheaper and more easily available) and salt, and a different combination each night chosen from tomatoes, parsley, mint, fennel, onion, garlic, cabbage, cucumber, cauliflower, carrot, beetroot and ginger. I shopped in local markets, not the places in the centre of Kigali which provide for expatriot tastes. Everything was eaten up and apparently enjoyed. Emile, 17, particularly liked the lettuce and daringly added some black pepper, which I bought in a small supermarket but which is not much used here.

Today I learn that the bumper crop of lettuce grown in the new kitchen garden at Gahanga Church, supervised by Rachel and Gaudence who have worked frequently with me, went largely to waste because nobody wanted to eat it. More lessons in preparing and eating salad should be on my agenda, then. At lunch with Ruth and Krystan later, I mention the surplus. 'Whey didn't we know?' There must be a church member who understands marketing, mustn't there?

Work with women's groups starts next week. This morning's assignment was with those responsible for planting the church garden at Gasharu. We were supposed to begin planting in October, but when I heard goats were eating the saplings I said I wouldn't provide any more till there was a perimeter fence. It was completed by Christmas.

A year ago there was some rather desultory conversation about the edible garden concept. I have no training or experience in garden design. However, I bought a couple of books last month, read quickly and hoped for the best. This morning three of us met: David Bucura, the pastor; Ruth, his new parish administrator (and a woman, he pointed out gleefully!) and Agnes, who lives close to the church and cares about the garden. Apparently Agnes had said 'What we need is a design', so when we gathered and they said 'Let's walk round first' I was able to propose starting with some conceptual thinking.

What do you want the garden to be for?

What do you want it to say about the Friends Church?

Then we moved on to how far can it meet the needs of different groups – children, people who are busy and stressed, the less able, young adult Friends...

We ended with a list: a nice place for weddings so our young people don't get into debt hiring somewhere extravagant; an attractive 'public face' for Friends to show other users; a contribution to restoring the environment with trees and fresh air; enough space for children to play freely; handrails for the flights of steps up from the car park and into the church; places to sit and talk; a peaceful, healing atmosphere... The garden of a local restaurant, which inspired Bucura with the idea of a 'peace garden'

This example of showing a public face is from the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) building in Washington DC

Then we walked the site, agreed different zones, decided on some priorities – mend the path, start a compost heap, teach the children to care for the environment of the church and to respect the different areas of the garden, install the handrails, start talking with church members emphasising benefits rather than objections, make a ground plan. We shall meet again in 2 weeks and work on the plan. By then we can hope there will have been some rain. Then we can begin planting seeds for flowers and ornamental vegetables.A roadside bed of courgettes, wilting and dust-laden for want of rain

On a third day at the end of my stay it will be time to begin planting a hedge inside the new back wall to create a green vista, and they may be confident enough to put a few fruit trees in some less vulnerable areas. I have taken cuttings from two shrubs in Annunciate's garden and encouraged the others to do likewise.

I lent them the garden design books, showed some photos including those here, gave each a kiwi fruit (I brought two small vines from England) and suggested they start raising seedlings to plant out later.

I hope the foundations are well laid.

A couple of pics from earlier visits I offered to stimulate innovative thinking