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.
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.